Yehiel Michael Pines was born in Grodno, in the Russian-held part of Poland, in 1842. His education was unusual in that day for the scion of a notabale, pious family, for he was taught not only Bible and Talmud, but also the German language and its literature.

In 1874 a fund was created in honor of the ninetieth birthday of the Anglo-Jewish leader, Sir Moses Montefiore. Sir Moses had displayed a lifelong interest in the Jews of Palestine and the fund was therefore intended for work there. This new organization ended a long search for an agent to direct its labors on the spot by appointing Rav Pines. He moved to Jerusalemin 1878 and henceforth his life was identified with its Jewish community.

Rav Pines’ early months in Palestine were marked by an unpleasant squabble with some leaders of the ultra-orthodox group within its Jewish community. He rebuffed a request from these circles to share in the control of the fund he had come to direct, and they replied to this affront by excommunicating him as a heretic. It is not surprising that a violent debate ensued, in which much ink was spilled both to attack and defend his reputation for piety. When this storm had abated, Rav Pines settled down to his work to become a recognized expert in land and colonization, as well as a productive writer on Zionist affairs. He was the first to collaborate with Eliezer Ben-Yehudah, after his arrival several years later, in the work of reviving Hebrew as the spoken tongue. In the 1890s he belonged briefly to the Palestinian lodge of the secret order, B’nai Moshe, which Ahad Ha-Am led. Nonetheless, Rav Pines remained severely critical of the nationalist theories of both. At the end of his life (he died in 1912), Rav Pines was an instructor in Talmud at the Hebrew Teachers’ Seminary in Jerusalem. Rav Pines insisted just as strongly that the Jewish national identity was unique, but he saw this uniqueness not in the national ethic, but in religion. For him, Jewish religion and nationhood were indivisible, so that a secular Jewish national was completely inconceivable. His Zionism therefore envisaged a Jewish national community in Palestinewhose life would be organized according to all the norms of traditional religion.

From His Writings:

 Jewish Nationalism and Secularism

 “I have no sympathy with the currently fashionable idea, with the movement to make the Jewish people a pure secular nationality in place of the combination of religion with nationality that has enable us to survive to this day.”

 “Whatever merit there may be to this theory, it is to be found only in its possible value as applied to assimilated Jews, that is, to those de-Judaized individuals who have remained members of the Jewish faith in name only and are ready to drop out of the Jewish community. Such Jews may find in the idea of secular Jewish nationality a new bond to reinforce their attachment to the Jewish people. …”

 “…All these facts prove that the Jews are not an ethnic group like others and cannot be defined as an ordinary, “natural” nationality, a definition which secular Zionists, are attempting to impose upon them against their will. The Jewish people are a race that is not by nature capable of absorbing such an alien implementation. Why, then, do the secularist vainly try such grafts? …”

 Source: Letter to Reuven Brenen – 1895

Religion as the Source of Jewish Nationalism

 “In regard to Hibbat Zion and the new formation that has occurred within it ranks, or better yet, the new ideas which (Ahad Ha’Am) and those that follow you adhere to – I find not one point upon which the two camps (religious and non-religious) can find a common meeting ground. There have assuredly been better times for Hibbat Zion, when it was open to all and everyone was equal within its ranks. Those days were days of action for Hibbat Zion when wisdom prevailed and the only objective of the organization was to buy land and settle people upon it, or to suggest various means of self-support to the community in Israel. In those days, the words of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyashburg z”l rang true, in that he desired to unite the religious and non-religious for the good of the whole. Yet those days have indeed passed and from the moment that the Truth from Eretz Israelappeared, many ceased to act and the zealous members of Hovevei Zion were content to dream dreams and concentrate on the spiritual perfection for our people.”

 “I myself am in no way against such perfection that is in ethics and moral actions of our people. And I admit freely and publicly that in this area a wide-open field has been left to work and protect. But such a field no longer belongs to the majority, as only those of one specific outlook are allowed to hold onto it to work and protect it and only as they see fit. Yet, any sharing relationship, partnership or compromise in such work will of necessity bring with it argument and divisiveness. I have always sorrowed over the fact, and more so after I witnessed such a division, while the non-religious, enlightened community emerged victorious with the whole field in their care. This came about because such people know how to define their goals and realize what they must sacrifice in order to achieve them; whereas the religious are satisfied and sweetened in sleep and are lazy to the point that even thought is impossible let alone action. In truth, it must be said that without the non-religious, many religious Jews in the Diaspora would never have been awakened and made to help Hibbat Zion.

Nor have you, the secularists, any monopoly on the Zionist sentiment. I am as much a Lover of Zion as you are, not a whit less. But mine is not the Love of Zion which you have abstracted from the whole Jewish tradition to set it up in a separate existence. Any other people can perhaps have a national aspiration divorced from its religion, but we, Jews cannot. Such nationalism is an abomination to Jews. Moreover, it cannot succeed, since it has no roots in our reality. What is Jewish nationality divorced from Jewish religion? It is an empty formula, nothing but pretty phrases. After all, what is nationality if not a concept, or, in other words, a thought-image. But a thought-image which has no basis in reality is an illusion. What other basis in reality can there be for the thought-image of Jewish nationality except the unity of the Jewish people with its Torah and its faith?”

 Source: Letter to Ahad Ha’am 1895

Religion is the Source of Jewish Nationalism

 “…Nor have you, the secularists, any monopoly on the Zionist sentiment. I am as much a lover of Zionas you are, not a whit less. But mine is not the Love of Zion which you have abstracted from the whole Jewish tradition to set it up as a separate existence. Any other people can perhaps have a national aspiration divorced from its religion, but we, Jews, cannot. Such nationalism is an abomination to Jews, Moreover, it cannot succeed, since it has no roots in our reality. What is Jewish nationality divorced from Jewish religion? It is an empty formula, nothing but pretty phrases. After all, what is “nationality” if not a concept, or, in other words, a thought-image. But a thought-image that has no basis is an illusion. What other basis in reality can there be for the thought-image of Jewish nationality except the unity of the Jewish people with its Torah and its faith?”

 “I know the answer you will give me: Our history and our language also form part of our national heritage. True enough, a common past is a national heritage, but it is not the begetter of nationality. It is unheard of for an effect to turn around and become the cause of its own cause! Can a man sate his hunger by eating his own flesh? And as for the Hebrew language you mention – perhaps, if we still spoke it, it might offer some slight basis for our nationality, but in view of the state of the Hebrew language today, one can hardly see why you are ready to dedicate yourself to it. Who or what forces you to bring it back to life? Is it national sentiment? Again we see the effect becoming a cause! All of the vitality of national sentiment is in the national language, but the language itself has no vitality except in so far as it is nourished by national sentiment! But this is a circular argument, which can go on ad infinitum!”

 “The nationalism I represent is the nationalism of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi and of Rabbi Moshe Ben-Nahman, of blessed memory; a national sentiment organically integrated in faith, nationalism whose soul is the Torah and whose life is in its precepts and commandments.”

The Living Land

 Kfar Pines, named after Rav Pines, lies just east of Hadera in one of Israel’s most fertile regions. Several small, religious moshavim dot the area. The bungalows of the original settlers are interspersed with more spacious and luxurious single-family houses. Trees and bright flowers divide the 85 families who make their homes here, and the atmosphere is reminiscent of Israelof the 1960s and 70s.

 Kfar Pines also boasts the first Ulpana (girls boarding school) to open in Israel. Ulpana Ramat Kraniel (known informally as Ulpana Kfar Pines) is part of Yeshivot and Ulpanot Bnei Akiva educational network. It was the first Ulpana established in Israel, in 1960 under the patronage of Harav Moshe Tvi Neria z”l. The main aim of the Midrasha is to develop students who are Bnot Torah, involved in the everyday life of Israeli society and the state, to perfect their individuality, to deepen their religious knowledge and widen their Torah outlook, together with their general studies in every field covered in the regular high-school curriculum.

 Ulpanat Kfar Pines is proud to boast students from geographical locations in Israelm and from all sectors of society. The only quality tested for a girl to be accepted to the Ulpana is her individual potential. Therefore it is no wonder living side by side in the Ulapana there is the daughter of a manual laborer from a development town, the daughter of a university professor and the daughter of a leading Rabbi.

 Today in the Ulpana there are nearly 650 girls from 100 different locations throughout Israel. Over the years, tens of Ethiopian students have completed their education in the Ulpana, a part of who have continued to higher learning institutions. Today 33 new immigrants from Russiaare learning in the regular program and 18 girls from South Africaare learning in a tailor made program.

The South Africa Program: Is a one-semester program that runs for 4-1/2 months. The Program is for Standard 8 students and follows the South African high school curriculum, along with religious and Hebrew language studies. Seminars and field trips are an integral part of the experience. The program is organized byYeladim-Netivot and Bnei Akiva Olami .

Click HERE to see the whole “Biography of Great Zionist Rabbis” series

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