Ha-Zvi/Ha-Or was one of several newspapers published in Ottoman Palestine by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda—the most prominent figure in the revival of Hebrew as an everyday spoken and written language for the modern Jewish nation. Ben-Yehuda initially wanted to call his newspaper Ha-Or, but did not succeed in obtaining a license to that effect from the Turkish authorities. The newspaper was therefore called Ha-Zvi, which was a translation of the first portion of the surname of the license holder: Rabbi Isaac Hirschensohn (Hirsch=Zvi). During certain periods, the name 'Ha-Or' appeared in addition to 'Ha-Zvi', until—in 1910—it became the official, and only, name of the publication. Ben-Yehuda also alternatively used the name "Hashkafa" for a journal which he published with varying frequency simultaneously with, or in place of, Ha-Zvi during the years 1901-1913.
The newspaper was well-known for its struggle against the Old Yishuv and the chaluka system on the one hand, and support of the New Yishuv and settlements on the other, as well as for its favorable attitude towards Baron Rothschild and his coalition of clerks. Ha-Zvi supported the Hibbat Zion movement, and later Herzl, and sided with the latter during the Uganda controversy in 1903. The paper waged war in support of reforms in the Ashkenazi community which reached their peak with the controversy surrounding the Shmita (1889), and attacked the Sephardic community for using Christian missionary medical services and for hiring a Jewish convert to Christianity as the community's secretary. This conflict led to a boycott of the newspaper (1886), and the uncompromising line which Ben-Yehuda continued to pursue against those who followed the chaluka and "Schnorrer" method (just as he opposed ignorance, superstition, and squalor in the streets of Jerusalem), reached the authorities and led to his arrest and the closing of the paper for fourteen months (1894). Ben-Yehuda had a bitter and ongoing conflict with Second Aliyah writers (1903-1914) and writers of the Chachmei Odessa school, who objected to his flamboyant and "yellow" writing style, as well as his use of malei (plene) spelling in his innovations of Hebrew, which moved away from the Biblical Hebrew which they considered to be true Hebrew. Among Ben-Yehuda's less controversial ideas was his undertaking to establish a large academy in Jerusalem that would constitute a national intellectual center for the whole of the Jewish people—the Academy of the Hebrew Language: "…one place in which Jewish teachings will flourish in all their beauty and splendor and the literature of Israel in the language of Israel will grow and expand from day to day…."
The paper's modest circulation (around 300 readers among the Yishuv residents in 1886), forced Ben-Yehuda to support himself by teaching. In 1887 he traveled to Russia and succeeded—with great effort—in obtaining 300 additional subscribers, but as time passed they did not remain loyal to his publication. In the end, it was a monthly stipend of 200 franks from Baron Rothschild that allowed Ben-Yehuda to leave his teaching position behind and concentrate on the paper. As a result of the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, and the flood of news which came in its wake, Ben-Yehuda turned Ha-Zvi into a daily publication (until that point the paper laid claim to the slogan, "a daily that appears once a week") which at its peak sold 1,200 copies (1909).
In 1887 the paper had already begun to publish "sections from a large book of words in a new order" which constituted a preface to the chapters in Ben-Yehuda's famous dictionary, with emphasis on the language and literature sections. These sections included translations of world literature (Shakespeare, Moliere, Zola, Hugo, Jules Verne, Tolstoy, and others); poetry, prose, and essays written by Hebrew authors (also in Russia) like M.J. Berdyczewski, Israel Zangwill, Joseph Klausner, A.S. Rabinovitz (Azar), and others; descriptions of travel throughout Palestine; and articles on the history and geography of the land. In 1885 Ben-Yehuda initiated a special section for women entitled, "Ezrat Nashim (The Women's Gallery)," which was the first of its type in the Hebrew press. In 1897 another special section appeared on agriculture and the working of the land entitled, "Ha-Ikar Ha-Yehudi (The Jewish Farmer)," which a year later became a separate weekly publication of its own.