“Eretz Israel is anywhere where a Jew lives, studies and works.”
Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan (Berlin) was the founder and first editor of the Talmudic encyclopedia, was a leader of the Mizrachi Movement, founder of Hazofeh newspaper, and the namesake of Bar-Ilan University in Israel, established after his death. He was born 1880 at Volozhin, Lithuania, the youngest son of an important Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, known as the Netziv, who was the head of the famous Volozhin Yeshiva in Lithuania, where Bar-Ilan got his education. Ordained in 1902, he travelled to Germany where he became acquainted with a more modern form of Orthodox Judaism that had a more tolerant attitude to secular education and to political Zionism. There, he attended the University of Berlin.
In 1905 he joined the Mizrachi movement, representing it at the Seventh Zionist Congress in Basel. Later on he founded and was the first editor of the Mizrachi newspaper “Haivri” (The Hebrew Man), which would later become “Hazofeh” (The Watcher), the national religious newspaper published to this day.
In 1911 he was appointed secretary of the world Mizrachi movement, and two years later he came to the United States and chaired the first American Mizrachi Convention. Bar-Ilan later became president of the U.S. Mizrachi, holding the position until 1928, whereupon he became honorary president. In 1925 he became a member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish National Fund devoted to financing the rebuilding of the Jewish homeland in the then British Mandate of Palestine.
In 1923 he moved to Jerusalem. He opposed the Palestine partition plan in 1937, and of the British White Paper of 1939, he advocated civil disobedience and non-cooperation by the Jews with the British.
After 1948, his activities were scholastically oriented. He organized a committee of scholars to examine the legal problems of the new state in the light of Jewish law and founded an institute for the publication of a new complete edition of the Talmud. He also served as Minister of Religion in the Israeli government.
He published several articles on Talmudic subjects, as well as a few books – “Fun Volozhin biz Yerushalayim” (autobiography, Yiddish), “Bishvil ha-Techiah” (Hebrew) and “Raban shel Yisrael” (Hebrew). Rabbi Bar-Ilan died in Jerusalem on April 17, 1949, not before he gave a speech earlier that day about the significance of Jerusalem as the heart of the Jewish State.
He inspired the founding of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan (1955) by the American Mizrachi movement, and it was named for him: "The name Bar-Ilan was chosen, in honor of Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan (Berlin), a spiritual leader who led traditional Judaism from the ashes of Europe to rebirth and renaissance in the Land of Israel."