Rothschild, Baron Edmond James de

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ROTHSCHILD, BARON EDMOND JAMES DE (1845–1934), philanthropist, patron of Jewish settlement in Ereẓ Israel, and art collector. Rothschild was born in Paris (see *Rothschild family). In contrast to his two older brothers, Edmond was not given to banking, and from his youth was devoted to humanist and cultural matters, especially art. His art collection, which occupied him throughout his life, brought him fame as an art expert, and he was elected to the Institut des Beaux Arts in Paris. He was close to both Jewish and non-Jewish intellectuals in France. In 1877 he married Adelaide the daughter of Wilhelm Carl Rothschild, who was known for his extreme religiosity and his unwillingness to become involved with matters concerning Ereẓ Israel.

"I have always been concerned with the future of Judaism," Rothschild wrote in an autobiographical letter dated 1928. He only began public activity in the Jewish sphere, however, after the pogroms in Russia in the 1880s. He was on the French Committee to Aid the Emigration of Refugees and became involved in affairs concerning Ereẓ Israel only after the founding of the first settlements and the first overtures from settlers and members of Ḥovevei Zion in Europe. It is known that as early as 1873 he was influenced by La Femme de Claude, a play by Alexandre Dumas fils, which advocated the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel; Dumas reiterated this idea in a letter to Rothschild (published in part by Nahum *Sokolow, without revealing the name of the recipient, in History of Zionism, 2 (1919), 263–5). When the first settlements in Ereẓ Israel faced a financial crisis serious enough to endanger their existence, the leaders of *Rishon le-Zion turned to Rothschild, together with Samuel *Mohilewer through the mediation of Chief Rabbi Zadoc *Kahn in Paris. The result of these appeals was Rothschild's support for the settlements Rishon le-Zion and Zikhron Ya'akov and afterward the founding of the settlement Ekron. During 1883–84, the first settlements began to be patronized by Rothschild. Due to his desire to remain anonymous in this venture, he was known by a cover name "Ha-Nadiv ha-Yadu'a" ("the Well-Known Benefactor"), and in Ereẓ Israel and the Ḥovevei Zion groups this name became better known than his real one. His aid to the first settlements saved them from collapse, as testified to by Peretz *Smolenskin and Moses *Lilienblum at the time. Rothschild himself later defined his activities as "not merely philanthropy, but something entirely different." For decades, including the era of Theodor *Herzl's activity, Rothschild advocated "quiet" settlement work as the basis for a promising future, and only after World War i did he join the political activity of the Zionist Organization (aiding Chaim *Weizmann and Sokolow in particular).

Rothschild's patronage was of two types: the first was full (Rishon le-Zion, Zikhron Ya'akov, Rosh Pinnah, and Ekron) and the second was partial (Petaḥ Tikvah and others). He became the major address for all problems in the yishuv, large and small alike, to such a degree that he became known as the "Father of the Yishuv." All the agricultural experiments carried out in the settlements by French experts were covered by his funds. His support was implemented by a bureaucracy, mostly staffed by Frenchmen whose mentality was alien to that of the settlers. This caused sharp antagonism that even reached the level of revolt in several settlements. This type of bureaucratic patronage was the greatest problem of the Jewish settlements during a 20-year period and aroused sharp criticism. However, in retrospect it is recognized that Rothschild's bureaucracy also played a positive role. It introduced new plant species into Jewish agriculture and instructed the first settlers in the agriculture of the country.

Rothschild's first visits to Ereẓ Israel (1887, 1893, 1899) were devoted to tours of the settlements, investigating the rate of development, and demanding self-labor in the settlements, modest living standards, the speaking of Hebrew, and a concern for religious tradition. In addition, lands were purchased on his orders for new agricultural settlement (in the Golan and Hauran, among other places). In the 1890s Rothschild came into conflict with Herzl and with the Ḥovevei Zion in Russia. Herzl read his "Address to the Rothschild Family" to him, but no common denominator could be found between Rothschild's settlement methods and the notion of a charter, which symbolized Herzl's political Zionism. The second conflict was with the Russian Ḥovevei Zion, and particularly *Aḥad Ha-Am, over the patronage system. Aḥad Ha-Am denounced this system of settlement in his famous article "Ha-Yishuv ve-Apotropsav" (1902). Before the publication of this article, a delegation of Ḥovevei Zion from Russia, including Aḥad Ha-Am, and representatives of the settlements visited Rothschild (May 14, 1901) and demanded that the patronage system cease. The result of these conflicts was the transfer of Rothschild's settlements to the supervision of the *Jewish Colonization Association (ica) in 1900, together with a grant of 14,000,000 francs. The transaction covered about 250,000 dunams (62,500 acres) and a network of 12 settlements, most of which, due to Rothschild's support, were ready to become self-supporting.

Under ica the settlements expanded, to a large degree with Rothschild's direct and indirect support. In 1914, during Rothschild's fourth visit, he expressed satisfaction with his settlement activities, which had also influenced other settlements, especially those of the Zionist Organization. In addition to his agricultural settlement activity, Rothschild played a major role in the development of the wine industry in Ereẓ Israel (see *Israel, State of: Wine Industry), was a cosponsor of the Palestine Electric Corporation, the founder of smaller industries, and contributed funds to the establishment of the Hebrew University. Against the background of this practical work, Rothschild grew closer to the Zionist Organization after his return from this visit. He told Weizmann, "Without me, the Zionists could have done nothing; but without the Zionists, my work would have been dead" (Ch. Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 165). In turn, Weizmann stated that Rothschild was "far-sighted in his political and national thought." The road to cooperation between Rothschild and the Zionists was paved during World War i and especially toward its end, with the preparatory work for the *Balfour Declaration. Rothschild softened the objections of the assimilationists in France to the political activity of the Zionist Organization.

Toward the end of World War i, Rothschild's son James arrived in Ereẓ Israel with the British army and was among the recruiters for the Jewish battalions in the yishuv. Rothschild expressed his joy at "seeing his heir carrying on his great work, to which he was completely devoted." Toward the end of 1923, his work was again reorganized. Rothschild founded the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (*pica) headed by his son James, which continued the settlement activity, particularly in Samaria. The first settlement founded in Samaria, Binyamina, bore Rothschild's Hebrew name (Avraham Binyamin). According to Rothschild's instructions, the main purpose of pica was to found new settlements. He visited the country in 1924 and finally in 1925, when he gave a speech in Tel Aviv containing his credo about settlement activity over the decades. He combined economic foundations with cultural, spiritual, and political motivations. Rothschild won the admiration and appreciation of all sectors of the yishuv and the Zionist Organization, as expressed in Weizmann's comment: "In my opinion he was the leading political Zionist of our generation." David *Ben-Gurion said of him: "Until his appearance in the arena of settlement activity and until this very day [1954], there is no one whose personal role in cultivating and expanding settlement can match with his."

With the enlargement of the *Jewish Agency (1929), Rothschild was chosen its honorary president, and until his last days he maintained an avid interest in all activities, large and small, in the yishuv. Rothschild died in Paris, a year before his wife. He left nearly 500,000 dunams (125,000 acres) and almost 30 settlements in his wake. In 1954 his remains and those of his wife were reinterred in Ramat ha-Nadiv, near Zikhron Ya'akov.


N. Sokolow, History of Zionism, 2 (1919), index; D. Druck, Baron Edmond Rothschild (Eng., 1928); C. Roth, Magnificent Rothschilds (1939); I. Naiditch, Edmond de Rothschild (Eng., 1945); G. Kressel, Avi ha-Yishuv (1954); I. Margalith, Le Baron Edmond de Rothschild et la colonisation juive en Palestine (1957), incl. bibl.; F. Morton, The Rothschilds (19642), 174–84; B. Dinaburg, Mefallesei Derekh (1946), 69–89.

[Getzel Kressel]

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Rothschild, Baron Edmond James de

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Rothschild, Baron Edmond James de