Communal Living In Israel
Altogether there are 265 rural kibbutzim, plus 5 urban kibbutzim, 12 communal villages,over 100 city communes and various other intentional communities.
Some 115,600 souls live on kibbutzim, almost 2% of the population. In no other country is there such a high percentage of commune dwellers. The largest kibbutz has 626 members, with a total population of 1254.
Unlike communes elsewhere, the kibbutzim are, and always have been very much an integral part of the national liberation movement and then of the state itself. They played a major role in almost all facets of the upbuilding of the Jewish homeland, and in the Labour movement, but their impact has gradually been eroded with time. Nevertheless, there are 3 kibbutz members in the Knesset (Parliament), including a woman deputy-minister. A former Prime Minister was born and educated on a kibbutz, and a former Chief of Staff is a member of a kibbutz. In addition, the kibbutz contribution to the cultural and economic life of the country is far beyond their proportion of the population. For more details about kibbutzim and the kibbutz movement, click here.
Being part and parcel of Israeli society, it should be no surprise that the egoistic, anti-ideological materialism now current in the country is taking its toll on the kibbutzim. Other major factors contributing to the present crisis are serious economic problems (partially stemming from past severe inflation) and the lack of clear objectives. All these, and other factors, have created in many kibbutzim a lack of confidence in the future of the kibbutz way of life. The result is a strong move towards changes in the direction of less communal living, and many kibbutzim are in a state of crisis. (For more details about the changing kibbutz, press here.) The recent unification of the two largest kibbutz movements hasn't affected this trend. Indeed some kibbutzim are about to relinquish their communal lifestyle almost completely.
Nevertheless, kibbutz members continue to contribute considerably in almost all spheres of life: culture, agriculture, industry, sport, defence, immigrant absorption, politics, social work, environment, etc. etc..
As for urban kibbutzim, there are four recognized as such by the kibbutz movement (and one more, Kibbutz Mish-ol in Nazareth Illit, which although not part of the kibbutz movement, is registered legally as an urban kibbutz). Two are in Jerusalem: Kibbutz Reshit (with an orthodox religious lifestyle) and Kibbutz Bet Israel (with a mix of religious and non-religious members). The other two non-religious urban kibbutzim are in "development towns": Kibbutz Migvan in Shderot and Kibbutz Tamuz in Bet Shemesh.
Several young rural kibbutzim (Ravid, Eshbal, Na'aran and Pelech) have similar ideas and are concentrating on educational activities.
The 12 communal villages, in Hebrew "moshav shitufi", with a total population of some 4000, have a less collective set-up than kibbutzim. Five of them are affiliated to the largest kibbutz federation, and seven to the workers settlement movement.
An interesting and very positive development over the past few years is the emergence of a new type of city commune. This is definitely an original Israeli invention, since they are made up of former leaders of youth movements, who have finished their military service and wish to live together and contribute to society, mainly through formal and informal educational work. Over 100 of these urban communes exist.The largest and oldest of these is made up of 8 communes in the northern city of Nazareth Illit, which includes Kvutsat Yovel, a commune of immigrants from English-speaking countries. All of the above have the intention to contribute (through educational and social work) to their surroundings, which are in need of plenty of help. Many of their members are former kibbutzniks or sons and daughters of kibbutzim.
Some explanation is called for. In Israel, as well as in Jewish communities around the world, there exist various Zionist youth movements. These resemble vaguely the Boy Scouts, but are youth led, with mixed boy-girl membership and with a strong informal educational/ideological/cultural bias. They encourage their members to work in various ways for the Jewish people (and other good causes) and some of their graduates join kibbutzim. In recent years, some of the Israeli movement leaders have formed city communes to carry on their positive activities after their army service. (Boys do at least 3 years military service and girls do 2 - unless they are married or religious.)
In addition, there are a variety of other communes and intentional communities around the country. Do contact us, if you belong to one of these or have any relevant information.
The vast number of books, publications and articles about kibbutz reflects the wide-ranging interest in the subject. In Israel, most of the publications on the subject are available at the library of Yad Tabenkin at Seminar Efal, the staff of which is always ready to be of assistance. Alternative sources are the libraries of Givat Chaviva, of the University of Haifa (with its Institute for Research on the Kibbutz and the Cooperative Idea) and those of the other universities. In other countries too, the university libraries no doubt include many such publications.
Unfortunately, we have had to limit ourselves only to those books in English which are somehow connected with this site.
- Avrahami, E., Kibbutz - An Evolving Community, Yad Tabenkin, 1992.
- Avrahami, E., The Changing Kibbutz, Yad Tabenkin, 2000
- Fedler, Jon: KIBBUTZ, What, When, When, Where, Israel Information Center: Focus on Israel, Jerusalem, 2002. (Available from Israeli diplomatic missions and on
- Gavron, Daniel, The Kibbutz - Awakening from Utopia, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, 2000
- Gelb, Saadia, Almost One Hundred Years of Togetherness, Shmuel Press, Tel Aviv, 1994
- Horrox, J. (2009): A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement, Oakland, CA; Edinburgh: AK Press
- Leichman, D. & 1. Paz (eds.), KIBBUTZ - An Alternative Lifestyle, Yad Tabenkin. 1994
- Maron, S., Kibbutz in a Market Society, Yad Tabenkin, 1993
- Mort, J. and Brenner, G. (2003): Our Hearts Invented a Place: Can Kibbutzim Survive in Today’s Israel? Ithaca; London: Cornell University Press
- Near, H. The Kibbutz Movement - A History; Vol. 1: Origins and Growth, 1909-1939; Vol. 2: Crisis and Achievement, 1939-1995, Oxford Univ. Press, 1992; 1997
- KIBBUTZ TRENDS, formerly Kibbutz Currents and Kibbutz Studies, (quarterly), Ramat Efal: Yad Tabenkin, 1991-2004.
- Tyldesley, Michael - No Heavenly Delusion? - A Comparative Study of Three Communal Movements, Liverpool University Press, 2003.