You are on page 1of 7

Exploring Rav Kook © by ‫חיים בורנשטיין‬

Many Ultra-Orthodox Jews have heard of HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook Zt"l. Not many can say that they actually know much about him, let alone have any knowledge of his halachic or hashkafic works... When it comes to the perspective of rabbinic figures in certain circles within the UltraOrthodox world, the case is not much better. Men, who would be considered legitimate authorities on these matters, have little (if any) knowledge of Rav Kook's work. Due to this lack of knowledge, they often misrepresent his ideas. In some documented cases, rabbinic figures will blatantly misquote him1. The result is that most Ultra-Orthodox Jews have either a neutral or, more often, a negative stance on a giant whose views and ideals are very much in common with their own hashkafas... Most figures within the Modern Orthodox and Dati Leumi world argue that the abandonment and marginalization of HaRav Kook's methodology by the Ultra-Orthodox community is simply “their loss”... You will, however, find a small few across the Orthodox spectrum who argue that “giving up” on any part of the Jewish Nation is the antithesis of what Rav Kook believed in. Rav Kook, as history clearly tells us, never gave up on anyone... These people recognize that the Ultra-Orthodox community would find so much in common with Rav Kook. They have set for themselves a mission to spread a more clarified and balanced picture of who Rav Kook was and what exactly he believed in2. The hope is that when the Ultra-Orthodox, en masse, realize how relevant Rav Kook is for them and their vision, they will be open to introducing themselves to his Torah thought and incorporate it into their study regimens. Moreover, once Rav Kook’s works are properly distributed and studied within the Ultra-Orthodox community, the community will gain many insightful ideas on how to deal with issues that are still present in these times3 Moderate rabbanim within the Ultra-Orthodox will tell you that HaRav Kook was an “Adam Gadol” and "should be" treated with respect4. They will also point out that he is
One just has to do a little internet sleuthing and will find sites such as this: http://www.yoel-ab.com/ and this: http://tinyurl.com/m3hufaj and more, to see the views of the extreme right wing of the Ultra-Orthodox. 2 See here for example: http://www.orhaorot.022.co.il/BRPortal/br/P100.jsp 3 This holds true to studying many forgotten Seforim (a study which deserves its own essay) from the late 19th and early 20th century. One of these books would be, Chomas Haddas Ve'Haemuna by Rav Shlomo HaLevi Halprin. Within this work, There is a Haskamah from Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, Where he says "It’s a Mitzva to bring this book into ones home"... 4 Sadly, such is not the case with his son Rav Tzvi Yehudah zt"l who is regarded as a "triefa" by most of the Ultra Orthodox world. Such is the case to the point where there are Chareidim who will study Rav Kooks writings, as long as Rav Tzvi Yehudah had nothing to do with the publishing process. Works such as; Shemonah Kevatzim and Orot Hakodesh, which were published before Rav Tzvi Yehudah got involved in the publishing process of his fathers works, are permissible(!). Anything else is like I said; Trief... The reason this is upsetting, is because to any critical observer, Rav Tzvi Yehudah had a very similar outlook to his father on many of the various issues dealing with the viewpoint of how rebuilding the land is important to the rejuvenation of the Jewish homeland, on the format of dealing with the non religious Jews and other
1

1

Exploring Rav Kook © by ‫חיים בורנשטיין‬
not considered “our Gadol, because he was somewhat off hashkafically". Then they will proceed to quote the Chazon Ish, "One can study his halachic works, but not his hashkafic works5". If one presses the issue, it is not uncommon for these moderates to wrap up the conversation and say something to the extent of, "Obviously, due to the fact that Rav Kook's followers are somewhat misguided (i.e. regarding their view towards the non-religious, the State of Israel and Chareidi Daas Torah) it must be case that Rav Kook6 was misguided as well (!). This is said ignoring the fact that often talmidim do not fully represent and/or share their rebbe's point of view and/or ideals. From this writer's perspective, this view (that today’s Mizrachi are an authentic representation of Rav Kook) is perpetuated by an integral flaw resonating within the many factions of the Ultra-Orthodox community. That is, the inability to appreciate other modern day forms of traditional Orthodoxy.... Based on this reality, the Ultra-Orthodox communities rather associate Rav Kook as the "Gadol" of the Religious Zionist movement. This association automatically makes Rav Kook and his ideals persona non grata7 in the Ultra-Orthodox world. It is also historically inaccurate... Rav Kook was more associated with the Agudah8 than the Mizrachi. Rav Kook complained to the Mizrachi leadership several times for not taking a stronger stance on religious issues in the numerous Zionist

matters. Further more, Rav Tzvi Yehudah was on friendly terms with many of the "Charaidi Gedolim" such as Rav Yechezkel Sarna and others... 5 While I personally do not think that Rav Kook needs the Chazon Ish's Haskama to write and publish Orot or any of his other books, in the same vain as Rav Yonosan Aibishitz did not need Rav Yakov Emden's Haskamah, to write and publish Yaros Devash or any other of his works... However, I have heard from Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn, that the quote is not entirely accurate, as the Chazon Ish was being consulted by an owner of a seforim store, regarding selling the books in his store - not studying them. The Chazon Ish replied that there was no problem selling Rav Kook's Halachic writings. However, he should not sell his Hashkafic works (it is assumed that the reason for this was because Orot is very deep and full of Kabalah and therefore for most people, it would be hard to truly grasp his meaning). He didn't say that they were prohibited to study. Further more, See Achiezer (Kovetz Iggrot page 265 on Otzar Hachacmah) in a letter dated 1938, where Rav Chaim Ozer clearly tells Rav Tzvi Yehuda to publish all his fathers works. He does not say that he should only publish his father Halachic works and refrain from publishing thee Haskafic works. Just to finalize my point, Orot was published in 1920. This would have given Rav Chaim Ozer 18 years to figure out how "off" Orot truly was and respectively, would have provided Rav Chaim Ozer with ample time to distance himself from Rav Kook. Let alone refrain from giving his backing and support as Rav Tzvi Yehudah requests his help publishing his fathers works.) 6 To an honest observer, there is little difference between Religious Zionists who consider themselves "Talmidim" of Rav Kook's derech (such as students of the famed Yeshivot Merkaz Harav and Yeshivat Har Hamor, Har Bracha and a few more known as Charda"l). There is little difference in regards to the UltraOrthodox levels of observance of the entire Torah. However, the two differences would be how they regard the state along with the non-religious, and that the majority do not wear hats and jackets unless in an esteemed rabbinic position. (Not that I agree that hats and jackets are an indicator of a person being a "Ben Torah") 7 This is the case, to the point where neither a hashkafic nor a halachic writing of Rav Kook can be found in their respective libraries. Additionally, in some cases, reprints of older sefarim will be censored of any mention of Rav Kook. Recently Rav Druckman complained of this issue in an article dated 10.03.13 here: http://tinyurl.com/pb4gmwm 8 Rav Kook traveled to Europe in 1914, to be at the first of the Agudath Yisrael Convention, which was to take place in Germany. However, the Convention was canceled as WWI broke out.

2

Exploring Rav Kook © by ‫חיים בורנשטיין‬
Congresses dating all the way back to his days as the Rav of Yaffo9. In fact, piles of letters and historical documentation, show that Rav Kook considered himself a Rav of the collective Jewish Nation, religious and non-religious Jews alike. The troves of stories and testimonies make it abundantly clear that in order to influence various parts of the nation, Rav Kook tried to the best of his ability, to make them all feel as if he was theirs10... Rav Kook was first and foremost a halachic man with a truly epic grasp on all five sections of the Shulchan Aruch. This means that Rav Kook blended his mastery of Torah, coupled with mastery over his middos and a true emphasis on the halachos of Bein Adam Lechaviro into his format of psak... That being the case, when one sees a quote from Rav Kook, he can safely assume that it was well sourced from Rav Kook's gross Torah knowledge and kochos Hanefesh11. However, being that Rav Kook’s status is persona non grata, access to his views and ideas in the Ultra-Orthodox world is virtually non-existent. Which is a shame because, at the very least, he has a legitimate view. At most, his teachings could be the proper alternative for dealing with the non-religious settlers today as much as it was in his days. There was a purpose to the marginalization of Rav Kook, it had many factors, (too many to discuss here) but make no mistake that it was done purposely and systematically through the spreading of misquotes, lies, falsehoods and sometime even from simple misunderstandings12. It was a global mission set forth by the extremists of the Edah Hacharadis13 beginning from Rav Kook’s early years as a Rav of Yaffo and extending well beyond his passing in 1935. One classic example of misquoting Rav Kook is from a case in 1925, when Rav Kook, during his invocation for the inauguration of the Hebrew University, applied the Biblical verse “Ki miTzion tetzei Torah, u’devar Hashem me'Yerushalayim, For out of Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3; Michah 4:22). This was and still is an oft-used criticism cited by denigrators of Rav Kook who claim that by quoting the verse he proved that he viewed the scholarship that was to come from the Hebrew University as the fulfillment of the Prophet Isaiah’s vision of Torah “going forth from Zion.” However, Rav Kook's usage of the verse, was actually a brave exposition of Biblical verses and Jewish history designed to sound a cautionary note regarding
To the point that he established "Degel Yerushalayim" a political group which he hoped would unite all Orthodox factions to properly and effectively influence the non-religious settlers. 10 It must be noted, however, that this did not stop Rav Kook from criticizing various factions when the circumstances required to do so - as I stated in the previous footnote. (See Iggrot Vol. 2 in Letter 497 to the Mizrachi (Shevat 5763, 1913) where Rav Kook expresses his support and high regard of the Mizrachi but never the less, did not fear to criticize the movement where he felt it was needed.) 11 This can honestly be the case of anyone who "clocked the hours" and spent their entire life studying Torah in all its sections, "Leshmah" for the sake of the Torah. see Orot Hatorah for Chapter II section I for further study of this concept... additionally, there is a quote by the Netziv's on how one becomes a Posek see footnote 9. 12 See Rabbi Eitam Heinken's amazing Article (unfortunately in Hebrew) on Rav Elchanan Wasserman comments in Kovetz Mamarim on Rav Kook here; http://tinyurl.com/lr7so2n 13 See letter by Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank which he wrote to Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn about events occurring in Jerusalem in the 1920s. The letter was published in Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn, in Malki BaKodesh IV (St. Louis: Moinester Printing Co., 5679 – 5682), Letter 10 (dated 18 Adar Sheni, 5681, 1921), you can read the translation here: http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/ravfrank.html
9

3

Exploring Rav Kook © by ‫חיים בורנשטיין‬
potential dangers inherent in the founding of a Jewish university. His paraphrase of the verse about Torah emanating from Jerusalem did not refer to the Hebrew University at all, rather, it was part of his concluding prayer in which he pined for the Messianic era. He was expressing his sincere hope to see the rebuilding of Yeshivos and places of Torah study as part of the process of rebuilding of the land14. Another widespread misconception was how Rav Kook regarded his Heter for selling land to gentiles during the Shemitta Year. A system, which is better known as the Heter Mechirah. In a well known letter to the Ridba"z (Igrot Ha'Raya Vol II No. 555 pp. 184) Ha'Raya Kook wrote (free translation): "...Is it not the case that I have stated several times that my ruling was time specific. Only according to the dire and crucial need [did I permit it]. Heaven forbid that I would desire to undo such a magnificently collective commandment' as the holiness of the Shmittah..." My intent here is not to discuss the current day validity of the Heter Mechirah, but rather point out that the stink that was made then was for nothing. The reality of the harsh times is historically apparent, which should make any rational thinker wonder how so many to great Jewish thinkers opposed the heter. In this specific case, it is well documented that the suffering and poverty were widespread, making Rav Kook's Heter Mechirah a completely necessary step to safeguard the future wellbeing of the settlement as he stated himself (ibid): "...[I gave a Hetter] so many people would not heaven forbid die of starvation from a lack of work and sustenance. [Furthermore, I wrote the Hetter] so the holy settlement [of the land] shall not perish in its early infancy..." Rav Kook was not the first to invoke a Heter Mechirah and his was not the first heter to be objected. There was actually another Heter Mechirah put into place for a previous Shmittah Year. In fact, the heter was sanctioned by none other than the "Gadol Hador15" of the previous generation, Harav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector (who was a supporter of
14

For further reading see R. Ari Z. Zivotofsky article on the subject here: http://www.ou.org/jewish_action/12/2009/what/. Further more see another amazing article on the subject of the Hebrew University and Rav Kook, by Rabbi Eitam Heinken's (unfortunately in Hebrew) here: http://tinyurl.com/nkfnxor
15

The Netziv is quoted (Sichot Ha'raya pp. 315) to say the following; "the jurisdiction of a rabbinical religious authority is not dependent the greatness of the man in Torah matters alone. For we find many who are brilliant and well-known and no one turns to them with their questions. Rather, such a merit is given to those who toiled, and were persistent and diligent in their Torah study. The one who was most diligent our generation is Harav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector who toiled the Torah more than any of his peers, therefore he merited to be the great Posek of our generation. I too have studied much, and think God - people turn me with questions to."

4

Exploring Rav Kook © by ‫חיים בורנשטיין‬
Chovevi Tzion16). The actual heter was written up for the Shmittah Year of 5649 (18881889) by Rav Shmuel Mohliver and Rav Yisroel Yehosuah M'kutnah on the condition that Rav Y. E. Spector supported it... There is another point made that Rav Kook’s tremendous "Ahavas Yisroel" blinded him to the misguided conduct of the non-religious settlers. However, this is the furthest thing from the truth. True, Rav Kook had tremendous love for all Jewish people this did not, however, stop him from doing what was right. If Rav Kook, in his Halachic view, could find no room for a heter for a specific action or behavior, he would not try to come up with a heter just for the sake of having a heter17. In fact, he would often pasken to be machmir.18 One such example of how Rav Kook’s love did not “blind him” to what was going on is his response to the lack of gender segregation in the non-religious schools of the Moshavot and the Gymnasium (HaGymnasia HaIvrit, founded 1909) in Tel Aviv-Yaffo. Rav Kook Wrote in Ezrat Kohen a teshuva on the matter (Ezrat Kohen 30, free translation). "19 Regarding the matter of the [mixed] dancing. Hush! For mentioning the break in the fence of our holy Torah... The path of modesty and purity that are held up by the God seekers, [the Jewish people] for time immemorial. God forbid! We should imitate the pathways of the rebellious, to the paths of the Torah and be lacking in fear of heaven. Heaven forbid we should fall prey, to even the slightest accessory of the forbidden and obscene lewdness" This was not the only time Rav Kook spoke of the Gymnasium, or expressed his negative feelings for the lack of modesty amongst the non-religious settlers… There are th many such letters. In a letter dated Adar 19 , 5670 (Iggrot Ha'Raya Vol. I page 316 no. 279) Rav Kook writes in the same vein: "What is clear beyond doubt, that at this time the administrators of the gymnasium have permitted themselves, to join both of the sexes together, young females and males into one school, one sitting. Without any regard for modesty in the path of traditional Judaism. Let alone [separation of the sexes] is the past of moral society in most
Chovevi Tzion was primarily a religious "Zionist" group, founded by Rav Shmuel Mohliver and other community figures at the end of the 19th century. Chovevi Tzion predated the modern Zionist movement and its political a scope of settlement aspirations, differed based on the circumstances of their respective times. (at the time of Chovevi Tzion, the idea of a Jewish state was a pipe dream at best.) 17 One such example would be, how according to Rav Shlomo Aviner; Rav Tzvi Yehudah regarded the HaRav Y. Y. Weinberg's Heter for gender mixing in the youth group Jeshurun in France (Shu"t Seriedi Aish Vol II No. 8) as a Horas Shaah. (Coincidently, Beni Akivah relies on this Heter). I have spoken to some experts in the field on the psakim and writings of the Sreidi Aish and they believe that Rav Tzvi Yehudah is over-simplifying the matter... 18 While I'm sure there are times where Rav Kook is actually machmir, in the sense of the word, I do find that in his halachic view was more black and white (mutar is mutar and assur is assur) without being personally biased. I have yet to find a heter for the sake of a heter, or a chumrah for the sake of a chumrah. 19 I thank Dr. Marc Shapiro for the assistance in finding the proper location of these sources as the locations which were in my possession were incorrect.
16

5

Exploring Rav Kook © by ‫חיים בורנשטיין‬
cultured countries. The beginning of this travesty began in the schools of the settlements, only God knows what type of decadence [in our society] will come up from such practices..." In Iggrot Ha'Raya alone one can find additional letters where Rav Kook clearly expresses his dismay with the actions of the non-religious populace. In letter to Rav Avraham Yakov Slotzki (Iggrot Ha'Raya Vol. II Page 51 no. 392) dated 14th of Tishrei 5672 Rav Kook writes: "... These are our main demands: 1) that the workers will not desecrate the Sabbath and the Jewish holidays, in any format of work that is for the community. Nor should they dare to desecrate the holiness of these days in public in any matter. One can not even begin to fathom the pain in ones heart as we come to a Jewish city where there is a presence of working on the holy Sabbath and holidays.... 2) with in the schools must resonate the spirit of our holy religion. It should be left unsaid, that there should be no disrespect to the holiness of our traditions. One example of such practices, is the study of the holy books with the head uncovered, this disgraceful practice should be stopped immediately. 3) The sexes, boys and girls must be divided into different departments [exclusive one sex]. There is no proper estimation to the damage that comes from such "un-natural" unity [of the sexes] in our schools, for youngsters and adults alike 4) the Bible and more specifically, the body of the Torah, Should not be studied from a critical perspective. A format of study that has torn open the walls that protect our traditions and has mutilated the peaceful source of our holy religion and identity no less than how it has spoiled the scientific truth...." In yet another letter to Rav Avraham Y. Slotski20 (Iggrot Ha'Raya Vol. II Pages 62-64 no. 407) Rav Kook writes21: "Even though the war for our religion is a burden on us, we must fight with these "dry" nationalists, these "Jews without Judaism" who have gathered together, specifically by the gymnasium [in Jaffa]. However, you have to be very careful to not cut the link of unity and harmony between the various groups currently settling in the land of Israel. Are we not educated enough to know results of a war amongst brothers? Especially in infancy of our resettling of our

Rav Avraham Slotzki hy"d. was a prolific Author in the journals; Melitz and the Maggid, and is best known for his Likut "Shivat Tzion" (Warsaw 1981). He had great love for the land of Israel, and desired to make Aliyah. However, sadly he was not able to bring his plan to fruition, as he was murdered on April 6, 1918 along with 88 other Jews in the city Novhorod-Siversky, a district of Chernigov, Ukraine. 21 I will not quote the entire letter but it is worth a read to get a true perspective of Rav Kook's outlook on how to deal with the non-religious faction of the settlers.

20

6

Exploring Rav Kook © by ‫חיים בורנשטיין‬
holy land, as we are still very few in week. Surrounded by enemies from every direction...." "... [regarding the people surroundings the gymnasium]... A new form of idol worship they have invented for themselves according to the recent European fashion give not much to do with the details as the whole institution in its entirety is immoral and clearly can be a devastation [to the settlements of the land]. The mixing of the sexes, the boys and girls, within all the schools, especially in the gymnasium. We are dealing here with mixing of the mature. Through this educational system they are being educated to be freely in their minds and their spirit, we might as well handed their hands not the flag of our forefather Israel, rather the flag of ancient Greece...." These are letters from the liberal, misguided Rav of the Mizrachi? If one would read these letters and not know the author, they would quickly discard them as words of an extremist from Meah Shearim. To realize that these are the words of none other than HaRav Kook, one is forced to wonder, what do I really know about him anyway? Obviously Rav Kook did know what was going on and disapproved of it. He even condemned it, he just chose a different method than that of the Old Yishuv. It begets the question, perhaps he had a outlook worth exploring? A truth seeker from any Orthodox denomination would find it worthwhile to explore Rav Kook's ideas and make an effort to understand his writings and the concepts within. Rav Kook was a Torah giant and a pure Ohev Yisrael. At the very least, we can read about who he was and what he did, and we just might walk away wiser.

7