Joseph Shprinzak

A memorial plaque commemorating Joseph Shprinzak, the first Speaker of the Knesset, was unveiled outside the Tel Aviv building in which he lived.

Yosef Sprinzak was born in Moscow, Russia but following the expulsion of Jews in 1891 moved with his family to Kishinev where he was a founder of the Tze’irei Zion (Zion Youth). He began medical school at the American University in Beirut in 1908 and settled in Palestine in 1910, during the Second Aliyah (1904–1914).

Along with Eliezer Kaplan Sprinzak headed Hapoel Hatzair (“The Young Worker”) a Zionist socialist faction formed in 1905 and one of the organizations that consolidated to form Mapai in 1930. Its members were pro-British and supported Chaim Weizmann. He was a founder of the Histadrut in 1920 and acted as secretary general of the organization from 1945 to 1949.

Sprinzak was elected to the position of speaker of the provisional parliament on 15 July 1948,a role in which he helped lay the foundations of Israel’s parliamentarism. He was elected to the first Knesset in 1949 as a member of Mapai, and became the first Speaker of the new body. He was re-elected and remained speaker in both the second and third Knessets.

As part of his role as speaker, Sprinzak became acting President of Israel when Chaim Weizmann fell ill from 12 December 1951. After Weizmann’s death on 9 November 1952 Sprinzak served as interim President until the inauguration of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi on 10 December 1952.

During the dedication ceremony, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli-Yoel Edelstein (Likud) said , “If there is disagreement over a comment made during an election campaign – that’s a good sign. It proves that [Israel’s] democracy is strong and growing.”

“The plaque we [erected] today guarantees that every person who walks down this street will know that the person who lived here planted the first flowers of Israeli democracy, which we are so proud of,” Speaker Edelstein added. “In his actions and writings, Joseph Shprinzak was ‘the last generation of slavery and the first of the redemption’ – and he laid strong foundations for all the generations that will follow his.”

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said, “These days, the country is raging in an election campaign that will determine the character of the next Knesset, and it seems that there is no better time to once again praise the work of the person who perhaps contributed most to establishing the Israeli legislature’s patterns – to shaping it as a stage for free and civil debate, as the main symbol of Israeli democracy and its main protector.”