Ten Things You Need to Know About… Yehiel Michal Pines

  Writer and early proponent of religious Zionism

1. Pines was born in 1843 in Ruzhany in what is now Byelorussia. The family were prosperous merchants and Torah scholars. As a child, he studied both traditional Jewish subjects and foreign languages and science – a broad curriculum for his time and place.

2. Perhaps as a result of his education, he believed that Jewish life could be reformed without destroying the sanctity of religious belief and practice. These ideas were both influenced and expanded upon by Ahad Ha’am [see my post of April 24].

2. In 1877, at the age of 34, he was asked to serve in Palestine as a representative of the London-based Moses Montefiore Testimonial Fund. He arrived in Jerusalem in 1878.

3. After looking into the spiritual, cultural and economic life of the Jews in Palestine, he advocated building an agricultural settlement, laying out new quarters for Jews in Jerusalem, and creating a variety of artisanal and industrial projects.

pines4. The neighborhoods of Mizkeret Moshe, Ohel Moshe, Yemin Moshe and Zichron Moshe, all in Jerusalem, were established as a result of his efforts.

5. A political conservative, he wrote articles and pamphlets that were later to be adopted by the emerging Mizrachi party.

6. He became friends with Eliezer Ben-Yehuda [see my post of February 6] when Ben-Yehuda made aliyah, and they worked together on the revival of Hebrew as the spoken language of the Jews in Palestine.

7. He worked with young Russians to establish the settlement of Gederah and was its first patron. He continued trying to further the development there of artisans, craftsmen and smiths.

8. He was once asked, “A person such as yourself, with such great knowledge in Torah and science, with such linguistic creativity, with talent, with style and with such writing where every word is a stone – a person such as you – why are you involved with the institutes of Jerusalem? How many good books could you have given us?” He answered, “Who told you that one must write books and not forge institutions? Is not the founding of Gedera more important than the best book? We have 20,000 books that were written by people greater and better than us, and if a few more were added by Michal Pines, what difference would it make? But a moshav – an institution – how many do we have? Are we short on books? If moshavs are founded – this I understand.”

9. One tale told about him is that he sold his wife’s jewelry to secure the renewal of Petach Tikveh after the settlement was destroyed.

10. He died in 1913. Kefar Pines, a moshav in the Sharon Plain, was named for him twenty years later.

You’ll find Pines Street in the Neve Tzedek area of Tel Aviv. Note: in Hebrew, Pines is not pronounced like the tree. Which is, of course, why I’m writing about Pines (yes, I’m about twelve years old).

4 thoughts on “Ten Things You Need to Know About… Yehiel Michal Pines

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