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The Zionist labor movement and the Hebrew University.

In May of 1949, one year after the establishment of the State of Israel, and shortly after the conclusion of the War of Independence, David Ben-Gurion, then Prime Minister and Defense Minister, appeared at the opening ceremony of the Hebrew University's School of Medicine. Crowned with the recent victory, and at the height of his glory as a leader, Ben-Gurion focused on the dramatic year that had just passed and on the challenges confronting the fledgling state. He ended his words with a declaration that "the sword and the book were handed down to the world intertwined. But the newly redeemed Jewish nation will prove to the world that the book is more powerful than the sword."(1) The press did not miss the maxim; the headline in Ha'Aretz read: "Ben-Gurion: The Book Is More Powerful Than the Sword."(2)

Ben-Gurion's rhetoric in the years immediately following the establishment of the state reverberated with such visionary statements which emphasized the moral and spiritual virtues which should characterize the state: "The Jewish people must behave as befits a chosen people; the State of Israel ought to be a light unto the nations. These virtues grant it the right to exist, and indeed the capacity to exist in a world in which it is one of the youngest and smallest of states." Rhetoric does not necessarily represent reality, but it grants us insight into the terms of Ben-Gurion's thought, as well as the image of the State of Israel which he sought to project. Ben-Gurion was not a follower of "cultural Zionism." To the extent that he concerned himself with matters of the spirit, he preferred Berdyczewski to Ahad Ha'am, Rabbi Akiba to Rabbi Yohanan Ben-Zakkai, Beitar over Yavne. Nevertheless, when it came to sketching the ideal Jewish state, he chose to use slogans and ideas taken from the arsenal of the very school with which he had been at odds his entire life. Ben-Gurion's need to emphasize the state's spiritual values and conceal the power of the sword between the pages of the book is part of what Jacob Talmon has called the "touching, distinctly Jewish trait" of respect for spiritual and intellectual matters.(3) Veneration of knowledge, the spirit, and intellectual creativity was a characteristic trait of that generation's leaders. In this sense, Ben-Gurion was part of a well established tradition.

This new approach reserves a distinguished place in the national agenda for institutions dedicated to the dissemination and creation of knowledge, and to the university in particular. Was this indeed the case? How did Ben-Gurion and his Labor Movement colleagues, who had been at the helm of leadership in the Yishuv, in the Zionist Movement, and in the state since 1933, perceive the role of the university in the nation-building process? What place did the university hold in their social and national thinking? As in many other cases, ideological conceptions were not always reflected in historical praxis, and it is necessary to examine the actual relations between the Labor Movement and the University, and weigh the factors which influenced them. The two figures I have chosen to examine in this context are Berl Katznelson and David Ben-Gurion. Katznelson had been a member of the Hebrew University's Board of Trustees since the early 1930s. He had been involved in the fashioning of the Labor Movement's cultural agenda in Palestine, and in the planning of the university's policies and organizational structures. For some fifteen years, he served as the link between the Labor Movement and the university's political and intellectual leadership. Following Katznelson's death in 1944, Ben-Gurion attempted to fill his shoes, and to maintain his contacts with the intellectual elite. As of 1948, his stature as Prime Minister lent special weight to his views on the university. Their positions in effect reflect the Labor Movement's attitudes.

Ben-Gurion and Katznelson belonged to a large segment of the Zionist leadership which had not had the benefit of a university education, but had instead gained broad knowledge on their own. Katznelson relates that he had been preparing for the external matriculation examinations in Russia in the hope of pursuing studies in Switzerland, when the 1905 revolution interrupted his plans.(4) Ben-Gurion left Palestine with Yitzhak Ben-Zvi to study law in Constantinople. He had completed a year of study when the First World War broke out, which led to his expulsion from Turkey as an enemy subject.(5) A university education was a desire which only a few school boys from the Pale of Settlement actually succeeded in realizing. Only the financially comfortable could devote a number of years of their lives to higher studies: a university education was a status symbol. The positive attitude to the university reflected the reverence for scholarship in the Jewish community on the one hand, and the great thirst for education which was characteristic of this first generation to leave the heder for secular culture, on the other hand. These autodidacts read literature, philosophy, history, and the social sciences in quantities and levels of difficulty which would challenge many university professors today. Scientific method, furthermore, was dear to both Ben-Gurion's and Katznelson's hearts. Throughout their entire lives, these two men demonstrated not only a recognition of the importance of an academic education, but also a sincere interest in scholars and scholarship. But the esteem in which knowledge and scholarship were held by the movement's leaders was not necessarily reflected in the university's status in the Yishuv.

The university played a somewhat marginal role in the young Zionist Movement and in particular in the Zionist Labor Movement. In European national movements - in Czech nationalism for example - the university played a central role in the revival or creation of a national culture: The language, the national epic, and folklore were all cultivated and nurtured by the university. This was not the case in the Jewish renaissance: The cultural revolution took place outside of academia. The most cardinal phenomenon in this context - the revival of the Hebrew language - had no connection whatsoever to academic bodies. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda's philological innovations, along with the practical work carried out by teachers in the First Aliya colonies, and the Second Aliya laborers' insistence on speaking Hebrew, brought about the dissemination of Hebrew as a spoken language. Scholars of modern Hebrew appeared after the language itself had come into existence, and they made only a marginal contribution to its dissemination.

By contrast, Hebrew literature was of cardinal importance in the shaping of the national movement. Haskala literature had preceded the appearance of organized Zionism and played an undoubted role in facilitating its propagation: Ben-Gurion was raised on Mapu's books, and Y. L. Gordon electrified the youth's imagination.(6) The new Hebrew literature appeared near the end of the nineteenth century, and immediately became a central element of public life. A single Bialik poem is more important to the national revival, Wilkansky stated, than all political brochures.(7) Brenner was considered to be the voice of the "uprooted," the Jewish intellectual torn between the world of tradition and the modern world, who finds his way in the end to Palestine, where his internal struggles continue. Rachel was the first Labor Movement poet. She gave expression to the Palestinian landscape and the experience of life in a commune. Raised in the Russian cultural tradition, literature was to the members of the Labor Movement the principal cultural medium, providing emotional, aesthetic, and intellectual experiences, educating and shaping their world view and values.

Universities played essentially no role in this fin de siecle cultural revolution. There was no Jewish university, and European universities offered few Jewish graduates an entry visa into European society, which in many cases involved a writ of divorce from Jewish nationalism. The Wissenschaft des Judentums attempt to establish a recognized academic discipline, focused on Jewish sources, had borne little fruit from the point of view of nascent Jewish nationalism. Although the Wissenschaft approach included some elements of cultural romanticism - Graetz for example - it often turned into a pedantic examination of fine details, which did little to warm one's heart or to inspire pride or devotion. The university's marginal role in the cultivation of a national culture during the formative years of the Zionist Movement in general and Labor Zionism in particular, stemmed from the fact that the Hebrew University was not a catalyst of the national movement, but was instead a result of the movement's emergence. By the time the Hebrew University was established in the mid 1920s, a secular Hebrew cultural infrastructure was already in existence, independent of the academy. This was a fact of major importance in determining the university's place in the local society.

Three principal, interconnected, issues can be discerned in the dialogue between the leaders of the Zionist Labor Movement and the university: The relationship between the manual laborer and the intellectual worker; commitment to national tasks as opposed to an aspiration to an academic career; and the limits of academic freedom within the framework of an ideological national movement.

1. Manual Labor and Intellect

The debate regarding the supposed conflict between the manual laborer and the intellectual worker preceded the establishment of the university by a decade. Already during the first decade of the twentieth century there was a debate in the Zionist press regarding the establishment of a Hebrew university in Palestine. The central argument against its establishment was that the Jewish people was marked by an excessive tendency to spirituality, and what was needed for its revival was not yet another institution to distance its youth from manual labor. Manual labor was considered essential not only as a means of providing livelihood for the untrained Jewish newcomers, and not only to guarantee Jewish settlement of the land or to provide moral legitimacy to this settlement process. Rather, manual labor was seen as a regenerative process whose task was to change the Jew's essential nature: to transform the alienated city dweller, typically a middleman, into a productive individual, living off the fruits of his own labor. It was intended to bring him closer to nature, to the soil, to primordial forces. This was to be the moral revolution which would accompany the national revolution: The new Jew would arise from his immediate contact with the land of Palestine. He would signify the end of the dichotomy between matter and spirit, the personal and the national.

The high priest of physical labor was A. D. Gordon. One might have expected, therefore, that he join the opponents of the university, as an institution which would reinforce the contradiction between manual laborer and intellectual, and which would legitimize Jewish youth's avoidance of manual labor. But Gordon's position was in fact more complex: The Jew, for whom the life of the spirit is central, he claimed, can not be expected to strip himself of his spiritual assets and to engage in manual labor alone. Must the idea of Jewish labor, he asked, involve the cultivation of a generation of ignoramuses? "So long as we hold on to the banal view that labor and learning are in conflict," wrote Gordon, "that one who works cannot have higher education and one who learns cannot work." The entire "idea of labor becomes meaningless. What value is there in an idea which does not permit the spirit to ascend, but instead forces it to descend!"(8)

The model Gordon sought to cultivate was what Berl Katznelson termed "the Volozin Yeshiva in modern garb."(9) He wanted torah lishma - knowledge for its own sake, as had been the practice among the great Jewish scholars in the past, who had made their living by manual labor, and for whom study of Torah was not "a means to an end or a symbol of status."(10) Gordon, Katznelson, and their associates were unwilling to relinquish the aspiration for knowledge and learning, which was so meaningful to their generation. Katznelson, moreover, was haunted by a sense of loss; he felt that the Zionist Movement was poor in spiritual resources, since many of the Jewish people's greatest intellects had chosen to devote their talents to general culture. He therefore sought to provide learning for all, disregarding the concern that this might lead them away from physical labor.(11) He was therefore not opposed to the idea of the university and hoped instead that an idealistic education would create a type of individual who would seek knowledge but would continue to consider simple labor his destiny. Such utopian expectations could be heard from Katznelson only until the early 1920s. The older Katznelson, in the 1930s and 1940s, was much more down to earth, and no longer deluded himself as to intellectuals' willingness to forego their careers and become manual laborers. And Gordon's extremely idealistic demand was replaced by a more moderate one, that the intellectual acknowledge his commitment to society. This was a de facto renunciation of the demand for physical labor. The idea that formal education must be renounced for the sake of life on the kibbutz was accepted only by very few in the 1940s. These were members of the youth movements who avoided the matriculation examinations so that they would not face the temptation of a higher education. The laboring intellectual was an ideal fulfilled by some Fifth Aliya groups from Germany who accepted Gordon's ideal and turned it into the foundation of their new life in Palestine, for example, the settlers of K'far Sh'maryahu, Ramot ha-Shavim, and other settlements. The movement as a whole, however, did not stand up to this trial by labor.

Ben-Gurion shared Gordon's and Katznelson's premise regarding the importance of physical labor, with special emphasis on agriculture. He barely touched on this question during the pre-state years, but devoted considerable time to it following the establishment of the state. The very first Defense Service Statute, which established the Israel Defense Forces, explicitly states that every soldier must spend a year working in agriculture. The ideology at the base of this law was rooted in the Gordonian conception that agricultural labor is the best training for shaping a youth's personality and for his proper re-education. This statute, however, was never actually implemented, because life and reality were stronger than the law. At the same time, Ben-Gurion attributed great importance to the expansion of the scientific infrastructure. The War of Independence had taught him the major role of science in the development of arms. He considered science to be the means for a long-term guarantee of Israel's qualitative edge over its much larger and more populous neighbors. Education and knowledge, then, were no longer luxuries, but principal vehicles in the struggle for survival. Nevertheless, Ben-Gurion remained true to his basic conception, and continued to emphasize the need for a blend of manual and intellectual labor, in a collaboration between the intelligentsia and the people.

In the summer of 1962 he in fact coined a new phrase: "an academic working people." This was an updated version of the 1930s slogan "a working people," which had replaced the "working class." The addition of "academic" was meant to underline the task which Ben-Gurion assigned the next two decades: higher education for all. "A university education for every young man and woman is not utopian," he declared. "It is an essential requirement for the people of Israel." The need to bring about a general improvement in the level of education, and the attempt to recruit the intelligentsia to the urgent national tasks form the background to his initiative. In the new world of the 1960s, scientific and technological ability fulfilled the national function that agriculture had filled in the beginning of the century: it is their task to guarantee the Zionist hold on the land. Ideas tend to die slowly: Ben-Gurion did not renounce the slogans of his youth, but instead infused them with new meanings. A year later, at the laying of the corner-stone of the college at Sede Boker, Ben-Gurion responded to his colleagues in the movement who protested his desire to provide an academic degree to all young men and women. "Who will work? they ask me." The issue, rather, he declared is that "the problem of our generation is [how to achieve] a blend of labor and science." Like Katznelson and Gordon half a century earlier, his hopes were pinned on the idealism of volunteers, who would come to Sede Boker for a life of labor and scientific research. "You might think I'm crazy," he said, "but I believe that the ideal of blending labor and science will be realized here." And in a final reprise of turn of the century ideology, he stated that "a person who does not engage in physical labor is in danger of degeneration."(12)

2. National Commitment and Academic Careers

The university had not grown from the Yishuv's own needs and structures, but had been established by donors from abroad, and was in fact run by them until the mid 1930s. The sense of alienation between the "Mountain" - Mount Scopus - and the "Valley" - the Jezreel Valley - was based not only on differing political positions, but on an acute intuitive sense that the university as an institution, and the faculty as individuals, were not motivated by an unswerving loyalty to the Zionist cause, or to the Yishuv and its interests in their broadest sense. Berl Katznelson called this missing motivation a "pioneering spirit"; we call it "commitment." Katznelson and his colleagues were fully aware of Palestine's limitations as a distant corner on the margins of world cultural developments. They were well aware of the provincial nature of Yishuv society, vis-a-vis the magnetic attraction of the wide world. Their demand for absolute commitment implied that despite all of this, the participants in this enterprise consider it the Jewish people's most important endeavor, and be willing to devote their lives to it. For its sake they renounced their attachment and longing for the broader cultural pastures outside of Palestine, including the best of European culture, the socialist vision being implemented in the Soviet Union, or even the longing for one's parental home. This was the stance taken by much of the intelligentsia affiliated with the Labor Movement.

Not so in academia. The university and its faculty isolated themselves within a world of their own, in which the reality of the Yishuv did not play a dominant role in the setting of priorities, or in the shaping of a cultural-ideational system.(13) The choice between development of an internationally recognized academic career and devotion to the needs of Palestine had important implications on both the personal and the institutional levels: On the personal level, a scholar motivated by the desire to publish an article in a foreign language journal in order to gain a reputation outside of Palestine was responding to needs which were not those of the society in which he lived: "There is nothing more tragic than the situation of a scholar in Palestine," Katznelson stated. "He creates in an atmosphere which is without echo, with no public response."(14) This alienation - the distance between the scholar and the society of the Yishuv - derived from the fact that "science which does not serve society and the people may be an important thing in itself. But one cannot claim it is of importance to us. One cannot expect us to appreciate and admire it, if it is alien to our own enterprise."(15) Accordingly, he who chose international acclaim chose estrangement from the society in which he lived.

On the institutional level, the question was related to the university's priorities and to the question whether the Hebrew University ought to be an exact copy of similar institutions abroad - a "cosmopolitan university" as Katznelson called it - or a Palestinian university, adapting itself to the country's specific needs. Katznelson mocked Magnes' slogan "not like all nations." The very same persons, he said, who have inscribed this formula on their banner with regard to Palestinian politics, adopted the opposite formula "like all the nations" when it comes to the establishment of the university, in their insistence upon copying the European model into Palestine. Katznelson sought an original Palestinian university, which would take local needs into consideration when choosing fields of research and teaching. He lobbied for the establishment of a department of pedagogy and education, but was disappointed with the results once this occurred, since the school of education was again an exact copy of the customary model, lacking any original features.(16) He considered the establishment of a school of agriculture to be of prime importance. On this matter he clashed with Weizmann and others, who wanted first to guarantee a high level of theoretical studies.(17) He strove to establish a chair in Jewish history from the biblical era on, with particular emphasis on the modern period, from the days of the early Haskala and emancipation through the history of the national movement. He demanded the establishment of an institute for Middle Eastern Studies, and attributed great importance to an acquaintance with Arab and Islamic culture. He advocated a faculty of social sciences, which would train civil servants for the nascent Jewish public service. In his last years, he demanded that a school of medicine be established in Jerusalem, since the great reservoir of Jewish doctors in the Diaspora had been destroyed in the Holocaust.

Katznelson's attempt to persuade the Hebrew University to adapt itself to Israeli realities yielded limited fruit, and proved a source of constant frustration: "I do not know of a single institution in Palestine," he complained, "in which it is as difficult to repair something as it is in the university."(18) He did not give up, however, and continued to do battle against "the excessive academicism which rules in Jerusalem more than it does in ancient universities."(19) In the wake of the Holocaust, the university gained importance as the source of a new Jewish intelligentsia and science. Hence, the question of commitment by the university and its teachers to what was deemed by Labor leaders to be national needs, and the awareness of the university elite's alienation from the budding Israeli society, both gained increasing significance.

Katznelson's dissatisfaction with the university and its personalities reflected a widely held sense of alienation between the Labor Movement and the Jerusalem intelligentsia. A number of factors contributed to this sense: First, the Yishuv's political and cultural character had been set primarily by immigrants from Eastern Europe. The university, on the other hand, had been largely shaped by heirs to the German cultural milieu, and to a certain extent by disciples of an Anglo-Saxon culture. Estrangement between the ost-Juden and the university leadership reflected cultural, temperamental, and political differences. Furthermore, the university's central figures, and many of its founders, were among the prominent members of Brit-Shalom, and later of Ihud: Hugo Bergman, Akiba Ernst Simon, Gershom Scholem, Martin Buber, Shmuel Sambursky, Judah L. Magnes. The "Ahad Ha'amist" approach to Palestine as a spiritual center was predominant in Jerusalem. In later years, this circle's support for bi-nationalism - its opposition to the Biltmore Plan and to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, reinforced the Labor Movement's sense that the "Mountain" and the "valley" constituted two separate camps.(20)

Political differences, however, were but one aspect of the conflict between the Jerusalem intelligentsia and the Labor Movement. Despite their reverence for scholars, the socialists had no feelings of inferiority vis-a-vis the professors: The cultural condescension of A. E. Simon, who cautioned Katznelson against the declining level of articles in Davar, the Histadrut paper, which Berl edited, led to the editor's rebuttal, which succinctly summarized the relations between the two elites: "Many of the intelligentsia fail to join us," he wrote to Simon. "The majority of them, due to their complete aloofness from the workers and their aspirations, the minority of them because they differ with us on a number of points, and some of them due to prejudice."(21) From the point of view of the "valley," the center of life and creativity in Palestine was to be found in the creation of an infrastructure in Palestine, in innovative social experiments, in the transformation of Palestine into the center of Hebrew culture. The complacency of the university's rector, Professor Leon Roth in 1943, who stated that the university should be "a guide to the perplexed of Palestine,"(22) sounded arrogant and out of place to Katznelson and his colleagues: Mount Scopus was not pivotal to Jewish life in Palestine, and national creativity would not issue forth from this exclusive institution, which refused to change and was outwardly, rather than inwardly, oriented. The question phrased by Isaiah Leibowitz (as quoted by Katznelson), "to what extent does the university as a representative spiritual institution . . . actually represent the Yishuv?"(23) was given a negative answer by Katznelson and his associates.

3. Academic Freedom in a Collectivist Society

The Yishuv and the State of Israel were pluralistic societies. The Yishuv was a voluntary society, with a number of sources of authority and power, which fed off each other. The young State of Israel was a democracy, in which the political opposition had a substantial amount of power, and in which the press attacked the government mercilessly. Therefore, an attack on academic freedom, in the sense of a demand for loyalty to a particular creed or political line, was never a real option. This must be borne in mind when we come to compare early Israeli society with various "guided democracies" and with the Soviet Union. At the same time, however, the state's founders were motivated by a powerful sense of mission, and by a desire to design not only the political and social framework of the Jewish entity in Palestine, but also to mold its ethos and comprehensive world-view, according to their own ideology.

But there is a difference between ideology and political positions. While Ben-Gurion and Katznelson demanded loyalty to Zionist ideology, they did not intervene in matters pertaining to day-to-day political perspectives: they rejected any necessary relation between politics and a scientist's scholarly work. Ben-Gurion stated this bluntly at the annual meeting of the Friends of the Hebrew University in 1937: "A scientific institution must be free of political tendencies," he said, "Science which is touched by a political tendency must be rejected. . . . But the lack of a political tendency does not mean a lack of any political mission, or a national mission to be more precise. Without such a mission, the university becomes an empty body."(24)

Science must be guided by the desire to uncover truth, Ben-Gurion said, because "knowledge of the truth regarding nature and the universe, peoples and society, past and present, is a powerful and necessary tool in all our activities." But, he continued, Jewish research can be free of apologetic inclinations only if it takes place in an independent Jewish society living in its own land. Thus, Ben-Gurion formulated his conclusion in one of those dialectical phrases he liked to coin: "The redemption of Jewish science cannot occur without the redemption of the Jewish homeland, and the redemption of the Jewish homeland cannot occur without the redemption of science."(25)

Katznelson's phrasing was a little more subtle. "We must learn to distinguish between great principles of faith and between their outward shells" he said. "One must not reject cultural activity due simply to the fact that it is guided by a credo."(26) Katznelson preached tirelessly against the dogmatic teachings of Marxist education in the left wing of the Kibbutz movement: the Kibbutz ha-Artzi and Ha-Shomer ha-Tza'ir, and even in Ha-Kibbutz ha-Me'uhad, notably in his famous article "In Praise of Confusion and Against WhiteWash." But Katznelson was sensitive enough to know that he and his colleagues were not free of ideology either and were not objective bystanders. He deemed education guided by values - as against neutral education - to be a desirable element in the moral formation of young men and women. The question was what values. "Our opposition to beliefs which seem to us spurious should not lead us into opposing the very presence in education of belief itself - in Zionism, in socialism, in humanism in science or in religion."(27)

Hugo Bergman's candidacy for University Rector in November 1935 led Katznelson to distinguish between the scholar's right to hold political views and his right to independent scholarship - and the university's commitment to the national perspective. Since the 1920s, Katznelson and Bergman had engaged in a friendly dialogue on the Arab question. After the 1929 riots, both men's views became polarized: Katznelson was convinced that the times demanded vigorous defense of the Yishuv and of Zionism in the face of the political campaign being waged against them, while - for the very same reasons - Bergman decided it was time to relinquish the demand for a Jewish majority in Palestine - a position which removed him from the Zionist consensus. Nevertheless, when he was once again attacked by the right in 1934, Davar set out to defend him. However, when Bergman was presented as a candidate for rector of the university, Katznelson expressed his opposition. In a letter to Bergman, which seems not to have been sent, he clarified his position: "To the extent I have been able, I have defended the university's academic freedom with all my might, and I have voted in favor of acceptance of professors whose political views are very different from my own. But I make a distinction between study and research [on the one hand] and posts which constitute public and national representation [on the other hand]."(28) What is permissible on the private, individual, level is not permissible on the public level. Similarly, in his 1937 speech, Ben-Gurion elucidated the problems surrounding the university's national obligation and its commitment to the Zionist perspective: "This young institution, which is necessarily nourished primarily by scholarly energies which come from the outside, is in danger of becoming uprooted and estranged, if not alienated. It is incumbent upon the Yishuv more than upon any other body, to root the university in the homeland, in the Yishuv's desires and historical missions."(29)

The principal means by which Katznelson and Ben-Gurion sought to guarantee the university's loyalty to the Zionist cause was democratization. Up until 1935, the university was governed by the Chancellor, Judah Leib Magnes, who imprinted it with his Ahad-Ha'amist and pacifist views. At the ninth session of the university's Board of Trustees, in which Katznelson played an active role, it was decided to eliminate the position of chancellor. Magnes was elected President instead. In addition to the Board of Trustees, which convened biennially in Europe, and whose membership was entirely uninvolved in the life of the Yishuv, an Executive Committee was established, seated in Jerusalem, and which convened every other week. The result was to transfer the university's center of power from the Diaspora to Palestine. At the same time, a revolutionary reorganization of the university's internal structure was effected: It was decided that the Deans and Rector would from here on be elected by the university's faculty. Katznelson defined it as the "implementation of the principle of elections in all areas of academic administration."(30) He expected that when authority in the university was transferred from the foreign based academic oligarchy into broader-based circles of policy-makers, and when, furthermore, Palestinian-educated membership within this circle grew - the university's character would eventually change.

For the very same reasons, Katznelson and Ben-Gurion attempted to involve Zionist bodies - the Jewish Agency Executive and the Histadrut - in financial and administrative responsibility for the university. The intention was to liberate the university from excessive dependence upon foreign donors, and to direct it toward subjects of interest to the national movement.(31) As part of the attempt to conquer the university from within, an attempt was made to establish an organization of Histadrut members in the university. The 1930s and early 1940s were witness to an exceptional phenomenon whereby the left had minimal influence upon the Hebrew University student body, as against an overwhelming predominance of the right. Katznelson hoped to have the Histadrut operate among the students as well. It seems, however, that little change occurred on this front until young men of a Labor Zionist affiliation made a significant appearance within the student body - something which happened only after the War of Independence.

In general, though there was much that was similar in Ben-Gurion's and Katznelson's attitudes toward the university, there were significant differences. At the functional level, science was to assist in the upbuilding of the land: study and research of the land of Palestine, its water, climate, and minerals, would facilitate dense Jewish population of the land. This was the reason why they called for the development of agricultural sciences, for instance. After the establishment of the state, Ben-Gurion emphasized the importance of science and technology within the framework of Israel's security, and in the development of armaments. They were also important in facilitating the absorption of mass immigration.(32) Thus practical considerations were never absent from their thinking. The recruitment of top scientists to advance current national needs was considered legitimate not only in the Soviet Union - the "mobilized society" to which they compared themselves - but in the West as well: Cambridge and Oxford professors had been recruited to the war effort during the Second World War, and American scientists had volunteered for the Manhattan Project in the United States. These were the models which served Katznelson and Ben-Gurion when they demanded that the university put itself in the service of the national interest.(33) But Ben-Gurion emphasized the functional aspect of scientific development more than Katznelson, and was more interested than Katznelson in the applied sciences.

The ideological stratum was more complex: They both spoke of the need to form a national ethos and to mold the nation's image. The educational program Ben-Gurion promoted spoke of "study of the homeland" and "study of the nation" as the two pillars of Israeli education. But when he described the details, it turned out that he intended to base study of the nation, not to mention study of the homeland, entirely on the Bible.(34) In a fascinating letter to Nathan Rotenstreich written in the late 1950s, Ben-Gurion declared his psychological and spiritual affinity (and that of the youth in Israel) to the Biblical past, as opposed to the exilic past. He presented Zionism as a spatial and temporal leap over Jewish history. The state, to him, was a new beginning "which blends in immediately with the distant past; with the past of Joshua Bin-Nun, David, Uziah, and the first Hasmoneans." It is by no means a continuation of Jewish existence in the Diaspora.(35) By the same token, he referred to the entire cultural heritage of the Jewish people in exile as an imitative culture, as opposed to one created by the people in its own land. The latter constituted an "original culture."(36)

Katznelson, on the other hand, never subscribed to Ben-Gurion's view regarding the Jewish Diaspora and the so-called "historical leap." He believed deeply in a conception of Jewish historical continuity, attributing great importance to Jewish life and creativity in the Diaspora, and wishing to root the incipient national culture in Jewish history through all its epochs. This view linked him to the faculty who, as disciples of Ahad Ha'am, were committed to a similar conception. Katznelson himself was far from being an admirer of Ahad Ha'am, but on the cultural front, he was quite close to his views. Moreover, Katznelson understood national culture as a totality, viewing the cultural sphere as a single domain which calls for a comprehensive attitude. His thinking avoided Ben-Gurion's implicit classification of matters important to the national spirit and matters which were of no consequence to it. He therefore placed greater importance upon the academy's affinity for the national perspective as against Ben-Gurion's relative indifference. Katznelson was sophisticated enough to understand the dangers inherent in his attempt to impose Labor-Zionist concepts on the university, but thought it more dangerous to allow the growth of an academic island detached from local values and local reality. In a society in which commitment is a supreme value, there is no such thing as a neutral education. For this reason, by the way, he was also much more reticent than Ben-Gurion in his use of the word "truth" insofar as it pertains to science and scholarship.

One of the surprising things in this dialogue is the extent of mutual involvement, not on the institutional but on the personal level. Both the politicians and the academics considered the dialogue necessary, and undertook it willingly. This is not surprising insofar as Katznelson was concerned, since he was a man whose intellectual interests found much common ground with his partners in this dialogue. His conversations with Hugo Bergman, Gershom Scholem, Ben-Zion Dinaburg, and Dov Sadan were part of his ongoing discussion with the entire cultural elite of Palestine. Ben-Gurion, on the other hand, was hardly involved in the life of the intellect in Palestine. Nevertheless, the opinions of the professors were important to him. It is my impression, in fact, that he cared more for the opinions of the professors than Katznelson did.

Of equal interest is the willingness and seriousness with which the professors treated their relations with the politicians. The pitfalls of this special relationship came into focus in the two meetings Ben-Gurion held in 1949 with a number of intellectuals, who he hoped might advise him on how to shape the nation's image in the wake of the War of Independence and in the face of mass immigration.(37) The list of those invited to these meetings indicates that the university was considered neither the sole source of inspiration and historical insight, nor indeed the predominant one. Ultimately, the meetings served to underline the university's marginality in the young state's cultural life. Only three professors participated: Martin Buber, Hugo Bergman, and Ben-Zion Dinaburg, as opposed to thirty non-academic intellectuals, most of whom were writers, poets, and journalists. The meetings demonstrated the distance between Ben-Gurion and the academic world. He wanted concrete answers to the problems he faced in shaping the image of mass immigration. Instead, Buber confronted him with philosophical questions such as "to what end?" - To what end had the state been established? Buber wanted the state to be guided not by raison d'etat, but by moral principles. In this context, he raised the question of the Arab refugees for discussion. Bergman also raised theoretical questions related to such issues as what Judaism is, and what a Jewish state should be. He cautioned against trends which seemed to be moving toward a chauvinistic self-segregation, which had been given expression in the removal of English-language signs by some of the youth. At a later stage in the discussion, Buber spoke of his fears of the immigration of masses lacking in a value-centered education, which may swallow up the idealistic minority in the country (the "cream" as he called them).

They were listened to intently, and Buber's questions became the focus of the discussion. But intellectual and emotional light years separated them and the other participants. When the soldier-poet Chaim Guri spoke of a "spiritual brain trust, closed to a large extent to the gushes of wind which bring with them dust and storm,"(38) he gave expression to the feeling of separation between the "Jerusalemites" as they were called in the discussion, and the younger generation, which had just borne the brunt of the war. The fact that the participants' gaze was turned toward universal problems at the expense of concrete matters, raised the discussion from an intellectual point of view, but also made it sterile.

Ben-Gurion's purpose in holding these meetings is unclear. It is doubtful whether Ben-Gurion truly believed that Torah would issue from Mount Scopus and the word of God from the university in Jerusalem. At a preparatory meeting with writers in Alterman's home, Ben-Gurion declared that the Defense Ministry was the Ministry of Culture.(39) It was his view that the military was the natural place for the crystallization of the nation. One must assume that he held these meetings either because he believed that this is how the "philosopher-king" must act, or that this is how Berl Katznelson would have acted. It is also possible that the same psychological and cultural factors which led him to adopt the slogan regarding the book's preference over the sword, and Israel as "a light unto the nations," were also responsible for his initiating these meetings. Whatever the case may be, these summit-meetings only served to highlight the university's marginality in the young Israeli society, which had undergone a profound trauma and was in the midst of rapid change. The university did not play an active role in the determination of the public agenda, or in the intellectual ferment which followed in the wake of statehood and the crisis of war.

The university, in Ben-Gurion's and Katznelson's thinking, was expected essentially to do three things: to provide high-level scientific know-how and the professionals required by a modern state; to constitute a primary source for national culture; and to serve as a workshop for the apprenticeship of the cultural elite. The first was the easiest to fulfill. Important reforms in the university's structure were introduced after the World War, and the disciplines which Katznelson had considered to be of vital importance did indeed become an integral part of the university. The demand for professional service to the state was also fulfilled. As to the university's impact on national culture - it seems doubtful whether this expectation was indeed fulfilled. Increasing specialization led to an increasing distance between the suppliers and the consumers of knowledge. To this day, the target audience for most university professors is not the Israeli public, but rather their foreign peers. Academic knowledge makes its way to the broad Israeli public only slowly and only to a very limited degree. At the same time, however, ever since the 1960s, the universities do serve to a great extent as catalysts in public debate regarding the character of Israeli society and the nature of the existing and desirable political culture and relations with the Arabs. Insofar as the corpus of Hebrew culture was concerned, then, the university failed to become a primary source of creativity. Insofar as the shaping of a national ethos was concerned, however, the university's status changed considerably from what it was before the establishment of the state and in the first decade of its existence.

There is a direct correlation between the decline of the Labor Movement and the rise of the university. With the decline of the earlier sources of inspiration of social and cultural values associated with the Labor Movement - such as the kibbutz movement, the founding fathers of the Labor Movement, and the circle of writers and poets linked to the Labor Movement - the university's intellectuals made their way into the vacuum and began to play a key role in the crystallization of a secular and humanist national ethos. In this sense, the Hebrew university did indeed create a cultural elite which came to serve as one of the models for Israeli intellectual life and the critique of Israeli society. Is this what Katznelson had in mind when he called for the academy's commitment to the Zionist enterprise, or would he have resented current trends? It seems to me that he would have been more pleased with Israeli academics' caring though critical involvement in Israeli society today than he was with the indifferent ivory tower on Mount Scopus in his own day.


1. David Ben-Gurion, Hazon va-Derech (Vision and Pathways), I (Israel 1951), p. 148.

2. Ha'Aretz May 18, 1949.

3. Jacob Talmon, "'Medinat ha-Yehudim' shel Herzl mi-Ketz 70 Shana" ("Herzl's 'Jewish State' Seventy Years Later"), in Be-Idan ha-Alimut (The Age of Violence) (Tel-Aviv, 1974), p. 164. "I can recall many embarrassing meetings with famous Jewish leaders," wrote Talmon, "who have not only gained a place in history, but have made a name for themselves in the world, and yet they lament the fact that they had not become professors, writers, or thinkers. They cannot forgive themselves for this, and they are filled with envy at the sight of intellectual mediocrity which does not reach even half their stature."

4. Berl Katznelson, "Darki la-Aretz" ("My Way to Palestine"), in Ktavim (Writings), Vol. V (Israel: Mapai Publishing, 1953), p. 311.

5. David Ben-Gurion, Zichronot (Memoirs), Vol. I (Tel-Aviv, 1971), pp. 52-72.

6. Ibid., p. 10.

7. A. Zioni (Wilkansky), "Mehapsei Hechsherim" ("In Search of Validation"), Ha-Zeman, Vol. II (Vilna, April-June 1905).

8. A.D. Gordon, "Universita Ivrit" ("A Hebrew University"), Ha-Uma ve-ha-Avoda (Labor and the Nation) (Israel, 1957), p. 168.

9. Katznelson, "Ha-Universita ve-ha-Yishuv be-Eretz Yisrael" ("The University and the Yishuv in Palestine"), Divrei Berl Katznelson al ha-Universita ha-Ivrit (Berl Katznelson's Speeches on the Hebrew University) (Jerusalem, 1945), p. 17 [hereafter Katznelson].

10. Gordon, p. 178.

11. Katznelson, "Al ha-Hinuch li-Mevugarim" ("On Adult Education"), op. cit., p. 26.

12. Summary of Ben-Gurion's words at the corner-stone laying ceremony of the Sede Boker College, October 6 1963, Ben-Gurion Heritage Archives, Sede Boker.

13. S. Y. Agnon, Shira (New York: Schocken Books, 1989). In Shira, Agnon gave ironic expression to this sense of detachment on the part of the professors on the "Mountain." Katznelson distinguished between "social distinctions" rooted in differences of class, and "social distance," rooted in differences of approach. According to Katznelson, the difference between "a pioneering individual," who judges himself and his world according to "the one criterion of Israel's revival," and an "important scientist who remains a cosmopolitan in Palestine, deeply attached to another culture," stems not from social distinctions, but rather from differences in consciousness and approach. Katznelson, "Ovdei ha-Mada le-Sherut ha-Am" ("Scientists in the Service of the People"), op. cit., p. 38.

14. Ibid., p. 43.

15. Ibid., p. 41.

16. Katznelson, "Ha-Universita ve-ha-Histadrut" ("The University and the Histadrut"), Ibid., p. 50.

17. See Anita Shapira, ed. Iggerot Berl Katznelson, 1930-1937 (The Letters of Berl Katznelson, 1930-1937), Vol. VI (Tel-Aviv, 1984), p. 189.

18. Katznelson, op. cit., p. 50.

19. Ibid., p. 52.

20. See on this Shalom Ratzabi's Doctoral Thesis, Ishei Merkaz Eiropa Bi-"Verit Shalom"-Ideologia be-Mivhanei Metziut, 1925-1945 (The Central Europeans of "Brit Shalom" - Ideology in the Crucible of Reality, 1925-1945), Tel-Aviv University, 1995.

21. Berl Katznelson to Ernst Simon, May-June 1935, Iggerot, Vol. VI, p. 172.

22. Katznelson, "Al ha-Hinuch Li-Mevugarim," p. 28.

23. Katznelson, "Ovdei ha-Mada le-Sherut ha-Am," p. 44.

24. Ben-Gurion Diary, December 2 1937, Ben-Gurion Heritage Archives, Sede Boker.

25. Ibid.

26. Katznelson, "Al ha-Hinuch Li-Mevugarim," p. 27.

27. Ibid, p. 28.

28. Berl Katznelson to Hugo Bergman, November 1935 (based on a draft), Iggerot, Vol. VI, pp. 207-208.

29. Ben-Gurion's speech at the annual meeting of Friends of the University, Ben-Gurion Diary, December 2 1937, Ben-Gurion Heritage Archives, Sede Boker.

30. Katznelson, "Ha-Universita be-Hitpathuta" ("Development of the University"), op. cit., pp. 2-3.

31. Katznelson, "Ha-Universita ve-ha-Yishuv be-Eretz Yisrael," Ibid., p. 19; Ben-Gurion Diary, above.

32. Ben-Gurion's speech at the Keren ha-Yesod Conference, October 11 1948. Ben-Gurion Heritage Institute; speech on "Atzma'ut Tarbutit" ("Cultural Independence"), May 25 1952, Hazon va-Derech (Vision and Pathways), Tel-Aviv 1961, vol. IV, p. 54; speech on "Erkei ha-Ruah" ("Spiritual Values"), Hazon va-Derech (Tel-Aviv, 1957), pp. 281 ff.

33. Katznelson, "Ovdei ha-Mada Le-Sherut ha-Am," p. 46.

34. Ben-Gurion, "Atzma'ut Tarbutit," pp. 49 ff.

35. Ben-Gurion to Nathan Rotenstreich, March 28 1957, Ben-Gurion Heritage Archives, Sede Boker.

36. Ben-Gurion's speech at the Keren ha- Yesod Conference, October 11 1943, Ben-Gurion Heritage Archives, Sede Boker.

37. Two meetings took place between Ben-Gurion and the intellectuals. The first was held on March 27, 1949, and the second on October 11, 1949. The minutes of the meetings are located in the Ben-Gurion Heritage Archives, Sede Boker.

38. First Meeting, p. 20.

39. Ibid., p. 25.

ANITA SHAPIRA is the Ruben Merenfeld Professor for the Study of Zionism at Tel Aviv University. Her recent English publications include Berl: The Biography of a Socialist Zionist, Berl Katznelson, 1887-1944 (1985) and Land and Power (1992).
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Author:Shapira, Anita
Publication:Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought
Date:Mar 22, 1996
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