Mohilewer, Samuel

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MOHILEWER, SAMUEL (1824–1898), rabbi, early member of Ḥovevei Zion (*Ḥibbat Zion) in Russia, and a founder of religious Zionism. Born in Glebokie (now Glubokoye), Vilna district, the son of a rabbinical family, Mohilewer was ordained a rabbi by the Volozhin yeshivah (1842) and took up the post of rabbi in his native city from 1848, in Szaki from 1854, in Suwalki from 1860, and in Radom from 1868. In each place he was active in community affairs, especially during the Polish rebellion (1863), toward which he asked the Jews to maintain a neutral attitude. In his articles, which were published in Ha-Levanon, he stressed the need for cooperation with the maskilim for the welfare of the people and demanded that the rabbis "combine the Torah and wisdom as the time is appropriate." In 1873 he participated in the St. Petersburg gathering of rabbis, and the leading moderate maskilim and tried to bring the two sides closer together. He was attracted to the idea of settling Ereẓ Israel even before the 1881 pogroms, but immediately after they took place he went to Brody and Lvov in order to encourage the masses of refugees who fled Russia and to influence the philanthropists and workers who came to their aid to divert the stream of migration to Ereẓ Israel. Afterward, together with two other rabbis, he appealed to the Russian rabbis to found an organization for aliyah to Ereẓ Israel and to settle there. Even after many rabbis withdrew their support of Ḥibbat Zion because the movement was headed by maskilim and "students," Mohilewer remained faithful to the concept and supported the efforts of L. *Pinsker and M.L. *Lilienblum to organize the various Ḥovevei Zion into one organization.

Mohilewer was among those who influenced Edmond de *Rothschild to extend aid to the first settlements in Ereẓ Israel and induced him to establish a settlement for Jewish farmers coming from Russia (*Ekron). He then influenced Jews in Bialystok and its surroundings to settle in *Petaḥ Tikvah. In 1883 he was chosen as rabbi of Bialystok under an agreement with the members of the community that he be allowed to devote himself to his public activities several months a year. Mohilewer was the honorary president of the *Kattowitz Conference of Ḥovevei Zion (1884). His speech at the closing session of the conference on the "Dry Bones" (Ezek. 37) served as a foundation for the sermons of the preachers of Ḥibbat Zion and of Zionism for the following years. In 1888 he joined I.E. *Spektor, M. *Eliasberg, and others who allowed the farmers to work the fields during the shemittah year in the Jewish settlements in Ereẓ Israel. He chaired the Ḥovevei Zion conferences in Druskininkai (1887) and in Vilna (1889) and struggled for the influence of the Orthodox circles in the movement. Through his influence a board of rabbis was chosen to ensure that the settlement work in Ereẓ Israel was carried out in a traditional Jewish spirit.

In 1890 Mohilewer was among the first speakers at the Odessa founding assembly of The Society in Support of Jewish Farmers and Artisans in Syria and Palestine (the official name of the Odessa Committee of Ḥovevei Zion). After the meeting he headed a Ḥovevei Zion group on a tour of Ereẓ Israel and, upon his return, published his open letter titled "The Purpose of My Trip to the Holy Land," in which he called upon Ḥovevei Zion "to work physically and financially for the sake of Ereẓ Israel." At a gathering of Ḥovevei Zion in Druskininkai (1893), it was decided, at Mohilewer's initiative, to establish a Spiritual Center (Merkaz Ruḥani – *Mizrachi) for the movement to direct public relations activities and explain ideas connected with the settlement of Ereẓ Israel. It was also decided to plant a citron orchard on land adjoining Ḥaderah and to name it Gan Shemu'el, in honor of Mohilewer's 70th birthday. Mohilewer and his close associates continued in their propaganda work, especially among the Orthodox Jews, and the Mizrachi became the foundation for the development of the religious Zionist movement, which four years after Mohilewer's death became a faction in the Zionist Organization (assuming officially the name Mizrachi).

Mohilewer joined the World Zionist Organization when it was founded by *Herzl, but because of his physical weakness he was not able to participate in the First Congress in 1897. His letter was read to the delegates, however, and created a great impression upon them. He was chosen as one of the four leaders who were charged with directing the work of the Zionist Movement in Russia and as the head of its "spiritual center" which disseminated directives to the members in their work. In his last letter before his death, Mohilewer called upon the Jews of Russia to support the *Jewish Colonial Trust. The basic goals in his public relations work were the attainment of a deep attachment to the commandment to settle Ereẓ Israel, "which is the foundation of the existence of our people"; and tolerance toward the maskilim as a prerequisite to the unity of the Jewish people, which was necessary for the rebuilding of the Jewish homeland.

Mohilewer wrote many short works, including responsa, talmudic and rabbinical novellae, homilies, and scholarly works. Most of these writings were lost in the Bialystok pogrom (1906). Some of those that survived were published under the name Ḥikrei Halakhah u-She'elot u-Teshuvot (1944).

[Yehuda Slutsky]

His grandson, josef mohilewer (1872–1943), was a Zionist leader and educator in Russia and Ereẓ Israel. Born in Radom, Poland, he received a traditional Jewish education from his grandfather. He was active in various Zionist groups, and from 1902 was a government-appointed rabbi in Bialystok. Mohilewer was active in the fields of Jewish education and community affairs in Odessa. In 1920 he moved to Palestine, where he became deputy headmaster of the Jerusalem Teachers' Seminary and, from 1923, headmaster of the Hebrew High School in Jerusalem. He published articles in the Russian, German, and Hebrew press.

[Abraham Aharoni]


N. Sokolow, Hibbath Zion (Eng., 1935), index; idem, History of Zionism, 2 (1919), index; M. Ben-Zvi (comp.), Rabbi Samuel Mohilewer (Eng., 1945); I. Nissenbaum, Ha-Rav Shemu'el Mohilewer (1930): idem, Ha-Dat ve-ha-Teḥiyyah ha-Le'ummit (1920), 92–118; A. Druyanow, Ketavim le-Toledot Ḥibbat Ẓiyyon ve-Yishuv Ereẓ-Yisrael (1932), index; Y.L. Fishman, Sefer Shemu'el (1923); S. Federbush, Ḥazon Torah ve-Ẓiyyon (1960), 99–117; I. Trivaks and E. Steinman, Sefer Me'ah Shanah (1938), 365–86; Tidhar, 1 (1947), 291–2; A. Hertzberg, Zionist Idea (1960), 398–404; L. Jung (ed.), Men of the Spirit (1964), 415–35.