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Kibbutz: Definition & Overview

Instructor: Diane Davis
Study the history of how a group of young Jewish immigrants developed the Jewish communal settlement called the Kibbutz. Explore this movement and test yourself with a quiz.

Definition

Kibbutz is a rural community dedicated to mutual aid and social justice; it has a socioeconomic system based on the principle of joint ownership of property, equality and cooperation of production. It has a core value based on the Marxist ideas of 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.' This community is called by the Hebrew word for communal settlement.

The Origin of the Kibbutz Movement

The first kibbutz in Israel was established in 1909 by a group of young Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. They wanted to reclaim the soil of their ancient homeland and start a new way of life. They dreamed of working the land and creating a new kind of community, and a culture of people who were more rooted in the land and worked mostly in agriculture.

Members ate together in a communal dining hall, wore the same kibbutz clothing and shared responsibility for raising the children, education, cultural programs, and other social services. Most members were inexperienced with physical labor and also lacked knowledge about agriculture. The land had been unattended for centuries and the environment was hostile and desolate. Overcoming many hardships, they succeeded in developing thriving communities.

Toiling the soil of their ancient homeland and transforming city dwellers into farmers was a livelihood, not just an ideology. Over the years, kibbutz farmers made barren lands bloom with field crops, orchards, poultry, dairy and fish farming. Recently, organic agriculture has become the mainstay of their economy.

The Kibbutz and the National Defense

By 1950, 67,000 Israelis lived on kibbutzim (plural for kibbutz), making up 7.5% of the Israel's population. Early kibbutzim were often placed strategically along the country's borders and outlying areas in order to help in the defense of the country. Many of the country's top politicians and leaders in military and industry, particularly in the 1950s and '60s, came from the kibbutz movement.

Today, some 270 kibbutzim, with memberships ranging from 40 to more than 1,000, are scattered throughout the country. Most of them have between 300 and 400 adult members, and a population of 500-600. The number of people living in kibbutzim totals approximately 130,000, about 2.5 percent of the country's population. Most kibbutzim belong to one of three national kibbutz movements, each identified with a particular ideology.

Structure Within the Kibbutz

  • Residential area encompasses members' homes and gardens, children's houses and playgrounds
  • Communal facilities, such as a dining hall, auditorium, library, swimming pool, tennis court, medical clinic, and laundry.
  • Sheds for dairy cattle are adjacent to the living quarters and modern chicken coops and one or more industrial plants.
  • Agricultural fields, orchards and fish ponds are located around the perimeter

The kibbutz functions as a democracy where members may express their opinions and views. Member's formulate policy, elect officers, authorize the kibbutz's budget and approve new members.

Although there's manufacturing of a wide range of products, from fashion clothing to irrigation systems, the majority of kibbutz industry is concentrated in three main branches: metal work, plastics and processed foods. Most industrial facilities are rather small, with less than a hundred workers.

Division of Labor

Members do not keep their individual earnings for their labor. All money and assets of the kibbutz are managed collectively. Women are equal participants in the labor force, with jobs in all parts of the kibbutz open to them. However, the majority of women are not involved in agriculture and industry. Most of the jobs performed by women are in education, health and other services. Older members receive suitable work assignments according to their health and stamina.

Members are assigned to positions for varying lengths of time, while routine functions (such as kitchen and dining hall duty) are performed on a rotation basis. Although management positions are professionalized, the kibbutzim have adopted various methods of administration and organization to adapt their economic structure to the needs of the times without losing a sense of mutual responsibility and equality of work.

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