Rabbi Samuel Mohliver was among the first founders and leaders of the Hibbat Zion movement and served as the force behind the religious faction within the movement. His lifework planted the seeds which would later germinate into the Mizrachi movement under Rabbi Jacob Reines.
Rav Mohliver was born in 1824 in a village near Vilna, the intellectual center of Lithuanian Jews. He was so brilliant a student of the traditional talmudic curriculum that he was ordained a rabbi at the age of eighteen. At first Mohliver refused to practice this calling and instead was a merchant of flax for five years. Business reverses and the death of his well-to-do in-laws constrained him to accept the office of rabbi in his home village. A period of six years there was followed by successive calls to ever larger communities. In the 1870’s, when he first displayed signs of an active interest in work for the Holy Land, Mohliver was the rabbi of Radom in Poland. Already notable not only as a scholar but as a communal leader, he was elected to a much larger post, also in Poland, in Bialystok, which he occupied for fifteen years until his death in 1898.
Mohliver was moved to practical Zionist labors by the pogroms of 1881. Tens of thousands of Jews had fled across the Russian border to Galicia, in the Austrian-held part of Poland. Mohliver attended a conference of western Jewish leaders that was called on the spot, in Lemberg (the capital of Galicia), to decide what to do with these refugees. He suggested, without effect, that they be diverted to Palestine. On this journey, Mohliver also visited Warsaw, where he had better success; he was instrumental in organizing there the first formal section of the then nascent Hibbat Zion. While in Warsaw, he convinced two of his most distinguished rabbinic colleagues to join with him in issuing a call for emigration to Palestine, but these men soon fell away from such activities. The Hibbat Zion movement was dominated by secularists like Leo Pinsker and Mohliver remained one of the few distinguished figures among the rabbis of the old school to be active within it.
His decision to remain in Hibbat Zion, side by side with avowed agnostics who did not live in obedience to the Law, was the crucial turn in the history of religious Zionism, for it determined not only its future as an organized “party” but also the nature of the problems it would have to face henceforth. On the one hand Mohliver, like his successors to the present, had to do battle with the ultra-orthodox; it was no small matter for an undoubted pietist to announce that all Israel was in peril and hence “would we not receive anyone gladly and with love, who though irreligious in our eyes, came to rescue us?” Even seventy years later, though this fight is now largely won, there are still those among the orthodox who do not accept the notion of a Jewish national loyalty that all should share, which is greater than religious differences. On the other hand, Mohliver inevitably exercised constant pressure – and here, too, he has been followed by his successors – on the national movement to be more responsive, at least in practice, to the demands of the orthodox religion. This note is sounded in what was in effect his testament, the message to the First Zionist Congress that he sent through his grandson. Earlier, in 1893, a long series of differences between him and the main office of Hibbat Zion in Odessa, which was largely secularist, had led to a decision of the movement to create another center, headed by him, to do propaganda and cultural work among orthodox Jews. This office was given the Hebrew name Mizrachi (an abbreviation for merkaz ruhani, or “spiritual center”); when the presently existing Zionist organization was re-founded in 1901 by Rabbi Jacob Reines and others of Mohliver’s disciples, they continued the name, the spirit and the stance.
It should be added that Mohliver was active not only in organizational and propagandistic affairs but also in the labors in behalf of colonization in Palestine. His single greatest service to this field came early, in 1882, when he went to Paris to meet the young Baron Edmond de Rothschild. Mohliver convinced him to take an interest in the struggling settlers in the Holy Land; Rothschild remained, until his death in 1934, the greatest single benefactor of the Zionist work there.
From His Writings
The Settling of the Land of Israel
“Almost all of our sages (poskim) have agreed with the opinion of the MaHaRit that even in our times we are commanded to go up to Eretz Yisrael. Therefore I was much surprised at some of the great leaders of our nation who are learned in Torah and Hasidut, when they expressed opposition to living in the Holy Land and causing its reclamation by buying field and vineyards for Jewish farmers to settle upon it. They based such opposition on the fact that a majority of these farmers, specifically the young ones, don’t adhere to the Torah. Their words are not correct, for it has already been written that the Holy One Blessed Be He would rather His children remain in the land, even though they do not keep His commandments, than reside in the Diaspora and keep the commandments.”
The Commandment to Settle the Land
“From all that has been said, it becomes clear to us that the verse “And you shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land and dwell in it” is a positive commandment which is equivalent to all the mitzvot in the Torah. The most important part of this commandment is the dispossession of the inhabitants and possession of the land by the Jews of the Holy Land. At the time when Israel was an independent nation, this was done by war, and during our present era, the land is bought with monies. Such an act of buying land is considered by our sages to gain for the individual a share in the world to come and the commandment to buy land even pushes aside a shevut on Shabbat. The second part of the commandment is to settle and dwell in the land and this commandment in itself is divided into two parts: 1) Dwelling in the land; 2) Building the land.”
Letter read at the First Zionist Congress (1897), several years after Rav Mohilever passed away (1891)
“The basis of Hibbat Zion is the Torah, as it has been handed down to us from generation to generation, with neither supplement nor subtraction. I do not intend this statement as an admonition to any individual regarding his conduct, for, as our sages have said: “Verily, there are none in this generation fit to admonish.” I am nevertheless stating in a general way, that the Torah, which is the Source of our Life, must be the foundation of our regeneration in the land of our fathers.
In conclusion, I lift up my voice to my brethren:
Behold, it is now two thousand years that we await our Messiah, to redeem us from our bitter exile and to gather our scattered brethren from all corners of the earth to our own land, where each shall dwell in security, under his vine and under his fig tree. This faith, strong within us, has been our sole comfort in the untold days of our misery and degradation.
And even though in the last century some have arisen in our midst who have denied this belief, tearing it our of their hearts and even erasing it from their prayers, the masses of our people hold fast to this hope, for the fulfillment of which they pray morning, noon and night, and in which they find balm for their suffering.
Of late certain orthodox rabbis have arisen in western Europe, among whom one has even declared that the promises of future bliss and consolation made by our seers were in the form of symbols and parables. The coming of the Messiah, they say, will not be to bring Israel back to the Land of its Fathers and put an end to its long dispersion and many sorrows, but will be to establish the Kingdom of Heaven for all mankind, while Israel continued in exile as a light to the gentiles. Others of these rabbis assert, without qualification, that nationalism is contrary to our belief in the advent of the Messiah.
I am therefore constrained to declare publicly that all this is not true. Our hope and faith has ever been and still is, that our Messiah will come and gather in all the scattered of Israel, and instead of our being wanderers upon the face of the earth, ever moving from place to place, we shall dwell in our own country as a nation, in the fullest sense of the word.
Instead of being the contempt and mockery of the nations, we shall be honored and respected by all peoples of the earth. This is our faith and hope, as derived from the words of our prophets and seers of blessed memory and to this our people clings!”
The Living Land
The Yeshivat Bnei Akiva in Hadera (a town between Netanya and Caesarea) is named Beit Shmuel, in memory of Harav Mohliver. The yeshiva educates towards a love of the Nation and our Birthplace, steeped in fear of heaven and love of fellow man in the sprit of the Rabbis of Religious Zionism and the paths of Bnei Akiva. The outlook of the students is rooted in the educational path of the yeshiva, which is taught by a highly motivated young team of the rosh yeshiva, rabbanim and madrichim, all graduates of Yeshivot Hesder from throughout Israel
In the recent past the yeshiva has undergone great rejuvenation and development in many spheres. The yeshiva has an outstanding level of personal attention that is given to each student. The relatively small teacher:student ratio allows for individual development. This is further strengthened with many informal activities after regular school hours.
The yeshiva has both residential and non-residential students.
Today 130 students learn in Beit Shmuel led by 20 educators.