Abraham Isaac Kook
Abraham Isaac Kook in 1924
|Title||First Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine|
|Born||7 September 1865|
|Died||1 September 1935 (aged 69)|
|Buried||Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery, Israel|
Abraham Isaac Kook (Hebrew: ? ?; 7 September 1865 - 1 September 1935) also known by the acronym (HaRaAYaH); was an Orthodox rabbi, and the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine in the Land of Israel. He is considered to be one of the fathers of religious Zionism, and is known for founding the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva.
Abraham Isaac Kook was born in Griva (also spelled Geriva) in the Courland Governorate of the Russian Empire in 1865, today a part of Daugavpils, Latvia, the oldest of eight children. His father, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Ha-Cohen Kook, was a student of the Volozhin yeshiva, the "mother of the Lithuanian yeshivas", whereas his maternal grandfather was an avid follower of the Kapust branch of the Hasidic movement, founded by the son of the great Rabbi of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, known as the "Tzemach Tzedek". Rabbi Kook's mother's name was Zlata Perl.:p.56
As a child he gained a reputation of being an ilui (prodigy). He entered the Volozhin Yeshiva in 1884 at the age of 18, where he became close to the rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netziv). Although he stayed at the yeshiva for only a year and a half, the Netziv has been quoted as saying that if the Volozhin yeshiva had been founded just to educate Rav Kook, it would have been worthwhile. During his time in the yeshiva, he studied under Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim (also known as the Aderet), the rabbi of Ponevezh (today's Panevys, Lithuania) and later Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. In 1886 he married Batsheva, the daughter of the Aderet.
In 1887, at the age of 23, Kook entered his first rabbinical position as rabbi of Zaumel, Lithuania.:p.18 In 1888, his wife died, and his father-in-law convinced him to marry her cousin, Raize-Rivka, the daughter of the Aderet's twin brother. Rabbi Kook's only son, Zvi Yehuda Kook, was born in 1891 to Rabbi Kook and his second wife. In 1895, Rav Kook became the rabbi of Bauska.:p.22
Between 1901 and 1904, he published three articles which anticipate the philosophy that he later more fully developed in the Land of Israel. Kook personally refrained from eating meat except on the Sabbath and Festivals; and a compilation of extracts from his writing, compiled by his disciple David Cohen, known as "Rav HaNazir" (or "the Nazir of Jerusalem") and titled by him "A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace," depicts a progression, guided by Torah law, towards a vegetarian society.
In 1904, Rav Kook was invited by the Bnei Moshe sect to become their Rabbi in Jaffa, Ottoman Palestine. The Bnei Moshe formed the majority of Jaffa's 2000 Jewish population. They were not accepted by the other Jewish communities in Palestine due to their emphasis on the Torah rather than the Talmud and their ties with the Subbotniks. The appointment of Rav Kook, their first rabbi, brought them closer to the mainstream. During these years he wrote a number of works, mostly published posthumously, notably a lengthy commentary on the Aggadot of Tractates Berakhot and Shabbat, titled Eyn Ayah, and a brief book on morality and spirituality, titled Mussar Avicha. Another book, a collection of his letters called Igrot Hareiyah, incorporated the acronym of his name, Abraham Isaac.
It was in 1911 that Rav Kook also maintained a correspondence with the Jews of Yemen, addressing some twenty-six questions to "the honorable shepherds of God's congregation" (Heb. ? ? ?) and sending his letter via the known Zionist emissary, Shemuel Yavne'eli. Their reply was later printed in a book published by Yavne'eli. Rav Kook's influence on people in different walks of life was already noticeable, as he engaged in kiruv ("Jewish outreach"), thereby creating a greater role for Torah and Halakha in the life of the city and the nearby settlements. In 1913 Rav Kook led a delegation of rabbis, including several leading rabbinic figures such as Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, to the many newly established secular "moshavot" (settlements) in Samaria and Galilee. Known as the "Journey of the Rabbis" the rabbis' goal was to strengthen Shabbat observance, Torah education, and other religious observances, with an emphasis on the giving of 'terumot and ma'asrot' (agricultural tithes) as these were farming settlements.
The outbreak of the First World War caught Rav Kook in Europe, and he was forced to remain in Switzerland and London for the remainder of the war. In 1916, he became rabbi of the Spitalfields Great Synagogue (Machzike Hadath, "upholders of the law"), an immigrant Orthodox community located in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, London, living at 9 Princelet Street Spitalfields.
Despite the fact that many of the new settlers were hostile to religion, Kook defended their behaviour in theological terms. His stance was deemed heretical by the traditional religious establishment and in 1921 his detractors bought up the whole edition of his newly published Orot to prevent its circulation, plastering the offending passages on the walls of Meah Shearim. Soon later, an anonymous pamphlet entitled Kol Ha-Shofar appeared containing a declaration signed by rabbis Sonnenfeld, Diskin and others saying: "We were astonished to see and hear gross things, foreign to the entire Torah, and we see that which we feared before his coming here, that he will introduce new forms of deviance that our rabbis and ancestors could not have imagined .... It is to be deemed a sorcerer's book? If so, let it be known that it is forbidden to study [let alone] rely on all his nonsense and dreams." It also quoted Aharon Rokeach of Belz who stated "And know that the rabbi from Jerusalem, Kook - may his name be blotted out - is completely wicked and has already ruined many of our youth, entrapping them with his guileful tongue and impure books." Returning to Poland after a visit to Palestine in 1921, Avraham Mordechai Alter of Ger wrote that he endeavoured to calm the situation by getting Kook to renounce any expressions which may have unwittingly resulted in a profanation of God's name. He then approached the elder rabbis of the Yishuv asking them to withdraw their denunciation. The rabbis claimed that their intention had been to reach a consensus on whether Kook's writings were acceptable, but their letter had been surreptitiously inserted by Kook's critics in to their inflammatory booklet without their knowledge. A harsh proclamation issued against Kook in 1926 contained letters from three European rabbis in which Yosef Rosin referred to him as an "ignorant bore", Shaul Brach intimated that his Hebrew initials spelt the word "vomit" and likened him to King Jeroboam known for seducing the masses to idolatry, and Eliezer David Greenwald declared him an untrustworthy authority on Jewish law adding that his books should be burnt. When Jewish prayers at the Western Wall were broken up by the British in 1928, Kook called for a fast day, but as usual, the ultra-Orthodox community ignored his calls. As a 16 year old student in 1932, Menachem Porush was expelled from Etz Chaim Yeshiva for shooting and burning an effigy of Kook. There were nevertheless other rabbis within Orthodoxy who spoke out in support of Kook, including the Chofetz Chaim and Isser Zalman Meltzer.
In March 1924, in an effort to raise funds for Torah institutions in Palestine and Europe, Kook travelled to America with Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein of the Slabodka Yeshiva and the Rabbi of Kaunas, Avraham Dov Baer Kahana Shapiro. In the same year, Kook founded the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem.
Kook died in Jerusalem in 1935 and his funeral was attended by an estimated 20,000 mourners.
Rav Kook was a master of Halakha in the strictest sense, while at the same time possessing an unusual openness to new ideas. This drew many religious and nonreligious people to him, but also led to widespread misunderstanding of his ideas. He wrote prolifically on both Halakha and Jewish thought, and his books and personality continued to influence many even after his death.
Rav Kook tried to build and maintain channels of communication and political alliances between the various Jewish sectors, including the secular Jewish Zionist leadership, the Religious Zionists, and more traditional non-Zionist Orthodox Jews. He believed that the modern movement to re-establish a Jewish state in the land of Israel had profound theological significance and that the Zionists were agents in a heavenly plan to bring about the messianic era. Per this ideology, the youthful, secular and even anti-religious Labor Zionist pioneers, halutzim, were a part of a grand Divine process whereby the land and people of Israel were finally being redeemed from the 2,000-year exile (galut) by all manner of Jews who sacrificed themselves for the cause of building up the physical land, as laying the groundwork for the ultimate spiritual messianic redemption of world Jewry.
In 1928, Rav Kook wrote a letter to Rav Joseph Messas (Chief Rabbi in Algeria), addressing certain misquotes which were erroneously being repeated in his name regarding a speech he gave at the inauguration of Hebrew University. The following are translated excerpts from the letter Rav Kook wrote to Rav Messas:
"...from the time that I came to the Holy Land, it has been my goal to the best of my ability to draw also those who are estranged and speak to their heart, so that they will come close to Torah and mitzvot - including even those young people who want to develop their physical health so that they will have the strength to protect our holy nation in times of violence, Heaven forbid, at a time when vicious enemies rise up against us...in regard to Hebrew University, Heaven forbid that I should say regarding secular studies that 'From Zion will come forth Torah.'
To the contrary, I told them explicitly that I am afraid lest there come forth, Heaven forbid, a stumbling block from their hands if they reject the Torah and the fear of G-d and 'please themselves in the brood of aliens' [i.e., studies antithetical to Torah such as Biblical Criticism]. I brought them examples of this from the past, from the incidents that took place due to people's sins [during the Berlin Enlightenment], from which came forth groups that turned away from G-d and abandoned the source of living waters. But they must guard the holiness of Israel, teachers and students alike, and not follow foreign ideas nor turn aside from the Torah and the mitzvos. And even then, it is not from secular subjects that Torah will come forth, but rather when we support the holy yeshivas, which are dedicated solely to the holiness of the Torah.
Together with this, [I told them that] they should elevate the power of the tzaddikim and Torah giants who fear G-d. And the Central Yeshiva [Mercaz HaRav] in our holy and beautiful city, which we are toiling to establish and expand with G-d's help, will stand in its great glory. Then, upon the foundation of the holy yeshivas, I said that the verse 'From Zion will come forth Torah' will be fulfilled.
These words are explicit in my speech that I spoke at that time before the people, before all of the important officials who came to the celebration, and to the entire great crowd of thousands who came from the far ends of the Holy Land and from the lands of the Diaspora. So how can malicious people come to distort the words of the living G-d in a way that is so filled with wickedness and folly?..."
...Now, two gentlemen came to me... and requested me ... since they were planning to gather in the bank building here to honor the memory of Dr. Herzl and it was their finding that even those opposed to Zionism would not deny that there were in his heart thoughts concerning the betterment of Israel. Although unfortunately [Herzl] did not find the straight path, nevertheless, 'The Holy One does not withhold credit for even good talk.' It would be poor manners not to arrange a memorial in his honor in a public meeting place, such as the Anglo-Palestine Bank here. Therefore I promised them I would attend.
Understandably, once I agreed to come, I did not want to refuse to speak some words. I assessed that, God willing, benefit would derive from my words, inasmuch as the other speakers would not have the audacity to belittle God, His Torah, and the sages of Israel.
Thank God, this assessment proved correct. Of course, I spoke pleasantly and politely, but I did reveal the fundamental failure of their [the Zionists'] entire enterprise, namely the fact that they do not place at the top of their list of priorities the sanctity of God and His great name, which is the power that enables Israel to survive ... In my remarks, I offered no homage to Dr. Herzl per se.
What I did say was that such a thought of improving the situation of Israel in Eretz Israel would be worthwhile if we would rise to the occasion. It would require a return to G-d by observing and honoring the Torah, and a consensus that the foundation of all must be the power of Torah. Repenting of baseless hatred, and wholehearted peace-seeking as obligated [by Torah] would result in success because it would be close to G-d's will. We must make amends toward the future that the power of the sanctity of Torah be at the top of our list of priorities, that "the son of Yishai lead." If the will to improve materially will rest on Torah - then God will shine His face upon us and crown our every deed with success. At first, the salvation will be gradual, as our holy Rabbis remarked upon witnessing daybreak over the valley of Arbel, but after it will gain momentum, appearing as a great and wondrous light, as in the days of our Exodus from Egypt.
After [the address], others came to me and reported that some people read into my words ideas that I never intended ...
His empathy towards the non-religious elements aroused the suspicions of many opponents, particularly that of the traditional rabbinical establishment that had functioned from the time of Turkey's control of greater Palestine, whose paramount leader was Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld. However, Sonnenfeld and Kook deeply revered each other, evidenced by their respectful way of addressing each other in correspondence.
Kook remarked that he was fully capable of rejecting, but since there were enough practicing rejection, he preferred to fill the role of one who embraces. However, Kook was critical of the secularists on certain occasions when they violated Halacha (Jewish law), for instance, by not observing the Sabbath or kosher laws, or ascending the Temple Mount.
Kook wrote rulings presenting his strong opposition to people ascending the Temple Mount, due to the Jewish Laws of impurity. He felt that Jews should wait until the coming of the Messiah when it will be encouraged to enter the Temple Mount. However, he was very careful to express the fact that the Kotel and the Temple Mount were holy sites that belong to the Jewish people.
While Kook is considered one most important thinkers in modern Religious Zionism, his attitude towards the "Zionism" of his time was complex.
Kook enthusiastically supported the settlement of the land which Zionists of his time were carrying out. In addition, his philosophy "la[id] a theological foundation for marrying Torah study to Zionism, and for an ethos of traditional Judaism engaged with Zionism and with modernity".:234 And unlike many of his religious peers, he showed respect towards secular Zionists, and willingly engaged in joint projects with them (for instance, his participation in the Chief Rabbinate).
At the same time, he was critical of the religious-Zionist Mizrachi movement of his time for "tamping down religious fervor and willingly accepting secondary status within the Zionist movement".:150 In 1917 he issued a proclamation entitled Degel Yerushalayim, where he distinguished between "Zion" (representing political sovereignty) and "Jerusalem" (representing holiness), and arguing that Zion (i.e. Zionism) must take a cooperative but eventually subservient role in relation to Jerusalem.:150 He then went on to found a "Degel Yerushalayim" movement separate from the Zionist movement, though this initiative had little success.:149-152
The Israeli moshav Kfar Haroeh, a settlement founded in 1933, was named after Rav Kook, "Haroah" being a Hebrew acronym for "HaRav Avraham HaCohen". His son Zvi Yehuda Kook, who was also his most prominent student, took over teaching duties at Mercaz HaRav after his death, and dedicated his life to disseminating his father's writings. Many students of Rav Kook's writings and philosophy eventually formed Hardal Religious Zionist movement which is today led by rabbis who studied under Rav Kook's son at Mercaz HaRav.
With the sudden public display of rare letters from the greatest Jewish scholars to Rav Kook, many questions have emerged. Rav Kook wrote that he was not part of any party - he simply viewed himself as a follower of God and the laws of the Torah. His relationship with many different types of leaders and laymen, was a part of his general worldview - that all Jews must work together in serving God and bringing the redemption. Also, one could see from the published letters, that the "Chareidi" leadership was firm in its support of Rav Kook, and in fact had an apparent fond relationship with him. The vast majority of the "Chareidi" leaders publicized handwritten letters in support of Rav Kook, when a few individuals were publicly disrespectful towards him. Rav Kook embraced the support, but made clear that any insults were accepted by him without anger, for he viewed himself "as a servant of G-d," without interest in his personal honor.
Some examples of greetings in letters written by Jewish leaders to Rav Kook:
Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski: "Our friend, the gaon, our master and teacher, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, shlita" and "The Glory of Honor, My Dear Friend, Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon, Ha-Gadol, the Famous One... The Prince of Torah, Our Teacher, Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohen Kook Shlita..."
Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz: "The true gaon, the beauty, and glory of the generation, the tzaddik, his holiness, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak, may his light shine, may he live for length of good days and years amen, the righteous Cohen, head of the beis din [court] in Jerusalem, the holy city, may it soon be built and established"
Rav Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn of Lubavitch: "The Gaon who is renowned with splendor among the Geonim of Ya'akov, Amud HaYemini, Patish HaChazak..."
Rav Chatzkel Abramsky: "The honored man, beloved of Hashem and his nation, the rabbi, the gaon, great and well-known, with breadth of knowledge, the glory of the generation, etc., etc., our master Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, shlita, Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel and the head of the Beis Din in the holy city of Jerusalem"
Rav Yitzchok Hutner: "The glorious honor of our master, our teacher and rabbi, the great gaon, the crown and sanctity of Israel, Maran [our master] Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, shlita!"
Also there is now a musical project that presents Rav Kook's poetry with musical accompaniment. HA'OROT-THE LIGHTS OF RAV KOOK by Greg Wall's Later Prophets Featuring Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein - released on Tzadik Records, April 2009.
Many of them were not ritually observant; some were openly hostile to religion. Despite this, Rabbi Kook defended them, and even hailed them as playing a role, by their labors, in hastening the messianic deliverance. For the religious establishment of the old yishuv this was a heretical distortion which imperiled everything holy in Judaism, and they denounced Rabbi Kook as a misleader of his people.
There quickly followed a pamphlet banning Orot, which included frontal attacks on Rav Kook and Charlap, and a declaration signed by Zonnenfeld, Diskin, and others: "We were astonished to see and hear gross things, foreign to the entire Torah, and we see that which we feared before his coming here, that he will introduce new forms of deviance that our rabbis and ancestors could not have imagined... He turns light to darkness, and darkness to light... It is to be deemed a sorcerer's book, and let it be known that it is forbidden to study [let alone] rely on all his nonsense and dreams.
? ? ? "? ? ? ? . ? ? ? ? ? ? ?, ? ?: " ? ? "? ? ? ? ? ?"? ? , ' , ?, ? ?' ? "?
When Rav Kook called for public fasts on October 22, 1928, to protest the indignities at the Kotel, the ultra-Orthodox ignored him, as they studiously ignored every prayer meeting and fast day that he called.
The late Chief Rabbi Kook, whom Rabbi Parush likewise attacked and whose effigy he shot and burned...
A major scholar of impeccable ultra-Orthodox credentials, Meltzer resolutely defended Kook against attackers on the right. He was wont to say, "Let them, any of us, pray on Yom Kippur the way Rav Kook prays on an average weekday."
According to the report, Chofetz-Chaim condemned the pamphlet against Kook as well.