Arthur Ruppin Purchases Land for Hebrew University

March 9, 1914

Arthur Ruppin, head of the Palestine Office of the World Zionist Organization purchased the estate of Sir John Gray Hill on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem for the purpose of building a university.  Ruppin wrote in his diary, “Today I succeeded in buying from Sir John Gray Hill his large and magnificently situated property on Mount Scopus, thus acquiring the first piece of ground for the Jewish university in Jerusalem.”  (Arthur Ruppin, Memoirs, Diaries and Letters, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971, p. 149.)

Sir John Gray Hill and his wife, Caroline, had been frequent travelers to the Holy Land in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  In 1890, they purchased a piece of land on Mount Scopus and built a summer estate, which served as a base for their travels and where Caroline could work on her paintings.  Describing the home in 1912, Gray Hill said, “On the one side we look down upon the Holy City and the great area where the Temple once stood…On the other side we see spread before us the Wilderness of Judea, which descends to the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea and the Mountains of Moab, with their great gorges and purple shadows…Thus we look upon the ground which attracts the greatest of human interest and the widest of human sympathies.” (The Jews of Jerusalem: Speech of Sir John Gray Hill at the Opening of the Palestine Exhibition in Liverpool, June 4, 1912, p. 3.)

The idea for a Jewish university in Palestine was originally discussed at the first Zionist Congress in 1897, but a resolution endorsing it was not passed until the eleventh Congress, held in 1913.  Following the decision to create the university in Jerusalem, Chaim Weizmann was tasked with organizing the university committee, and Ruppin was instructed to find a suitable location.  Mount Scopus, according to Weizmann, had been considered a potential site for the university as early as 1907.

Isaac Leib Goldberg, a Russian Zionist who was among the founders of the Hovevei Zion movement (see https://israeled.org/first-gathering-of-the-hovevei-zion/) and a delegate to the First Zionist Congress, became active in purchasing land for private ownership in the land of Israel at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Goldberg would provide the funds for the purchase of the Gray Hill estate.  Later acquisitions on Mount Scopus for the university were acquired from various Palestinian Arab notables, including relatives of the would-be Mufti of Jerusalem. The cornerstone for the university was laid in 1918; the university opened on April 1, 1925.

The photo shows an aerial view of the university on Mount Scopus in 1937.

March 9, 2018