Mikveh Israel: Geography and Land Rights
The Jezreel Valley Railway (known as the Valley Railway)

Cultural built heritage is the works and the buildings and their associated land (according to Nathaniel Lichfield in his book “Economics in Urban Conservation”). It is our buildings, roads, bridges, and landscapes left from the past. All over Israel, we can see evidence of the cultural built heritage left behind by the late Baron Edmund de Rothschild which tells the story of his many efforts to support and assist with the establishment of the Jewish state.

The modern Zionist movement began its rise in the middle of the 19th century. Towards the end of this century, Jewish agricultural settlements began to appear in the form of the “moshava”. In this type of settlement, the lands were purchased and owned by the settlers, and each family owned its own farm and farmlands. A group of such farm owners banded together in a village called a “moshava”. They governed themselves and built public buildings and homes.  The town plan of these “moshavot”(plural for moshava) was a main street where the private homes of the farmers were built along it on both sides and at the head of the road was one of the public buildings, usually the synagogue.

Examples of moshavot are: Petach Tikva (which is called the “mother of all moshavot”), Rishon Lezion, Gadera, Rehovot, Zichron Ya’akov, Rosh Pina, Metula, Ra’anana, Herzliya, Kfar Tabor, Yesod Hama’ala and more.  These agricultural settlements preceded the “kibbutzim” and “moshavim” which have a different legal setup and plan and which appeared on the scene later.

If the names of many of those “moshavot” seem familiar to you it is because they have now become major Israeli cities.. However, at the beginning of their inception many of these “moshavot” struggled financially, and had it not been for the aid they received from Baron Edmund de Rothschild many of those “moshavot” would have had to be abandoned. According to Ottoman law (the law of the land at that time), this could have caused the loss of the land completely.

By the year 1900, there were 700 Jewish farms, 100,000 dunams of farmed land, and a total of 270,000 dunams of land owned by Jews. There were three influencers to the settlement and purchase of land in the Land of Israel at that time: the organization called “Hovavay Zion” (Lovers of Zion) which organized groups of settlers to immigrate to the Land of Israel but did little to assist financially; the Baron Edmund de Rothschild; and the organization called the “Jewish Colonization Association” founded by Baron Morris Hirsch. All three hold an important place in the history of Jewish resettlement of the Land of Israel but I will concentrate here on the very important role played by Baron Edmund de Rothschild.

The moshavot of Rishon LeZion, Zichron Ya’akov, and Rosh Pina were established in 1882 under the inspiration of “Hovevay Zion” but they failed financially within the year and Baron Rothschild took them under his wing. However, this came with a price. Baron Rothschild instituted his own administration of these settlements, sending his own people, whose job it was to run the moshavot in a more efficient manner.

These administrators disbursed the funds to the families, instituted decisions as to the crops, and established schools and medical facilities.  As time wore on more moshavot applied for Baron Rothschild’s assistance and were thereby saved from financial collapse. Although many settlers did not like the tight reign of the administrators and some complained and even rebelled against them, hindsight shows us that this assistance that they received saved their homes and lands and pushed them into the new century in a more modern and efficient manner.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Baron Rothschild decided to transfer the management of the moshavot to Baron Hirsch’s “Jewish Colonization Association”, which had a lot of experience running Jewish settlements in other places in the world. However, this wasn’t the end of Baron Rothschild’s involvement. From that time forward, Baron Rothschild continued his support of the moshavot, by continued support of the moshavot under his wing at that time, financing, and continued support of new moshavot through the JCA and the purchasing of more land and the establishment of new moshavot.

All this was happening at a time when the resettlement of Jews in the Land of Israel was just beginning.

the Baron Edmund de Rothschild

Baron Edmund de Rothschild

The first years of the Baron’s support for the moshavot (1882 and onwards) were years of searching for the best way to manage and support them economically and socially. However, the year 1887 was a pivotal year. In May of this year, the Baron came to visit the moshavot for the first time to see firsthand the fruit of his efforts and to plan the continuation of the moshavot. The result of this was a 5-point plan as follows:

  1. The enactment of a policy and strategy for the purchase of more land for Jewish agricultural settlements in key areas.
  2. Setting and instituting a defined agricultural and economic policy.
  3. Setting and instituting a policy for the choosing of settlers and their training.
  4. The design of the character of the Baron’s moshava through education, culture, clothing, lifestyle, and farming.
  5. Definition of the concept of the “Hebrew Farmer” as related to his training, education, the education of his children, his lifestyle, and the services that he needed to enable him to gain economic independence.

With regard to his land acquisition policy, the Baron pursued a plan by which land was purchased for the establishment of agricultural centers which would create a continuous territory of Jewish settlements. Around the larger, existing moshavot of Rishon LeZion, Zichron Ya’akov and Rosh Pina, smaller satellite moshavot would be planned. The main moshava would house the major, regional services needed by the settlers of the region. Each moshava would have a synagogue, nursery school, and school.

With regard to the type of crops the Baron favored grapes and the production of wine.

wine barrels the Baron Edmund de Rothschild

To this end, the Baron and his administration brought in consultants and initiated training programs for the settlers. The Baron brought in consultants such as land surveyors, architects, and engineers for the planning of the settlements and the construction of the public, professional, and residential buildings. The structure of this precise planning is felt to this day in the grid of the original streets and the plan of the original houses of the moshavot, many of which still stand today. These buildings, together with the grid of the roads, the wells, and bridges make up the cultural built heritage left by Baron Edmund de Rothschild.

Another endeavor of the Baron was the establishment of a factory to produce glass wine bottles at Tantora, not far from the ancient coastal city of Dor. The bottles were to be produced using local sand. Meir Dizengoff, who was later to become the first mayor of Tel Aviv, was hired to manage the plant. This endeavor failed because the local sand was not suitable for making glass. The plant was closed but the buildings still stand and have been made into a museum.

Baron Edmund de Rothschild poured millions of his own money into these moshavot from 1882 up to the time of his death in 1934. Without this assistance, many of these moshavot would have failed and the whole Jewish “Yishuv” would have been in danger of extinction as well.

The moshavot contributed much to the establishment of agriculture as an industry in the land of Israel. The Carmel Wines brand was established by Baron Edmond de Rothschild in 1882, and developed by the Jewish settlers in Rishon Lezion and Zichron Ya’akov. This is the largest winery in Israel today. Many of these moshavot grew citrus fruit for local consumption and for export abroad. At this point, the growth and export of citrus fruit became another major industry in the land of Israel, attracting the investments of other Jewish entrepreneurs at that time.

The moshavot played an important role in the establishment of a new Zionistic culture which was the basis of the Zionist endeavor. Baron Rothschild’s policies as set out above helped to establish this culture.


Zichron Yaakov - Rothschild

Many of these villages have remained small and have kept their paths and buildings as if time has stood still, such as Metulla and Rosh Pina. Many of these villages have grown, demolishing many of these buildings and building new ones in their place, such as Rishon LeZion which is one of the largest cities in Israel. Today, many of these modern Israeli cities have decided to preserve the buildings and original street grids of their core centers which were built according to the plans initiated by the Baran Edmond de Rothschild. In this manner, the legacy of the cultural built heritage of Baron Rothschild is being preserved.

Photo Credits
The Synagogue of Rishon LeZion  – from the  Rishon LeZion Museum and Archives From Pikiwiki web site, Horowitz House – Photographer Israel Pecker from Pikiwiki Web Site, The Visit of the Baron in Zichron Ya’akov 1914 – Historical Archives of Zichron Ya’akov, from Wikipiki Web site. Winebarrel Making workshop in Zichron Ya’akov , 1883 – Public Domain – Wikipiki web site, Carmel Winery in Rishon LeZion 2017 – Photographer Zev Stein, Pikiwiki Web site, The Glass Factory at Tantura – Pikiwiki web site


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