The history of scientific research in Israel is an integral part of the story of the return of the Jewish people to its homeland. Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), the founder of political Zionism who actively promoted the idea of a modern Jewish state in the Land of Israel, envisaged it not only as the physical home of the Jewish people, but also as a major spiritual, cultural, and scientific center.
The desire to transform the Land, then a barren and disease-ridden region, into a modern state was a key factor in subsequent scientific inquiry and technological development. Agricultural research dates back to the end of the 19th century with the establishment of the Mikveh Yisrael School (1870). The Agricultural Station, set up in Tel Aviv (1921), eventually became the Agricultural Research Organization (ARO), today Israel’s major institution of agricultural research and development.
Medical and public health research was initiated prior to World War I with the founding of the Hebrew Health Station. It received a major boost when the Institute of Microbiology and departments of biochemistry, bacteriology, and hygiene were instituted in the mid-1920s at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. These provided the basis for the Hadassah Medical Center, today Israel’s most prominent medical research facility.
Industrial research was pioneered at the Dead Sea Laboratories in the 1930s, and advances in basic science and technology were begun at the Hebrew University (est. 1925), the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology (est. 1924 in Haifa), and the Daniel Sieff Research Center (est. 1934 in Rehovot), which later became the Weizmann Institute of Science (1949).
The country’s scientific and technological infrastructure was already in place when the State of Israel was established in1948. At first, research focused on projects of national importance, and on this foundation commercially oriented industries gradually developed.
Laboratory of Frutarom, 1946 (Photo: GPO / H.Pinn)