Kibbutz and Moshav

Israel Table of Contents

The first kibbutz, Deganya, near the Sea of Galilee, was founded in 1910. In addition to the two largest kibbutz federations, HaKibbutz HaMeuhad (the United Kibbutz Movement) and HaKibbutz HaArtzi (the Kibbutz of the Land), there were in 1988 a number of small movements including the agricultural collective settlements of the religious HaKibbutz HaDati, affiliated with the labor wing of the National Religious Party. In 1986 there were 125,700 residents of about 265 kibbutzim, divided among five kibbutz federations. The kibbutz is a collective settlement, originally devoted solely to agriculture, but since the late 1960s, it has included industrial concerns, too. Founded by social democrats, kibbutzim are characterized by the collectivization of labor and capital: the means of production, consumption, and distribution are communally owned and controlled, with considerable emphasis on participatory democracy in the operation of kibbutzim. Education and, in some federations, the rearing of children in age-graded dormitories, are communal as well.

Until the 1980s, the kibbutz and its residents played a largerthan -life role in Israeli society. Kibbutzim embodied the courageous and selfless pioneer who settled the most difficult and dangerous areas to claim them for the Jewish state. They sent the highest proportion of young men to elite units of the army and its officers' corps, and later to positions of responsibility in the Histadrut and the government. If there were a sociopolitical elite in Israel (not an economic one, because members of the kibbutz lived with simplicity), it came from the kibbutzim.

This highly positive image no longer held in 1988 for a number of reasons. First, the kibbutz was to a large extent a victim of its own successes. Its economic success raised the standard of living of the average member into the solid middle or upper middle class. It is difficult to conceive of a rural village with air-conditioned housing, a well-equipped clinic, a large auditorium, and an olympic-sized swimming-pool as a pioneer outpost. Second, the economic success and the expansion of the kibbutz economy has forced it to go outside the community to hire labor--a direct contradiction of its earliest canons. Third, the membership of kibbutzim has been overwhelmingly Ashkenazi. Often the labor hired, if not Arab, consisted of Oriental Jews who resided in development towns near the kibbutz. Oriental Jews complained that the only time they saw members of kibbutzim as near equals was when the members came to town just before national elections to lobby the Orientals for votes for the left-of-center parties aligned with the kibbutzim. The turn of the mass of the Israeli electorate to the right wing was both a reflection and a cause of the loss of social prestige for the kibbutz, which has suffered a relative loss of influence in the centers of power in Israel. Nevertheless, the kibbutzim still contributed to Israel's economy and sociopolitical elite out of proportion to their number.

The first moshav was established in the Jezreel, or Yizreel, Valley (Emeq, Yizreel is also seen as the Valley of Esdraelon in English) in 1921. In 1986 about 156,700 Israelis lived and worked on 448 moshavim, the great majority divided among eight federations. There are two types of moshavim, the more numerous (405) moshavim ovdim, and the moshavim shitufim. The former relies on cooperative purchasing of supplies and marketing of produce; the family or household is, however, the basic unit of production and consumption. The moshav shitufi form is closer to the collectivity of the kibbutz: although consumption is family-or household-based, production and marketing are collective. Unlike the moshavim ovdim, land is not allotted to households or individuals, but is collectively worked.

Because the moshav form retained the family as the center of social life and eschewed bold experiments with communal child-rearing or equality of the sexes, it was much more attractive to traditional Oriental immigrants in the 1950s and early 1960s than was the more communally radical kibbutz. For this reason, the kibbutz has remained basically an Ashkenazi institution, whereas the moshav has not. On the contrary, the so-called immigrants' moshav (moshav olim) was one of the most-used and successful forms of absorption and integration of Oriental immigrants, and it allowed them a much steadier ascent into the middle class than did life in some development towns.

Like the kibbutzim, moshavim since 1967 have relied increasingly on outside--particularly Arab--labor. Financial instabilities in the early 1980s have hit many moshavim hard, as has the problem of absorbing all the children who might wish to remain in the community. By the late 1980s, more and more moshav members were employed in nonagricultural sectors outside the community, so that some moshavim were coming to resemble suburban or exurban villages whose residents commute to work. In general moshavim never enjoyed the elite status accorded to kibbutzim; correspondingly they have not suffered a decline in prestige in the 1970s and 1980s.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress