10 Things You Need to Know About… Meir Bar-Ilan

Rabbi, scholar, and leader of religious Zionism

1. He was born Meir Berlin in 1880 in Volozhin, Lithuania.

2. He had impeccable yikhes: The family claimed connection to the House of David as descendants of Rabbi Meir Katzenellenbogen, the “Maharam of Padua.” His father, known as “the Netziv” (for Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin) was an orthodox rabbi, head of the Volozhin Yeshiva; his maternal grandfather was the famous rabbi Y.M. Epstein. He himself became a scholar of Talmud, studying at various yeshivas; he studied secular subjects at the University of Berlin.

3. In 1905, he joined Mizrachi, a religious Zionist movement that maintains the Torah is the center of Jewish nationalism. He represented Mizrachi at the 7th Zionist Congress, where, unlike most other Mizrachi delegates, he voted against the scheme to make Uganda the Jewish homeland.

Bar-Ilan.stamp4. By 1911, he’d become Secretary of the world Mizrachi movement. He relocated to the USA in 1913, where he developed local Mizrachi groups and in 1914 chaired the first US Mizrachi convention, in Cincinnati. From 1914-28 he was President of US Mizrachi. In 1917 he founded the Mizrachi Teachers Institute.

5. He coined the Mizrachi slogan, “The land of Israel for the people of Israel according to the Torah of Israel.”

6. During World War I, he was an active member of the Joint Distribution Committee and in 1916 served as Vice-President of the Central Relief Committee of New York City.

7. In the mid-1920s he moved to Jerusalem. 1925 saw him elected a member of the Jewish National Fund’s board of directors. He was founder and editor of Hatzofeh, a paper with a religious Zionist point of view that continued to be published until 2008. By the mid-1930s, Bar-Ilan had become a leading opponent of coöperation with the British authority. He opposed the partition plans put forth in 1937 and 1939, and he advocated active civil disobedience.

8. In all this political maneuvering, he did not forget scholarly pursuits. He was President of the Talmudic Encyclopedia and co-edited the first two volumes.

9. Upon the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, he organized a committee of scholars to examine legal problems of the new state in the light of Jewish law.

10. He died in 1949 in Jerusalem. In 1950, Bar-Ilan University was founded in Tel Aviv by the American Mizrachi movement.

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