Chaim Weizmann

The Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952) was president of the World Zionist Organization and first president of the state of Israel.

Chaim Weizmann, son of Oizer and Rachel Weizmann, was born on Nov. 2, 1874, in Motele, Russia. After receiving a religious education, Chaim was admitted to the gymnasium of Pinsk, where he continued his Hebraic studies. At the age of 18, he received his baccalaureate. He majored in chemistry at the universities of Darmstadt and Berlin, and he received his doctor of science degree from the University of Freiburg in 1900. From 1900 to 1904 Weizmann was a lecturer in chemistry at the University of Geneva and from 1904 to 1916 a lecturer in biochemistry at the University of Manchester.

While in Switzerland, Weizmann joined the active Zionist leadership. He participated in all Zionist congresses after 1898 and was a delegate after 1901. He urged a synthesis of settlement, cultural work, and political propaganda to secure international recognition of Zionist goals in Palestine. He opposed the British proposal for Jewish settlement in Uganda. As an exponent of cultural Zionism, Weizmann suggested the creation of a Hebrew University in Palestine. The university opened in Jerusalem in 1925. In appreciation of his efforts in building the university, he was elected its honorary president.

During World War I, Weizmann, because of his connections with British authorities, emerged as the leader of the Zionist movement. As a result of his efforts, the British government issued on Nov. 2, 1917, the Balfour Declaration, in which it declared its support of the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. As the head of a Jewish delegation, Weizmann appeared before the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and submitted the Zionist claims to Palestine. These claims were recognized by the League of Nations, and the British government was appointed to further Jewish settlement and to assist the development of a Jewish national home there.

In 1921 Weizmann was elected president of the World Zionist Organization, a post he held until 1931 and later from 1935 to 1946. When the Jewish Agency for Palestine was established in 1929, he served simultaneously as its president. In this dual capacity, he cooperated with Great Britain except for a time in 1930, when he resigned from his Zionist post in protest against the new British policy curtailing Jewish immigration to Palestine. After 1946, in spite of his unofficial position, Weizmann served with the Jewish Agency's delegation before the United Nations Special Committee for Palestine in October 1947. When Israel was proclaimed an independent state, he was elected the president of its Provisional Council of State. After the elections to the Parliament, he was elected, on Feb. 17, 1949, as Israel's first president, and he was reelected on Nov. 19, 1951.

In addition to his political activity, Weizmann also engaged in scholarly scientific work. He founded the Sief Research Institute in Rehovoth and served as its director from 1932 to 1952. This institute was later enlarged and named the Weizmann Institute of Science.

During his terms of office as president, he was in poor health and could not perform many of his official duties. He died in office on Nov. 9, 1952.

Further Reading on Chaim Weizmann

Considerable information on Weizmann can be gleaned from his Trial and Error: The Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann (1949), and the first volume of a projected multivolume collection, The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, edited by Leonard Stein and Gedalia Yogev (1968), which covers the years from his youth to 1902. Works on Weizmann include Paul Goodman, ed., Chaim Weizmann: A Tribute (1945); Isaiah Berlin, Chaim Weizmann (1949); and M. W. Weisgal and Joel Carmichael, eds., Chaim Weizmann: A Biography by Several Hands (1962).

Additional Biography Sources

Blumberg, H. M. (Harold M.), Weizmann, his life and times, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975.

Chaim Weizmann: statesman of the Jewish renaissance: the Chaim Weizmann centenary, 1874-197, Jerusalem: Zionist Library, 1974.

Litvinoff, Barnet, Weizmann: last of the patriarchs, New York: Putnam, 1976.

Reinharz, Jehuda, Chaim Weizmann: the making of a statesman, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Rose, Norman, Chaim Weizmann: a biography, New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Viking, 1986.

Weizmann, Chaim, The essential Chaim Weizmann: the man, the statesman, the scientist, New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1982.

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