Email Email   


Now chiefly city dwellers, Jews spent the first two millennia of their history as shepherds and farmers. Abraham came to Canaan in search of grazing land for his flocks. For several centuries his descendants were semi-nomadic, settling down to farm only at the time of the conquest of Canaan around 1200 B.C.E. Under the Judges and during the First and Second Commonwealths, most Israelites were farmers, breeding livestock and raising wheat, barley, grapes, olives, and vegetables.

The dispersion of the Jews by the Romans in the 1st century C.E. led to their separation from the land. In Babylonia, most exiles settled in cities and into handicraft and trade occupations. Jews were removed further from agriculture in the Middle Ages when most Christian princes forbade Jews to own land. Thus, by the beginning of the 19th century, less than one percent of Jews in the world were farmers.

At that time, however, a movement had arisen to bring the Jews back to the soil. Pondering the problem of antisemitism and the economic distress of East European Jewry, many thinkers concluded that a return to the soil might provide a solution. In 1804, Tsar Alexander I of Russia founded seven colonies expressly for Jewish subjects, as part of a plan for their segregation as well as rehabilitation. In the following decades several Jewish colonies were established in the Americas; due to lack of funds and experience, most failed. Not until the 1880’s and 1890’s were small but successful colonies founded in Palestine, Argentina, and the U.S.

In 1900, the Jewish Agricultural Society was established in the U.S. by joint action of the Jewish Colonization Association and the Baron de Hirsch Fund. During the first forty years of the Society’s existence, more than 13,000 Jewish farmers were assisted in land acquisition and development. Jewish agricultural communities are located in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other states. The National Farm school was established in Doylestown, Pa., in 1896. An agricultural magazine, The Jewish Farmer, established in 1908, provides agricultural information in both Yiddish and English.

During the 20th century, the number of Jewish farmers has steadily increased, swelled by refugees from Eastern and Central Europe. In Israel, where land settlement has been the first goal of the Zionist movement, the number of Jewish farmers has risen from several hundred in 1900 to about 83,000 in 1984 (in a total work force of 1.3 million.) The Jewish farm population of the U.S. has increased from about 300 families in 1900 to more than 10,000 in 1960. In 1979, there were about 30,000 Jewish farmers in Argentina. Colonization on a smaller scale has taken place in Brazil, Australia, Poland, and the Balkans.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email