LITR 5439 Literary & Historical Utopias

Web Review



Modern Israel

Oxford English Dictionary kibbutz [modern Hebrew "gathering"] A collective settlement in Israel, owned communally by its members, and organized on co-operative principles.

plural kibbutzim.

Instructor's notes: The founding of modern Israel in Palestine in 1847 marked a profound convergence of intellectual, political, and geo-economic forces deeply rooted in ancient, medieval, and modern Western Civilization at its eastern border with Middle Eastern and Islamic civilization.

Many of these forces appear in the history of Israel's utopian communal experiments with Kibbutzim: intential communities of Jewish settlers who would embody principles of democratic socialism and "make the desert bloom."

Jewish settlement in Arab-occupied lands began in late 1800s-early 1900s, with the first Kibbutz founded in 1910. In the 1940s the Nazi-Jewish Holocaust drove hundreds of thousands of European Jews to migrate to the British Mandate of Palestine.

250,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled, leading to several major wars (1948, 1967, 1972) and continuing border conflicts between Jews and Arabs. Palestinian refugee settlements in Lebanon and Jordan provide a painful contrast to the prosperous kibbutzim.

Jews have various historical connections with Socialism and liberalism. As the Nazis were anti-Communists, such relations added a political dimension to anti-Semitism. Jews were initially associated with the Russian Revolution (Karl Marx and Leo Trotsky descended from Jewish families), but anti-Semitism in Csarist and Stalinist Russia drove many Russian emigrants to America and Israel.

International philanthropy provided much of the start-up costs for kibbutzim in early Israel. Approximately 270 kibbutzim continue to function across Israel. Social structures associated with utopian literature and history include communal ownership of property, group decision-making, communal dining and child-rearing. The kibbutzim's success, however, has made it difficult to maintain the spartan rigor and equality that motivated the original settlers to cooperate. In recent decades children of the kibbutzim have migrated to more cosmopolitan settings, and the kibbutzim have contracted professional management that seeks profit from tourism and other outside business.


The Kibbutz (Jewish Virtual Library)

Kibbutzim (study of co-ops) (details changes)

Institute for Research on the Kibbutz and the Collective Idea

Kibbutz Movement (Communal Studies Association)

Isabel Kershner, "The Kibbutz Sheds Socialism and Gains Popularity." New York Times, 27 August 2007. (travel article)

Sarah Wildman, "Massage, not work, on the kibbutz in Israel." New York Times, 1 July 2007. (travel article)

1913: Seeds of Conflict (2015, PBS documentary on early Zionism, Ottoman Empire, and Palestine)

scenes from kibbutz life