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Sprinzak, Joseph


SPRINZAK, JOSEPH (1885–1959), Israeli labor leader and first speaker of the Knesset, member of the First to Third Knessets. Sprinzak was born in Moscow. His father, a manufacturer, was a member of Ḥovevei Zion and was active in Jewish community affairs. In 1891, when the Jews were expelled from Moscow, Sprinzak's family moved to Kishinev and then to Warsaw. Their home was a center for young Hebrew writers and active Zionists. In 1903, Sprinzak took part in organizing the Zionist group Ha-Teḥiyyah, led by Yitzhak *Gruenbaum. In Warsaw he worked for a while in the Hebrew publishing house Ahi'asaf, and wrote for Hebrew and Yiddish newspapers. In 1905 he returned to Kishinev, where he was a cofounder of the *Ẓe'irei Zion movement in Southern Russia, and in 1906 he participated as its delegate at the *Helsingfors Conference of Russian Zionists, after having formulated the Ẓe'irei Zion program together with Haim *Greenberg.

In 1908, after spending several months in Constantinople, where he was in touch with various Zionist leaders, including David *Wolffsohn, Menahem *Ussishkin, Nahum *Sokolow, and Vladimir *Jabotinsky, in an attempt to influence the new regime of the Young Turks, Sprinzak went to study medicine at the American University in Beirut. However, in 1910 he was asked by Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir to discontinue his studies, and become the party's secretary in Palestine. Inter alia, he was active in the absorption of the immigrants from Yemen. At the 11th Zionist Congress in Vienna in 1913, Sprinzak organized a faction of 41 delegates, consisting of members of Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir and Ẓe'irei Zion. During World War i he remained in Palestine and was instrumental in organizing help for the yishuv in general and the Jewish workers in particular. After the war he took part in creating the framework of the world movement *Hitaḥadut, which encompassed Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir and Ẓe'irei Zion. At its founding conference in Prague in 1920, together with Aharon David *Gordon, Hugo Bergmann, and Eli'ezer *Kaplan, he was the moving spirit of the Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir delegation from Palestine. Chairing the conference's meetings, he summed up its deliberations. At the 11th Zionist Congress in Carlsbad in 1921, he was the first representative of the labor movement in Ereẓ Israel to be elected to the Zionist Executive. For seven years he served on the Executive as head of the Labor Department and later of the Aliyah Department as well. In the 1920s, Sprinzak was a co-founder and leading member of the *Histadrut, a member of the Tel Aviv municipality, and played an active role in the establishment of Asefat ha-Nivḥarim and the Va'ad Le'ummi, and in the formation of*Mapai through the merger of *Aḥdut ha-Avodah and Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir. In 1942–59, he served as chairman of the presidium of the Zionist Executive, and in 1944–49 served as the secretary general of the Histadrut.

After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, he was elected to chair the Provisional State Council. He was elected to the three first Knessets on behalf of Mapai, and served as Knesset speaker from 1949 until his death in 1959. As the Knesset's first speaker, he played a major role in molding the written and unwritten rules of Israel's parliamentary life. Sprinzak oversaw the competition for the planning of the new Knesset building at Givat Ram, but its construction began only after his death. His friendly, warm, and moderate character endeared him to both Israeli citizens and Jews abroad. His sense of humor and sensitivity enabled him to overcome conflicts. He favored a form of humanist, social-democratic Zionism, which regarded the process of national regeneration as an evolutionary one in which the workers were to play a major role in both urban and rural settlements.

Sprinzak's son Ya'ir was a scientist who worked at the Weizmann Institute, and was a member of the 12th Knesset on behalf of Moledet.

Among his writings are Bein ha-Teimanim ("Among the Yemenites," 1918); Bi-Khetav u-be-al Peh, a collection of articles and speeches (1952); and Yosef Shapira (ed.), Iggerot Yosef Sprinzak, a collection of letters (1965–69).

[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]

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