Zionism and Technocracy: The Engineering of Jewish Settlement in Palestine, 1870-1918

Zionism and Technocracy: The Engineering of Jewish Settlement in Palestine, 1870-1918

Zionism and Technocracy: The Engineering of Jewish Settlement in Palestine, 1870-1918

Zionism and Technocracy: The Engineering of Jewish Settlement in Palestine, 1870-1918


"Zionism and Technocracy is important reading for anyone seriously interested in the development of the Yishuv during the last decades of Ottoman rule." -- Choice

"... stimulating and well written... " -- Shofar

"A pioneering work on the most important aspect of early Zionist history, well researched, well written, highly to be recommended." -- Walter Laqueur

"Taut and well-written with a fresh approach, Penslar's painstakingly researched study fills an important gap in the literature on the early Yishuv." -- The Jerusalem Post Magazine

"Penslar has written one of the first 'social histories' of an important aspect of Zionism." -- David Sorkin

"... Penslar presents an alternative perspective of those early days of Jewish settlement. Instead of a tale of individuals and their efforts, it is history of the organizational efforts to develop the institutions needed to reestablish the Jewish presence on the land." -- Midstream

The creation of a Jewish homeland in modern Palestine represented a monumental technical achievement. This achievement, and the story of the Jewish technocrats from Central Europe who engineered it, is documented here for the first time -- bringing together social, intellectual, and institutional history in a pathbreaking study.


This study concerns Jewish social engineering in Palestine during the last half‐ century of Ottoman rule. Between 1870 and the end of World War I, various international Jewish organizations took the first steps toward the creation of a class of Jewish agriculturalists in Palestine. That class was small and fragile, but its very existence represented a monumental technical achievement. Conventional depictions of Jewish colonization in modern Palestine tend to describe the settlement process in terms of the immigrants themselves, as if they acted without guidance or support from without. Jewish rural colonization was, however, heavily dependent on settlement agencies, some philanthropic and others explicitly nationalist in their orientation. These agencies, in turn, modeled their own activities along the lines of the domestic social policies and international colonial practices of the most developed states of Europe. Unlike imperialist projections of European technology and social norms onto the Middle East, however, Jewish colonization in Ottoman Palestine contained a strong reformist, utopian quality.

The impetus toward Jewish social engineering in Palestine had roots in the very origins of Jewish modernity. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, secularization and acculturation brought about a revolutionary transformation of traditional Jewish mentalities, including the time-honored view of the ancient Holy Land as a hallowed ruin. Under the cold light of the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskala), the land of Israel lost its sacred aura and now appeared to be a decrepit relic, in need of externally imposed regeneration. Constructive philanthropy, aimed at the physical improvement of the Holy Land and the moral elevation of its residents, replaced prayer and pilgrimage as the bond linking emancipated Diaspora Jews and Palestine's Jewish community (the Yishuv). This activist mentality was particularly strong among Jews in France; as part of its self-imposed mission to instill Western values into Middle Eastern Jewry, the Alliance Israélite Universelle founded the agricultural school Mikve Yisra'el in 1870. The tutelary tone of the Alliance's ideology was present in the philanthropic endeavors of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, whose involvement in Palestine began in 1882, and dominated the worldview of the Paris-based Jewish Colonization Association, whose Palestinian activities date to 1896.

The French Jewish philanthropies were the first to introduce European agricultural technology into the Yishuv on a sizeable scale. French and Algerian . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.