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Kibbutz Kfar Masaryk

A kibbutz (Hebrew: קיבוץ, קִבּוּץ, lit. "gathering, clustering"; plural kibbutzim) is a collective community in Israel that was traditionally based on agriculture. Today, farming has been partly supplanted by other economic branches, including industrial plants and high-tech enterprises.[1] Kibbutzim began as utopian communities, a combination of socialism and Zionism. In recent decades, many kibbutzim have been privatized and changes have been made in the communal lifestyle. A member of a kibbutz is called a kibbutznik (Hebrew: קִבּוּצְנִיק‎).



The first kibbutzim

Bilu'im, forerunners of the kibbutz movement

Pogroms flared up again in Russia in the first years of the 20th century. In 1903 at Kishinev peasant mobs were incited against Jews after a blood libel. Riots again took place in the wake of Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and the 1905 Revolution. The occurrence of new pogroms inspired yet another wave of Russian Jews to emigrate. As in the 1880s, most emigrants went to the United States, but a minority went to Palestine. It was this generation that would include founders of the kibbutzim.

Like the members of the First Aliya who came before them, most members of the Second Aliya wanted to be farmers. Joseph Baratz, one of the pioneers of the kibbutz movement, wrote a book about his experiences.[2]

We were happy enough working on the land, but we knew more and more certainly that the ways of the old settlements were not for us. This was not the way we hoped to settle the country—this old way with Jews on top and Arabs working for them; anyway, we thought that there shouldn't be employers and employed at all. There must be a better way.[3]

Though Baratz and others wanted to farm the land themselves, becoming independent farmers was not a realistic option in 1909. As Arthur Ruppin, a proponent of Jewish agricultural colonization of the Trans-Jordan would later say, "The question was not whether group settlement was preferable to individual settlement; it was rather one of either group settlement or no settlement at all."[4]

Ottoman Palestine was a harsh environment. The Galilee was swampy, the Judean Hills rocky, and the south of the country, the Negev, was a desert. To make things more challenging, most of the settlers had no prior farming experience. The sanitary conditions were also poor. Malaria, typhus and cholera were rampant. Nomadic Bedouins would raid farms and settled areas. Sabotage of irrigation canals and burning of crops were also common. Living collectively was simply the most logical way to be secure in an unwelcoming land. On top of safety considerations, establishing a farm was a capital-intensive project; collectively the founders of the kibbutzim had the resources to establish something lasting, while independently they did not.

Finally, the land had been purchased by the greater Jewish community. From around the world, Jews dropped coins into JNF "Blue Boxes" for land purchases in Palestine. In 1909, Baratz, nine other men, and two women established themselves at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee near the Arab village of Umm Juni. These teenagers had hitherto worked as day laborers draining swamps, as masons, or as hands at the older Jewish settlements. Their dream was now to work for themselves, building up the land. They called their community "Kvutzat Degania" (lit. "wheat of God").

The founders of Degania endured backbreaking labor: "The body is crushed, the legs fail, the head hurts, the sun burns and weakens," wrote one of the pioneers. At times half of the kibbutz members could not report for work and many left. Despite the difficulties, by 1914, Degania had fifty members. Other kibbutzim were founded around the Sea of Galilee and the nearby Jezreel Valley.

During the British Mandate

Golda Meir working in the fields of kibbutz Merhavia in the 1920s

The fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, followed by the arrival of the British, brought with it benefits for the Jewish community of Palestine and its kibbutzim. The Ottoman authorities had made immigration to Palestine difficult and restricted land purchases. Rising anti-semitism forced many Jews to flee Eastern Europe. To escape the pogroms, tens of thousands of Russian Jews immigrated to Palestine in the early 1920s, in a wave of immigration that was called the "Third Aliya."

Zionist Jewish youth movements flourished in the 1920s, from right-wing movements like Betar to left-wing socialist groups such as Dror, Brit Haolim, Kadima and Habonim (now Habonim Dror). Most significant for the history of the kibbutz was Hashomer Hatzair, whose members founded many kibbutzim. In contrast to those who came as part of the Second Aliya, these youth group members had some agricultural training before embarking. Members of the Second Aliya and Third Aliya were also less likely to be Russian, since emigration from Russia was closed off after the Russian Revolution of 1917. European Jews who settled on kibbutzim between the World Wars were from other countries in Eastern Europe, including Germany.

In the early days, communal meetings were limited to practical matters, but in the 1920s and 1930s, they became more informal. Instead of meeting in the dining room, the group would sit around a campfire. Rather than reading minutes, the session would begin with a group dance. Remembering her youth on a kibbutz on the shores of the Kinneret, one woman said: "Oh, how beautiful it was when we all took part in the discussions, [they were] nights of searching for one another—that is what I call those hallowed nights. During the moments of silence, it seemed to me that from each heart a spark would burst forth, and the sparks would unite in one great flame penetrating the heavens…. At the center of our camp a fire burns, and under the weight of the hora the earth groans a rhythmic groan, accompanied by wild songs."[5]

Kibbutzim founded in the 1920s tended to be larger than the kibbutzim like Degania which were founded prior to World War I. Degania had had twelve members at its founding. Ein Harod, founded only a decade later, began with 215 members.

Kibbutzim grew and flourished in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1922 there were 700 people living on kibbutzim in Palestine. By 1927, the number had risen to 2,000. When World War II erupted, 24,105 people were living on 79 kibbutzim, comprising 5% of the Jewish population of Mandate Palestine. [6] In 1950, the figures went up to 65,000, accounting for 7.5% of the population. In 1989, the kibbutz population peaked at 129,000.

Development of kibbutz movements

In 1927, United Kibbutz Movement (HaKibbutz Hameuhad) was established. Several HaShomer Hatzair kibbutzim banded together to form HaKibbutz HaArtzi. In 1936, HaKibbutz HaArtzi founded its own political party, the Socialist League of Palestine, commonly referred to as Hashomer Hatzair.

First building in Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, a dairy barn

In 1928 Degania and other small kibbutzim formed "Hever Hakvutzot" ("association of kvutzot"). Kvutzot were deliberately small, not exceeding 200 members, in the belief that this was imperative for maintaining trust. Kvutzot did not have youth-group affiliations in Europe. Kibbutzim affiliated with Hakibbutz Hameuhad took in as many members as they could. Givat Brenner eventually came to have more than 1,500 members. Artzi kibbutzim were also more devoted to equality of the sexes than other kibbutzim. Women called their husbands ishi ("my man") rather than the customary Hebrew word for husband ba'ali (lit. "my owner"). The children slept in children's houses and visited their parents only a few hours a day.

There were also differences in religion. Kibbutz Artzi and Kibbutz HaMeuhad kibbutzim were secular, even staunchly atheistic, proudly trying to be "monasteries without God." Most mainstream kibbutzim also disdained the Orthodox Judaism of their parents, but they wanted their new communities to have Jewish characteristics nonetheless. Friday nights were still "Shabbat" with a white tablecloth and fine food, and work was not done on Saturday if it could be avoided. Only late some kibbutzim adopted Yom Kippur as the day to discuss fears for the future of the kibbutz. Kibbutzim also had collective bar mitzvahs for their children.

If kibbutzniks did not pray several times a day, kibbutzniks marked holidays like Shavuot, Sukkot, and Passover with dances, meals, and celebrations. One Jewish holiday, Tu B'shvat, the "birthday of the trees" was substantially revived by kibbutzim. All in all, holidays with some kind of natural component, like Passover and Sukkoth, were the most significant for kibbutzim.

Religious kibbutzim were established in clusters before the establishment of the State, creating the Religious Kibbutz Movement. The first religious kibbutz was Ein Tzurim, founded in 1946.


Arab opposition increased as the Balfour Declaration and the wave of Jewish aliya to Palestine began to tilt the demographic balance of the area. There were bloody anti-Arab and anti-Jewish riots in Jerusalem in 1921 and in Hebron in 1929. In the late 1930s Arab-Jewish violence became virtually constant, a period known as the Great Uprising in Palestinian historiography.

A member of Kibbutz Ma'abarot on guard duty, 1936

Kibbutzim began to assume a more prominent military role. Rifles were purchased or manufactured and kibbutz members drilled and practiced shooting. Yigal Allon, an Israeli soldier and statesman, explained the role of kibbutzim in the military activities of the Yishuv.

The planning and development of pioneering Zionist were from the start at least partly determined by politico-strategic needs. The choice of the location of the settlements, for instance, was influenced not only by considerations of economic viability but also and even chiefly by the needs of local defense, overall settlement strategy, and by the role such blocks of settlements might play in some future, perhaps decisive all out struggle. Accordingly, land was purchased, or more often reclaimed, in remote parts of the country.[7]

Kibbutzim also played a role in defining the borders of the Jewish state-to-be. By the late 1930s when it appeared that Palestine would be partitioned between Arabs and Jews, kibbutzim were established in outlying areas to insure that the land would be incorporated into the Jewish state. In 1946, on the day after Yom Kippur, eleven new "Tower and Stockade" kibbutzim were hurriedly established in the northern part of the Negev to give Israel a better claim to this arid, but strategically important, region. The Marxist faction of the kibbutz movement, Kibbutz Artzi, favored a binational state over partition, but advocated free Jewish immigration, which the Arabs opposed.

Kibbutzniks fought bravely in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, emerging from the conflict with enhanced prestige in the nascent State of Israel. Members of Kibbutz Degania were instrumental in stopping the Syrian tank advance into the Galilee with homemade gasoline bombs. Maagan Michael, manufactured the bullets for the Sten guns that won the war. Maagan Michael's clandestine ammunition factory was later separated from the kibbutz and grew into TAAS (Israel Military Industries).

After the establishment of the state

Collecting bales of hay on Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, 1950s

The establishment of Israel and flood of Jewish refugees from Europe and the Arab world presented challenges and opportunities for kibbutzim. The immigrant tide offered kibbutzim a chance to expand through new members and inexpensive labor, but it also meant that Ashkenazi kibbutzim would have to adapt to Jews whose background was far different from their own. Until the 1950s, nearly all kibbutzniks were from Eastern Europe, culturally different from the Jews of Morocco, Tunisia, and Iraq. Many kibbutzim hired Mizrahim as laborers but were less inclined to grant them membership.[citation needed]

Ideological disputes were also widespread. Israel had been initially recognized by both the USA and the Soviet Union. For the first three years of its existence, Israel was in the Non-Aligned Movement, but David Ben-Gurion gradually began to take sides with the West. The question of which side of the Cold War Israel should choose created fissures in the kibbutz movement. Dining halls segregated according to politics and a few kibbutzim even saw Marxist members leave. This controversy cooled once Stalin's cruelty became better known and once it became clear that the Soviet Union was systematically anti-Semitic. The disillusionment particularly set in after the Prague Trials in which an envoy of Hashomer Hatzair in Prague was tried in an anti-Semitic show trial.

Another controversy involved Holocaust reparations from West Germany. Should kibbutz members turn over income that was the product of a very personal loss? If Holocaust survivors were allowed to keep their reparation money, what would that mean for the principle of equality? Eventually, many kibbutzim made this one concession to inequality by letting Holocaust survivors keep all or a percentage of their reparations. Reparations that were turned over to the collective were used for building expansion and even recreational activities.

Kibbutzniks enjoyed a steady and gradual improvement in their standard of living in the first few decades after independence. In the 1960s, kibbutzim actually saw their standard of living improve faster than Israel's general population. Most kibbutz swimming pools date from the good decade of the 1960s.

Kibbutzim also continued to play an outsize role in Israel's defense apparatus. In the 1950s and 1960s many kibbutzim were in fact founded by an Israel Defense Forces group called Nahal. Many of these 1950s and 1960s Nahal kibbutzim were founded on the precarious and porous borders of the state. In the Six-Day War, when Israel lost 800 soldiers, 200 of them were from kibbutzim. The prestige that kibbutzniks enjoyed in Israel in the 1960s was reflected in the Knesset. When only 4% of Israelis were kibbutzniks, kibbutzniks made up 15% of Israel's parliament.[8]

As late as the 1970s, kibbutzim seemed to be thriving in every way. Kibbutzniks performed working class, or even peasant class, occupations, yet enjoyed a middle class lifestyle.

Decline and restructuring

With time, the kibbutz members’ sense of identification with the kibbutz and its goals decreased. This process originated both from personal frustrations among the kibbutz members as a result of internal processes and from the growing stratification and inequality due to the growth of capitalistic practices. [9] Over the years, some kibbutz members established professional careers outside the kibbutz, accumulating power, privileges and prestige. [10] The balance between individual values and values of the kibbutz began to tip, and work motivation was affected. An emphasis was placed on social compensation to encourage productivity. These processes occurred in parallel with a severe economic crisis.

  • The privatization processes and the adoption of non-cooperative beliefs in all of the Israeli society, affected the moral and structural support of kibbutzim, and with the years penetrated the new generations of the kibbutzim.
  • The kibbutzim were built on the attempt to create a permanent and institutionalized framework, which would be able to set a pattern of conduct which would successfully handle the implementation of shared values. The attempt to place such a regular pattern required creativity in the adoption of kibbutz practices to its growth and changing kibbutz system and encompassing society, but kibbutz leadership suppressed innovators and critical thinkers, causing either failures to deal with changes or adoption of capitalist solutions that negated kibbutz basic principles.[11]
  • The kibbutzim had a rural patterns of settlements, while over the years the Israeli society began adopting urban patterns of settlements. The lack of match between the patterns of the kibbutz society and the majority of the Israeli society, appealed the strong linkage between the kibbutzim with the entire Israeli society, a principle which didn’t allow the continuation of the collaborative model (because of the internal weakening and the loss of the all-Israeli legitimacy).
  • The kibbutzim were established during the pioneer period and were the fulfillment of the Zionist vision, during that period of time every member was required to give the maximum from himself for the good of the collective: the kibbutz and the state. In addition, as a group it was easier to deal with the common problems of the individuals – which allowed the recruitment of a large number of people for maintaining the safety of the community at that time, and therefore this way of life was suited for the Zionist goals more than other forms of life at that time.
  • The original concept of the kibbutzim was based to a large extent on self-sacrifice of its members for the sake of abstract foundations and not on the cancellation of work, and therefore after the pioneer period the linkage between the kibbutz members decreased, due to the decline in the pioneering spirit and the decline in the importance of the self-sacrifice values.
  • When the kibbutz was perceived as an initiator for values national objectives, it was very much appreciated in the Israeli society and it was easier for the members to identify themselves with the kibbutz, its function and it’s significantly. With the decrease of its appreciation and the minimizing of the social significances in the Israeli society, the kibbutz identity weakened.
  • The kibbutzim weren't capable of dealing with the increase in the standard of living in order to keep the communal values relevant, which eventually led to the changes in patterns of life of many members which harmed the relevancy of the communal framework which was not adapted to this.
  • The globalization processes and the kibbutz failure to block them exposed the kibbutz society to a different type of culture. For example, after kibbutz members were allowed to have Television sets in their own homes, the kibbutz members were exposed to “the good life” in which people were compensated for their work and could buy themselves different luxurious items. The kibbutzim weren't capable of dealing with these processes.[citation needed]
  • The fall of the Soviet Union resulted in the weakening of Socialist beliefs around the world, including in the kibbutz society. This process was followed by the capitalist system which became stronger and started spreading and the when the United States became the sole superpower, as well as a media exposure to the totalitarian characteristics of Joseph Stalin's regime, and the violent large scaled tyranny and oppression manifestations which followed it.[citation needed]

During the 1980s, following the peak of the kibbutzim crisis, many people started leaving their kibbutzim, and there was considerable tension due to the economic situation. In order to cope with the situation, some kibbutzim began to change in various ways.

The changes which occurred could be divided into three main types:

  • Extensive privatization of the kibbutz services - in fact, such privatization had been introduced over the past two decades in many kibbutzim. Most of these privatization processes, however, were made in matters which were considered relatively minor. Currently, many kibbutzim which have privatized (some of them with subsidies) have also privatized the education and health systems, which were once considered untouchable.[citation needed]
  • "Differential wage" - one famous characteristic of the kibbutzim was that each kibbutz member recevied an equal budget according to his or her needs, regardless of what job they held. In many kibbutzim, members are now paid differentially based on the work they do.
  • "Association of properties" - refers to the transfer of some of the properties which belong to the kibbutz, in its capacity as a cooperative commonality, to the ownership of individual kibbutz members. This is actually true privatization (unlike the services privatization). These assets include the homes where the members live and a sort of a "stock" in the manufacturing component of the kibbutz. This change allows kibbutz members to sell and bequeath both types of properties, within certain limitations.

Since the mid 1990s, the number of kibbutzim making significant changes in their lifestyle continued to grow, while the resistance to these changes gradually decreased, with only a few dozen kibbutzim still functioning under more traditional models. It is important to note, however, that each kibbutz has undergone different processes of change. There are many people, outside and inside the kibbutzim, who claim these changes bring to an end the kibbutz concept. Among the communities which had recently ceased being kibbutzim (officially): are Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley, HaGoshrim in the Upper Galilee, Beit Nir in the Negev, etc.[citation needed]

These processes have created the "renewing kibbutz" (הקיבוץ המתחדש ) – a kibbutz settlement pattern which isn't fully based on the original values of the kibbutz. Kibbutzim continuing under the original kibbutz values are associated with the "collaborative model" (הזרם השיתופי).

Ideology of the kibbutz movement

Cotton fields of kibbutz Shamir, ca. 1958

First Aliyah immigrants were largely religious, but those of the Second Aliyah were mainly secular. A Jewish work ethic thus replaced religious practice. Berl Katznelson, a Labor Zionist leader articulated this when he said "Everywhere the Jewish laborer goes, the divine presence goes with him.".[12]

In the contemporary Yiddish anti-Zionist literature that was circulating around Eastern Europe, Palestine was mocked as dos gepeigerte land, "the country that had died." Kibbutz members found immense gratification in bringing the land back to life by planting trees, draining swamps, and countless other hard-graft activities to make the land (invariably wetlands) productive. In soliciting donations, kibbutzim and other Zionist settlement activities presented themselves as "making the desert bloom."

The first kibbutzim were founded in the upper Jordan Valley, the Jezreel Valley and the Sharon coastal plain. The land was available for purchase because it was marshy and malaria-infested. The Zionists believed that the Arab population would be grateful for the economic benefits that developing the land would bring. Their approach was that the enemies of the Arab peasants were the Arab landowners (called effendis), not fellow Jewish farmers. The first kibbutzniks hoped to be more than farmers. They sought to create a new type of society where all would be equal and free from exploitation.

Kibbutz members were not classic Marxists though their system partially resembled Communism. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels both shared a disdain for conventional formulations of the nation-state and Leninists were hostile to Zionism. Nevertheless, in the late 1930s, two kibbutz leaders, Tabenkin and Yaari, initially attracted to anarchist ideas, pushed their movements leftward to reverence of Stalin's dictatorship.[13] Soon Stalin became hostile to Israel as it served Soviet diplomatic and military interests in the Arab world. This caused major crises and mass exit in both Kibbutz Meuchad and Kibbutz Artzi kibbutzim, especially after the 1953 Doctors' Plot in Moscow and the Prague showcase Trials. Kibbutzim were run as collective enterprises within a free market system. Kibbutzim also practiced active democracy, with elections held for kibbutz functions and full participation in national elections.

Kibbutzim were not the only contemporary communal enterprises: pre-war Palestine also saw the development of communal villages called moshavim (singular moshav). In a moshav, marketing and major farm purchases would be done collectively, but personal lives were entirely private. Although much less famous than kibbutzim, moshavim became more numerous and popular than kibbutzim after the establishment of Israel in 1948.

In 2009, most votes from kibbutzim went to Kadima, Labor, and Meretz.[14]

Communal life

The principle of equality was taken extremely seriously up until the 1970s. Kibbutzniks did not individually own tools, or even clothing. Gifts and income received from outside were turned over to the common treasury. If a member received a gift in services—like a visit to a relative who was a dentist or a trip abroad paid for by a parent—there could be arguments at members' meetings about the propriety of accepting such a gift.


Children of Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, 1998

The arrival of children at a new kibbutz inevitably posed an ethical dilemma. If everything was held in common, then who was in charge of the children? This question was answered by regarding the children as belonging to all, even to the point of kibbutz mothers breastfeeding babies which were not their own.[citation needed] For most kibbutzim, the arrival of children was a sobering experience: "When we saw our first children in the playpen, hitting one another, or grabbing toys just for themselves, we were overcome with anxiety. What did it mean that even an education in communal life couldn't uproot these egotistical tendencies? The utopia of our initial social conception was slowly, slowly destroyed."[15]

In the 1920s kibbutzim introduced communal children's homes. The theory was that trained nurses and teachers would be better care-providers than parents. Relationships would also be better because parents would not have to be disciplinarians. Another goal was to liberate mothers and promote gender equality: Instead of spending many hours a day on child care, women would be free to work and have more leisure time.

Child rearing

From their establishment until the 1970s, most kubbutzim had a system whereby the children would sleep in communal children's homes (בית ילדים) instead of in their parents' apartments.

In addition to reports by individual journalists or reporters, there is a large body of empirical research dealing with child rearing in kibbutzim. Such research has been critical of this method of raising children.

In a 1977 study, Fox[citation needed] compared the separation effects experienced by kibbutz children when removed from their mother, compared with removal from their caregiver (called a metapelet in Hebrew). He found that the child showed separation distress in both situations, but when reunited children were significantly more attached to their mothers than to the metapelet. The children protested subsequent separation from their mothers when the metapelet was reintroduced to them. However, kibbutzim children shared high bonding with their parents as compared to those who were sent to boarding schools, because children in a kibbutz spent three hours with their parents every day.

In another study by Scharf,[16] the group brought up in a communal environment within a kibbutz showed less ability in coping with imagined situations of separation than those who were brought up with their families. This has far reaching implications for child attachment adaptability and therefore institutions like kibbutzim. These interesting kibbutz techniques are controversial with or without these studies.

Gender roles

Women training at kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War

In the early days of the kibbutz movement the Kibbutzim tended to be male-dominated with a significant higher amount of male members. The to demanding kibbutz life in the early days of the kibbutz movement many of the original female members had to perform many of the same tasks given to the male members, such as working in the fields while in many cases the women were still expected to perform in addition to that traditional female roles, such as cooking, sewing, and cleaning.

Eventually in women in all the kibbutzim were allowed and even expected to do the same work as men, including armed guard duty. The desire to liberate women from traditional maternal duties was another ideological underpinning of the Children's Society system. Interestingly, women born on kibbutzim were much less reluctant to perform traditional female roles. It was the generation of women born on kibbutzim that eventually ended the Societies of Children. Also, although there was a "masculinization of women", there was no corresponding "feminization" of men. Women may have worked the fields, but men did not work childcare.

Social life

The dining hall in Kibbutz Merom Golan, ca. 1968-1972
Kibbutz Gan Shmuel in Shavuot, 1959

Social lives were held in common as well, not only property. As an example, most kibbutz dining halls exclusively utilized benches, not as an issue of cost or convenience, but because benches were construed as another way of expressing communal values. At some kibbutzim husbands and wives were discouraged from sitting together, as marriage was an expressed form of exclusivity. In The Kibbutz Community and Nation Building, Paula Rayman reports that Kibbutz Har refused to buy teakettles for its members in the 1950s; the issue being not the cost but that couples owning teakettles would mean more time spent together in their apartments, rather than with the community in the dining hall.

Unsurprisingly, the exclusively communal life proved hard for some. Every kibbutz saw new members quit after a few years. Since kibbutzniks had no individual bank accounts, any purchase not made at the kibbutz canteen had to be approved by a committee, a potentially humiliating and time-wasting experience. Kibbutzim also had their share of members who were not hard workers, or who abused common property; there would always be resentment against these "parasites." Finally, kibbutzim, as small, isolated communities, tended to be places of gossip, exacerbated by lack of privacy and the regimented work and leisure schedules.

Although major decisions about the future of the kibbutz were made by consensus or by voting, day-to-day decisions about where people would work were made by elected leaders. Typically, kibbutzniks and masakaries would learn their assignments by consulting the duty sheet at the dining hall.

Kibbutz memoirs from the Pioneer era report that kibbutz meetings varied from heated arguments to free-flowing philosophical discussions, whereas memoirs and accounts from kibbutz observers from the 1950s and 1960s report that kibbutz meetings were businesslike but poorly attended.

Kibbutzim attempted to rotate people into different jobs. One week a person might work in planting, the next with livestock, the week after in the kibbutz factory and the following week in the laundry. Even managers would have to work in menial jobs.[17] Through rotation, people took part in every kind of work, but it interfered with any process of specialization.

Children's Societies were one of the features of kibbutz life that most interested outsiders. In the heyday of Children's Societies, parents would only spend two hours a day, typically in the afternoon, with their children. In Kibbutz Artzi parents were explicitly forbidden to put their children to bed at night. As children got older, parents could go for days on end without seeing their offspring, other than through chance encounters somewhere in the grounds.

Some children who went through Children's Societies said they loved the experience, others remain ambivalent. One vocal group maintains that growing up without one's parents was very difficult. Years later, a kibbutz member described her childhood in a Children's Society:

"Allowed to suckle every four hours, left to cry and develop our lungs, we grew up without the basic security needed for survival. Sitting on the potty at regular intervals next to other children doing the same, we were educated to be the same; but we were, for all that, different… At night the grownups leave and turn off all the lights. You know you will wet the bed because it is too frightening to go to the lavatory."[18]

Aversion to sex was not part of the kibbutz ideology; to this end, teenagers were not segregated at night in Children's Societies, yet many visitors to kibbutzim were astonished at how conservative the communities tended to be. In Children of the Dream, Bruno Bettelheim quoted a kibbutz friend, "at a time when the American girls preen themselves, and try to show off as much as possible sexually, our girls cover themselves up and refuse to wear clothing that might show their breasts or in any other fashion be revealing." Kibbutz divorce rates were and are extremely low.[19] Unfortunately, from the point of view of the adults in the community, marriage rates among communally raised children were equally low. This conservatism on the part of kibbutz children has been attributed to the Westermarck effect—a form of reverse sexual imprinting that causes children raised together from an early age to reject each other as potential partners, even where they are not blood relatives.

From the beginning, Kibbutzim had a reputation as culture-friendly and nurturing of the arts. Many kibbutzniks were and are writers, actors, or artists. Kibbutzim typically offer theater companies, choirs, orchestras, athletic leagues, and special-interest classes. In 1953 Givat Brenner staged the play My Glorious Brothers, about the Maccabee revolt, building a real village on a hilltop as a set, planting real trees, and performing for 40,000 people. Like all kibbutz work products at the time, all the actors were members of the kibbutz, and all were ordered to perform as part of their work assignments.

Psychological aspects

The era of independent Israel kibbutzim attracted interest from sociologists and psychologists who attempted to answer the question: What are the effects of life without private property? What are the effects of life being brought up apart from one's parents?

Three researchers who wrote about psychological life on kibbutzim were Melford E. Spiro (1958) , Bruno Bettelheim (1969) and Michael Baizerman (1963). All concluded that a kibbutz upbringing led to individuals' having greater difficulty in making strong emotional commitments thereafter, such as falling in love or forming a lasting friendship. On the other hand, they appear to find it easier to have a large number of less-involved friendships, and a more active social life.

Bettelheim suggested that the lack of private property was the cause of the lack of emotions in kibbutzniks. He wrote, "nowhere more than in the kibbutz did I realize the degree to which private property, in the deep layers of the mind, relates to private emotions. If one is absent, the other tends to be absent as well". (See primitivism and primitive communism for a general discussion of these concepts).

Other researchers came to a conclusion that children growing up in these tightly knit communities tended to see the other children around them as ersatz siblings and preferred to seek mates outside the community when they reached maturity. Some theorize that living amongst one another on a daily basis virtually from birth on produced an extreme version of the Westermarck effect, which subconsciously diminished teenage kibbutzniks' sexual attraction to one another. Partly as a result of not finding a mate from within the kibbutz, youth often abandon kibbutz life as adults.

It is a subject of debate within the kibbutz movement as to how successful kibbutz education was in developing the talents of gifted children. Several kibbutz-raised children look back and say that the communal system stifled ambition; others say that bright children were nonetheless encouraged. Bruno Bettelheim had predicted that kibbutz education would yield mediocrity: "[kibbutz children] will not be leaders or philosophers, will not achieve anything in science or art." However, it has been noted that although kibbutzim comprise only 5% of the Israeli population, surprisingly large numbers of kibbutzniks become teachers, lawyers, doctors, and political leaders[citation needed].

Bettelheim's prediction was certainly wrong about the specific children he met at "Kibbutz Atid." In the 1990s a journalist tracked down the children Bettelheim had interviewed back in the 1960s at what was actually Kibbutz Ramat Yohanan. The journalist found that the children were highly accomplished in academia, business, music, and the military. "Bettelheim got it totally wrong."[20]

"The kibbutz is a magnifying glass for Israeli society," says Amia Lieblich, a professor of psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.[1]


Kibbutzim in the early days tried to be self-sufficient in all agricultural goods, from eggs to dairy to fruits to meats, but realized this was not possible. Land was generally provided by the Jewish National Fund. Later, they became dependent on government subsidies.

Even before the establishment of the State of Israel, kibbutzim began to branch out from agriculture into manufacturing. Kibbutz Degania opened a factory for diamond cutting tools that now grosses several million dollars a year. Kibbutz Hatzerim has a factory for drip irrigation equipment. Netafim is a multinational corporation that grosses over $300 million a year. Maagan Michael branched out from making bullets to making plastics and medical tools, and running an ulpan. These enterprises bring in over $100 million a year. A great wave of kibbutz industrialization came in the 1960s, and today only 15% of kibbutz members work in agriculture.

Hiring seasonal workers was always a point of controversy in the kibbutz movement. During harvest time, when hands were needed, manpower was sought outside the kibbutz. The founders of the kibbutz movement wanted to redeem the Jewish nation through manual labor, and hiring non-Jews to do hard tasks was not consistent with that idea. In the 1910s Kibbutz Degania vainly searched for Jewish masons to build their homes. Only when they could not find Jewish masons willing to endure the malaria of their location did they hire Arabs.

In the 1970s, kibbutzim frequently hired Arab laborers. Since the 1990s, teams of foreign workers have been brought in, many from Thailand and China.

Kibbutzim have branched out into tourism, among them Kiryat Anavim, Lavi and Nahsholim. Many kibbutzim rent out homes or run guesthouses. Several kibbutzim, such as Kibbutz Lotan and Kfar Ruppin, operate bird-watching vacations.

Types of kibbutzim

The Kibbutzim have three different movements:

  1. The Joint movement, AKA the "Kibbutz Movement", which constitutes as a roof-organization of two separate movements and ideologies: the "United Kibbutz Movement," founded in 1979 as a merger of two older movements: the "United Kibbutz" and "Union of the Kvutzot and the Kibbutzim", and "Kibbutz Artzi Hashomer Hatzair"
  2. "Religious Kibbutz Movement Hapoel HaMizrachi",
  3. "Agudat Israel Workers".

More than 85% of the total number of kibbutzim belongs to the Kibbutz Movement.

Also, there is a distinction between the kibbutzim - by to Nahal groups which settled in it first, and especially the youth movements to which these Nahal groups belonged to. The main movements are HaNoar HaOved VeHaLomed, Hashomer Hatzair and the HaMachanot HaOlim.

Following many changes which the kibbutzim over went through the years and following the appeal made to Israeli High Court of Justice by the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition in 2001 in which the state was required to redefine the exact definition of a kibbutz in order to define the rightful benefits which the kibbutzim members should be granted by law. The reactivated legal definition was given to the Industry, Trade and Labour Minister of Israel on the December 15, 2005 (תקנות סיווג הקיבוצים). According to this classification there are three types of kibbutzim:

  1. Kibbutz Shitufi (קיבוץ שיתופי): a kibbutz which still preserves a cooperative system.
  2. Kibbutz Mitchadesh (קיבוץ מתחדש): a community which has a number of cooperative systems in its intentions (guaranteed minimal income within the community, partnership in the ownership of the production means, partnership in the ownership of the lands, etc.).
  3. Urban kibbutz (קיבוץ עירוני): a community which exists within an existing settlement (city). Since the 1970s around 100 urban kibbutzim have been founded within existing Israeli cities. They have no enterprises of their own and all of their members work in the non-kibbutz sector.[21] Examples include Tamuz in Jerusalem or Migvan in Sderot.

Legal issues

Some kibbutzim have been involved in legal actions related to their status as kibbutzim. Kibbutz Glil Yam, near Herzliya, petitioned the court regarding privatization. In 1999, 8 members of kibbutz Beit Oren, applied to the High Court of Justice, to order the registrar of cooperative societies, to declassify Beit Oren as a kibbutz and reclassify it as a different kind of cooperative society. The petitioners argued that the Kibbutz had dramatically changed its life style, having implemented differential salaries, closing the communal dining room, and privatizing the educational system and other services. These changes did not fit the legal definition of a kibbutz, and in particular, the principle of equality in consumption. Consequently, the registrar of cooperative societies, who has the authority to register and classify cooperative societies, should change the classification of kibbutz Beit Oren. The kibbutz responded that it still maintained the basic principles of a kibbutz, but the changes made were vital to prevent a financial collapse and to improve the economic situation.

This case resulted in the Government establishing a committee to recommend a new legal definitions that will suit the development of the kibbutz, and to submit an opinion on the allocation of apartments to kibbutz members. The committee submitted a detailed report with two new legal classifications to the settlements known today as kibbutzim. The first classification was named 'communal kibbutz' which was identical to the traditional definition of a kibbutz. The second classification, was called the 'renewing kibbutz', which included developments and changes in lifestyle, provided that the basic principles of mutual guarantee and equality are preserved. In light of the above, the committee recommended that instead of the current legal definition of kibbutz, two different determinations will be created, as follows, a) communal kibbutz: a society for settlement, being a separate settlement, organized on the basis of collective ownership of possession, of self employment, and of equality and cooperation in production, consumption and education, b) renewing kibbutz: a society for settlement, being a separate settlement, organized on the basis of collective partnership in possession, of self employment, and of equality and cooperation in production, consumption and education, that maintains mutual guarantee among its members, and its articles of association includes, some or all of the following:

  1. relative wages according to the individual contribution or to seniority allocation of apartments
  2. allocation of productive means to its members, excluding land, water
  3. productive quotas, provided that the cooperative society will maintain control over the productive means and that the articles of association restrict the negotiability of allocated productive means.


In his history of Palestine under the British Mandate, One Palestine, Complete, "New Historian" Tom Segev wrote of the kibbutz movement:

The kibbutz was an original social creation, yet always a marginal phenomenon. By the end of the 1920s no more than 4,000 people, children included, lived on some thirty kibbutzim, and they amounted to a mere 2.5% of Palestine’s Jewish population. The most important service the kibbutzim provided to the Jewish national struggle was military, not economic or social. They were guardians of Zionist land, and their patterns of settlement would to a great extent determine the country’s borders. The kibbutzim also had a powerful effect on the Zionist self-image.[22]

As against this characterization, numerous students found kibbutzim played major role in agricultural innovation that advanced the Israeli agriculture to leading the world in some sectors, for instance irrigation. In later era many of their factories led Israeli efforts to gain economic independence by production for export, while their political involvement was of major importance up to 1948. The Kibbutz Meuchad and Kibbutz Artzi manaced Ben-Gurion's dominance of Yishuv politics in the 1940s, but they failed gaining wide public support in Israeli elections ever since 1949 because of reverance of Stalin's dictatorship which most Israelis denounced.[23] Kibbutzim have been criticized for falling short of living up to their own ideals. Most kibbutzim are not self-sufficient and have to employ non-kibbutz members as farm workers (or later factory workers). What was particularly controversial was the employment of Arab labourers while excluding them from the possibility of joining the Kibbutz as full members.

In more recent decades, some kibbutzim have been criticized for "abandoning" socialist principles and turning to capitalist projects in order to make the kibbutz more self-sufficient economically. Kibbutz Shamir owns an optical products company that is listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange. Numerous kibbutzim have moved away from farming and developed parts of their property for commercial and industrial purposes, building shopping malls and factories on kibbutz land that serve and employ non kibbutz members while the kibbutz retains a profit from land rentals or sales. Conversely, kibbutzim which have not engaged in this sort of development have also been criticized for becoming dependent on state subsidies to survive.

Nonetheless, kibbutzniks played a role in yishuv society and then Israeli society, far out of proportion to their population, and many kibbutzniks have served Israel in positions of leadership. The Tower and Stockade system by which 52 settlements from 1938 to 1947 largely decided the borders of Israel in the UN 29 November 1947 decision, was invention of kibbutz member Shlomo Gur. The establishment of the Palmach underground army in 1942 which won the yishuv crucial military struggle against Palestinian Arabs from 30 November 1947 up to 15 May 1948 that made possible the establishment of the Israeli state, was due to efforts by Tabenkin and other Kibbutz Meuchad leaders. One of them, Igaal Alon and Kibbutz Artzi member Shimon Avidan were the two most important commanders who won the War of Independence, and numerous kibbutz members were Cabinet Ministers who largely shaped Israeli politics form 1955 to 1977.[23] Kibbutz born Ehud Barak was Prime Minister from 1999 to 2001, and David Ben Gurion lived most of his life in Tel Aviv, but joined Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev after resigning from Prime Minister in 1963.

Kibbutzim also contributed greatly to the growing Hebrew culture movement. The poet Rachel rhapsodized on the landscape from viewpoints from various Galilee kibbutzim in the 1920s and 1930s. The kibbutz dream of "making the desert bloom" became part of the Israeli dream as well.

In popular culture

Over the years, various books and films had their plot taking place at a and/or included kibbutz members who gained a prominent role in the plot:

  • In the 1958 novel "Exodus" by Leon Uris and it's 1960 film adaptation one of the main characters lives in a fictional kibbutz in the Galilee called Gan Dafna (the film itself was shot in Kibbutz Dafna).
  • The plot of the 1965 novel "The Source" by James Michener occurres among other in a fictional kibbutz.
  • The plot of the Israeli film "Noa Bat 17" from 1982 takes place in Israel in 1951 and show the problems which the kibbutz movement underwent during that time.
  • In the plot of the Israeli film "Ben Lokeach Bat" from 1982 the main character is an 11-year-old girl whom spends a summer in a kibbutz.
  • The comic Israeli film "Operation Grandma" from 1999 focuses on three brothers from a fictional kibbutz whom are forced to organize their grandmother's funeral after the kibbutz refuses to do it. Over the years the film gained much popularity in Israel and gained the status of a cult film.
  • In the Israeli film "Walk on Water" from 2004 one of the main characters volunteers on a kibbutz in Israel. The film describes the kibbutz as a very positive experiance.
  • The plot of the Israeli drama film "Sweet Mud" from 2006 takes place in the kibbutz in southern Israel during the 1970s.
  • Kibbutz life was featured prominently in the 2006 film Sixty Six[24].

See also

Panorama of Kibbutz Barkai in the Wadi Ara region


  1. ^ a b Peres, Judy. In 50 years, kibbutz movement has undergone many changes. Chicago Tribune, 9 May 1998.
  2. ^ The Kibbutz: Awakening from the Utopia, Daniel Gavron
  3. ^ Baratz, Joseph. A Village by the Jordan: The Story of Degania. Tel Aviv: Ichud Habonim, 1956, p. 52.
  4. ^ Rayman, Paula. The Kibbutz Community and Nation Building. Princeton University Press, 1981. p. 12
  5. ^ Gavron, Daniel. The Kibbutz: Awakening from Utopia Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, 2000, p. 45
  6. ^ The Kibbutz in Historical Perspective, Mark A. Raider
  7. ^ quoted in Rayman, pp.27–28.
  8. ^ Bettelheim, Bruno. The Children of the Dream, Simon & Schuster, 2001, p. 15.
  9. ^ Reuven Shapira - Academic Capital or Scientific Progress? A critique of studies of kibbutz stratification. Journal of Anthropological Research, 61(2005): 357-380.
  10. ^ Reuven Shapira - Communal decline: The vanishing of high-moral leaders and the decay of democratic, high-trust kibbutz cultures. Sociological Inquiry, 71(2001): 13-38.
  11. ^ Reuven Shapira - Transforming Kibbutz Research, Cleveland: New World Publishing, 2008, Chaps. 12-17.
  12. ^ Segev, Tom. One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate. Metropolitan Books, 2000, p. 255.
  13. ^ Horrox, James. A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement, Oakland: AK Press 2009. Ch 3
  14. ^ HOW THEY VOTED: See Israel election results by city/sector - Haaretz - Israel News
  15. ^ Segev, Tom. One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate. Metropolitan Books, 2000, p. 254.
  16. ^ Scharf M. "A Natural Experiment in Childrearing Ecologies and Adolescents Attachment and Separation Representations", Child Development, January 2001, vol. 72, no. 1, pp. 236–251(16).
  17. ^ See balanced job complex for related job rotations.
  18. ^ Gavron, Daniel. The Kibbutz: Awakening from Utopia, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, 2000, p. 168.
  19. ^ Bettelheim, Bruno. The Children of the Dream, Simon & Schuster, 2001, p. 243.
  20. ^ Gavron, Daniel. The Kibbutz: Awakening from Utopia, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, 2000, p. 166.
  21. ^ The Jewish Advocate, 7 March 2008
  22. ^ Segev, Tom. One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate. Metropolitan Books, 2000, p.252.
  23. ^ a b Henry Near. The Kibbutz Movement: A History. Vol. II - London: Littman Library, 1997.
  24. ^ The Jewish experience on film Star Tribune. 26 February 2009

Further reading

  • Bettelheim, Bruno. The Children of the Dream. Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-7432-1795-0
  • Dubnow, S.M. History of the Jews in Russia and Poland. Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1920. ISBN 1-886223-11-4
  • Fox, N. A. "Attachment of Kibbutz Infants to Mother and Metapelet", Child Development, 1977, 48, 1228-1239.
  • Horrox, James. A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement. Oakland: AK Press, 2009
  • LaQueur, Walter. A History of Zionism. New York: MJF Books, 1972. ISBN 0-8052-1149-7
  • Mort, Jo-Ann and Brenner, Gary. "Our Hearts Invented a Place: Can Kibbutzim Survive in Today's Israel?" New York and London: Cornell University Press, 2003.
  • Scharf M. "A Natural Experiment in Childrearing Ecologies and Adolescents Attachment and Separation Representations", Child Development, January 2001, vol. 72, no. 1, pp. 236–251(16).
  • Scher A.; Hershkovitz R.; Harel J. "Maternal Separation Anxiety in Infancy: Precursors and Outcomes", Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 1998, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 103–111(9).
  • Segev, Tom. One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate. Metropolitan Books, 2000. ISBN 0-8050-4848-0
  • Silver-Brody, Vivienne. Documentors of the Dream: Pioneer Jewish Photographers in the Land of Israel 1890–1933. Magnes Press of the Hebrew University, 1998. ISBN 0-8276-0657-5
  • Ulian, Richard. Report on Two Israeli Farm Communes. Yale University Library, Manuscripts and Archives, Scholar of the House dissertation, 1950. 169 pp.

External links

Simple English

A kibbutz (Hebrew: קיבוץ, קִבּוּץ, lit. "gathering, clustering"; plural kibbutzim) is a farming settlement in modern Israel in which everyone shares the work that was traditionally based on agriculture. The kibbutz is a form of communal living that combines socialism and Zionism.

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