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A walk through Mazkeret Batya

Mazkeret Batya is a charming town on the coastal plain, located a bit southeast of Rehovot, that began in 1883 as a small farming community during the First Aliya. Its original 11 settlers were experienced farmers and all were very religious. The settlement was originally called Ekron, but was renamed Mazkeret Batya four years later after Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s mother Betty Solomon de Rothschild. With the help of the town’s museums and other buildings, the beginnings of this settlement will be recreated through a circular walk.


The beginning of Mazkaret Batya was somewhat different from that of the other seven agricultural settlements established early during the First Aliya, in that Baron Edmond de Rothschild was asked to support this venture from the outset as a model for other settlements. The Baron bailed out other settlements after they had already gotten into difficulties. The Baron enthusiastically agreed to support 11 settlers with farming experience, although they had to agree to pay back any loans they received. Because they knew what they were looking for, it took them a while to find land that they considered optimal for farming. The person who persuaded the Baron to finance this venture was Rabbi Samuel Mohilever.


Because of his importance in the creation of this agricultural settlement, and the Hibbat Zion/Hovevei Zion movement in general, Rabbi Samuel Mohilever is discussed further. He lived his entire life in Eastern Europe. However, during the Holocaust his grave was desecrated and it was decided to reinter his bones in Mazkeret Batya. His tomb is now in the town’s cemetery and can be visited.

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Rabbi Samuel Mohilever (1824-1898) - the rabbi of the Hovevei Zion


Rabbi Samuel Mohilever was a rabbi who lived in the Russian Empire and who moved against the tide for an orthodox rabbi of those times in being heavily involved in Zionist activities. He also encouraged secular Jewish education and engaging in economic activities.


He was born in what is now Hlybokaye in Belarus and was recognized as a child prodigy in Talmudic studies. He studied in the famed Valozhyn Yeshiva and by aged 18 was ordained a rabbi after only 6 months of study. By then he was already married (as was the custom in those days). He did not wish to live off Torah and went into the linen trade. However, after 4 years he relented and accepted the position as rabbinic leader of his home town. He subsequently moved on to rabbinic positions in larger communities.


During his first year as a rabbi in Suwalki he befriended an activist who had formed the first group of Hovevei Zion (lovers of Zion). This movement Hibbat Zion would spread throughout Central and Eastern Europe (Its participants were called Hovevei Zion and the movement was Hibbat Zion). The years of 1881 to 1882 were a time of pogroms in Russia, and this occasioned emigration from Eastern Europe, primarily to America. Rabbi Mohilever travelled extensively in the Russian empire encouraging immigration to then Palestine. He joined with Leon Pinsker in consolidating the activities of the many groups of Hovevei Zion/Hibbat Zion. As part of his fundraising activities, he met with Baron Edmond de Rothschild and succeeded in obtaining his support for a new settlement in Palestine. This would be called Ekron. Especially when he took up a rabbinic position in Radom, he took a leadership role in Hibbat Zion and became its honorary president.


His approach to Zionism was unique for that time. He was much influenced by the ideas of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer and believed that the Jewish people were at the beginning of redemptive and messianic times. He had no problem in working with non-religious people in pursuit of Zionist goals and was able to work amicably with the secularist Leon Pinsker, who was chairman of the organization.


In many respects, his ideas foreshadowed those of Rabi Avraham Kook, who also was influenced by the ideas of Haskalah, who also believed that he was living in redemptive and messianic times, and who saw non-orthodox Jews as essential partners in Jewish redemption. He thus strongly disagreed with orthodox rabbis of that time who wanted nothing to do with the Zionist enterprise because of its non-orthodox participation and leadership and hence its non-messianic beginnings.


In 1890, at age 66, he made a trip to Palestine to see first-hand the activities of the Hovevei Zion. He travelled throughout the country, visiting established Jewish communities and the new Jewish settlements, including Ekron. He also participated in buying land for the new settlement of Rehovot.


He was the first orthodox rabbi to support the Zionist activities of Theodor Herzl, despite Herzl’s secular leaning. They communicated, and Herzl regarded Rabbi Joseph Mohilever as “the first political Zionist.” Rabbi Mohileger was invited to address the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, but was unable to attend because of his age and ill health. However, he sent his grandson, Rabbi Joseph Mohilever, who read out his grandfather’s speech. This included the following messianic aspirations: “But I say that our faith and hope, as ever, so now, is that our Messiah will come and gather in all the scattered of Israel and instead of being wanderers upon the face of the earth, ever moving from place to place, we shall dwell as a nation in our own country . . . We shall be the pride and honor of all the peoples of the earth. This is our faith and hope as foretold by our prophets and seers of blessed memory.” He regarded the steps that were being taken at that century as the first steps in the messianic redemption.


Towards the end of his life, and following differences with the secular leadership of Hibbat Zion, Rabbi Mohileger created a new organization, Mizrachi, that was intended to work among orthodox Jews and become the spiritual center of the Zionist movement. Mizrachi stands for merkaz ruchani or spiritual center and was the foundation of the Religious Zionist movement. This organization was refounded in 1901 by Rabbi Jacob Reines and other disciples of Rabbi Mohilever as part of the Zionist Organization.


Rabbi Mohileger was tangentially involved in a dispute that the villagers of Ekron had with the Baron.  At the time of their first shmitta year, the biblically mandated rest of the land every seventh year, the villagers insisted on not working the land, which was against the wishes of the Baron. He insisted that they follow the ruling of Rabbi Mohileger and others that the selling of the land to a non-Jew for the year was adequate. However, the villagers followed the ruling of the rabbis of Jerusalem that held this was not adequate, even though shmitta at this time was a rabbinic and not biblical mandate. The Baron cut them off for the year, but the relationship was patched up after the shmitta year.

Our walk starts by the synagogue, the Beit Knesset Hagadol (the Great Synagogue) (A). It is located on the site of the community’s original synagogue, which had to be destroyed because of structural problems. This synagogue was opened in 1928 and was gifted to the community by the Rothschild family. On the façade of the building, you will be able to make out a seven-branched menorah and tablets of the Ten Commandments. On the roof is a nine-branched Chanukah menorah. Unless you come with a pre-arranged group or it is the time for prayer services, the doors will probably be locked, although you can peep through the windows to view inside.


Directions: Enter into Waze “The Great Synagogue,” and click on “The Great Synagogue, Mazkeret Batya, Israel.” There is parking along the sidewalk - if not close to the synagogue, then back along Rothschild St.

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On the other side of the circle is the HaRav Mohilever Museum (B). It is housed in one of the settlement’s original buildings, actually a former cowshed. This Zionist Heritage Learning Center) was established in 1996, after the remains of Rabbi Shmuel Mohiliver had been brought to Israel and reinterred in Mazkeret Batya's cemetery.


There is not a lot to see in this one-room museum. All of Rav Mohaliver’s writings were destroyed in a fire in Bialystok, where he had his final rabbinical position., and as mentioned he never lived in Palestine, although he did come here for a visit. There are signs in the room with information about the conventions of the Chovevei Tzion and enlarged pictures of the people at these conventions, including, of course, Rabbi Mohileger in the front row. The highlight of the museum is a short movie about this influential rabbi that can be played in English.


Admission. There is no admission charge. You will need to prearrange a visit. Call either 052-899 0480 or 08-934 0034. For their website click here: You can actually view the movie online and see a transcript by clicking here, but you will miss out on the atmospherics!

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The Rav Mohilever Museum is a one-room museum in an original settlement building.

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A movie is the highlight of the museum.

  • Now walk along Rothschild St to the Eran Shamir Village Museum © (turn right after exiting the Mohilever Museum), which is at 40 Rothschild St. It is easy to locate as there is a British phone booth outside the building.


The museum is in one of the first public buildings in the town, built in 1885, and was the clerk’s office. It contains restored rooms from early days, pictures, farm tools, a smithy, and an ark from the first synagogue. Note, however, that none of the explanations are in English. Nevertheless, a short movie is shown in the building next door at 38 Rothschild, which once functioned as the pharmacy for the settlement, and this movie has English subtitles. There is an admission charge of 20 NIS for adults and 10 NIS for seniors. The museum is open Sunday to Thursday 8 a.m. to 1.30 p.m., on Monday also from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Saturday 9.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. Group tours can be pre-booked, including in English. Their phone number is 08-934 9525. For their website click here:

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The movie is shown at 38 Rothschild. This building was formerly the pharmacy for the community.

  • The next stop is the Old Well (E). This can be reached by turning left at HaMeyasim St., and the well is at the end of this road. However, a more picturesque route is to take the tayelet at the side of the museum (away from the telephone kiosk) through an open metal green gate. This leads to a pretty square with a café and a restaurant. Continue on the second part of the tayelet through another open green gate. Turn right at the end of the tayelet on Dov Shamir St. Go past the magnificent Baron’s Farmhouse (D), and then turn left onto HaMeyasdim St. and go towards the well.  


The Baron’s Farmhouse was erected in 1892 and was used for living accommodation, offices and storage. The building has since been restored and is used for exhibitions and conferences. The well (E) was dug to a depth of 30 meters at the time of the original habitation of the settlement. The mechanism was operated by an animal and the households had to collect the water. It was eventually replaced by a motorized pumping system and this well was abandoned. This is a reconstruction of the original.

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The Baron's Farmhouse erected in 1892 and in a more magnificent style than the other buildings of the settlement.

  • Continue on HaMeyasdim St until the end of the road. Turn left onto Netiv HaShayarot. On the corner with HaGoren St. is the HaBaron Garden (F). Its entrance is on HaGoren St.


The entrance gate of the garden is quite impressive with pictures of the Baron and his wife and a bust of the Baron. The park, though, is a rather ordinary community park. It has a lot of picnic benches, but no children’s’ play equipment. The park is a reconstruction of a much larger park that covered 25 acres.

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The entrance to Gan HaBaron from HaGoren St.

  • Continue on the continuation of HaGoren, which is Sderot Motta Gur. Go past the first roundabout. Soon after the roundabout you will see the entry to the cemetery on side of the road on your left. A short distance from the entrance to the cemetery is the red-brick mausoleum of Rav Mohilever (G).


You can enter this building. The graves of the founding fathers are also in the cemetery. Their gravestones have inscriptions describing their pioneering activities.

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The mausoleum for the reinterred remains of Rav Shmuel Mohilever. The building can be seen from the entrance of the cemetry.

  • Return to the area of the Great Synagogue on Sderot Motta Gur and HaGoren. Sderot Menachem Begin joins to the first roundabout you pass and has a number of eating establishments.

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