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 about 18 hours a day.
In 1886, Kook married Batsheva, the daughter of Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim, (also known as the Aderet), the rabbi of Ponevezh (today's Panevėžys, Lithuania) and later Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. In 1887, at the age of 23, Kook entered his first rabbinical position as rabbi of Zaumel, Lithuania. 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. In 1895 Kook became the rabbi of Bausk (now Bauska). Between 1901 and 1904, he published three articles which anticipate the fully-developed philosophy which he developed in the Land of Israel. During these years he wrote a number of works, most published posthumously, most notably a lengthy commentary on the Aggadot of Tractates Berakhot and Shabbat, titled 'Eyn Ayah' and a brief but powerful book on morality and spirituality, titled 'Mussar Avikhah'.
In 1904, Rav Kook moved to Ottoman Palestine to assume the rabbinical post in Jaffa, which also included responsibility for the new mostly secular Zionist agricultural settlements nearby. His 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.
The outbreak of the First World War caught Rav Kook in Europe, and he was forced to remain in London and Switzerland 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, Whitechapel. Upon returning, he was appointed the Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem, and soon after, as first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine in 1921. Kook founded a yeshiva, Mercaz HaRav Kook (popularly known as "Mercaz haRav"), in Jerusalem in 1924. He 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 in Jerusalem in 1935.
Kook built bridges 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. He once commented that the establishment of the Chief Rabbinate was the first step towards the re-establishment of the Sanhedrin.
His empathy towards the anti-religious elements aroused the suspicions of his more traditionalist haredi 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, Rav Kook's greatest rabbinical rival. Kook once quoted a rabbinic axiom that "one should embrace with the right hand and rebuff with the left". He remarked that he was fully capable of rejecting, but since there were enough rejecters, he was fulfilling the role of embracer. However, Kook was critical of the secularists on certain occasions when they went "too far" in desecrating the Torah, for instance, by not observing the Sabbath or kosher laws. Rav Kook also opposed the secular spirit of the Hatikvah anthem, and penned another anthem with a more religious theme entitled haEmunah.
Roshei Yeshiva following Rav Kook's passing in 1935 included Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap, Rav Shlomo Ra'anan, and Rav Kook's son, Tzvi Yehuda Kook.
While Rabbi Kook is exalted as one of the most important thinkers in mainstream Religious Zionism, he was close to what is now called Hardal. Indeed, there are several prominent quotes in which Kook is quite critical of the more modern-orthodox Religious Zionists (Mizrachi), whom he saw as naive and perhaps hypocritical in attempting to synthesize traditional Judaism with a modern and largely secular ideology. Kook never shied away from criticizing his peers, religious and secular, as well as the increasingly cloistered traditionalists living in the Holy Land, whose way of life he characterized as being similarly affected by the negative and abnormal conditions of the Jewish exile, and therefore just as "inauthentic" as that of their Zionist counterparts. Kook was interested in outreach and cooperation between different groups and types of Jews, and saw both the good and bad in each of them. His sympathy for them as fellow Jews and desire for Jewish unity should not be misinterpreted as any inherent endorsement of all their ideas. That said, Rav Kook's willingness to engage in joint-projects (for instance, his participation in the Chief Rabbinate) with the secular Zionist leadership must be seen as differentiating him from many of his traditionalist peers. In terms of practical results, it would not be incorrect to characterize Kook as being a Zionist, believing in the re-establishment of the Jewish people as a nation in their ancestral homeland. Unlike other Zionist leaders, however, Kook's motivations were purely based on Jewish law and Biblical prophecy. His sympathy towards the Zionist movement can be seen as a major stepping-stone to the Religious Zionist movement gaining momentum and legitimacy after his death.
The Israeli moshav Kfar Haroeh, founded in 1933, was named after 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 philosophy. Rav Kook's writings and philosophy eventually gave birth to the Hardal Religious Zionist movement which is today led by rabbis who studied under Rav Kook's son at Mercaz HaRav
Here are a list of his published writings: Orot ("Lights") books: * Orot – translation Bezalel Naor, Jason Aronson 1993. ISBN 1-56821-017-5; * Orot HaTeshuvah – translation Ben-Zion Metzger, Bloch Pub. Co., 1968. ASIN B0006DXU94; * Orot HaEmuna; * Orot HaKodesh I,II,III; * Orot HaTorah.
Jewish thought: * Ain Aiyah – Commentary on Ein Yaakov the Aggadic sections of the Talmud.; * Reish Millin – discussion of the Hebrew alphabet, grammar and punctuation; * Ma'amarei HaR'Iyah I,II – essays and lectures; * Midbar Shur – lectures given outside the Land of Israel; * Chavosh Pe'er – on tefillin; * Eder HaYakar and Ikvei HaTzon
Halacha: * Be'er Eliyahu – on Hilchos Dayanim; * Orach Mishpat – Shu"t on Orach Chayim; * Ezrat Cohen – Shu"t on Even HaEzer; * Zivchei R'Iyah- Shu"t and Chidushim on Zvachim and Avodat Beit HaBchira
Unedited and others: * Shmoneh Kvatzim – volume 2 of which was republished as Arpilei Tohar; * Olat Raiyah – Commentary on the Siddur; * Igrot HaRaiyah – Collected letters of Rav Kook
Translation and Commentary: * (translation), Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems, Ben Zion Bokser, Paulist Press 1978. ISBN 0-8091-2159-X [Includes complete English translations of Orot ha-Teshuva ("The Lights of Penitence"), Musar Avicha ("The Moral Principles"), as well as selected translations from Orot ha-Kodesh ("The Lights of Holiness") and miscellaneous essays, letters, and poems.]; * Samson, David; Tzvi Fishman (1996). Lights Of Orot. Jerusalem: Torat Eretz Yisrael Publications. ISBN 965-90114-0-7. ; * Samson, David; Tzvi Fishman (1997). War and Peace. Jerusalem: Torat Eretz Yisrael Publications. ISBN 965-90114-2-3. ; * Samson, David; Tzvi Fishman (1999). The Art of T'Shuva. Jerusalem: Beit Orot Publications. ISBN 965-90114-3-1.
In online edition: * (translation), The Essential Writings of Abraham Isaac Kook, Ben Yehuda Press 2006 (reprint). ISBN 0-9769862-3-X; * Rabbi Chanan Morrison, Gold from the Land of Israel: A New Light on the Weekly Torah Portion From the Writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, Urim Publications 2006. ISBN 965-7108-92-6; 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 www.myspace.com/orotharav ; www.haorot.org; www.youtube.com/haorotravkook
The Third of Elul: Usishkin's Eulogy
The 19th Zionist Congress, 1935The delegates heard the bitter news during a meeting of the Zionist Congress in Lucerne, Switzerland - Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook had passed away in Jerusalem. Overcome by sadness and mourning, they brought the session to an early close.
When the assembly reopened, Dr. Chaim Weizmann invited Menachem Usishkin, highly respected Zionist leader and president of the JNF, to say a few words about the beloved chief rabbi of Eretz Yisrael.
Today, Usishkin announced, the Jewish people is cloaked in deep mourning. One of the preeminent scholars of our generation has departed.
But I will not speak about his greatness in Torah. The speaker after me [Rabbi Meir Berlin] will speak of this. I will speak, not of the Gaon [brilliant scholar] Kook, but of the man, Rabbi Kook....
The first time I heard his name was from that unique individual of our generation, Chaim Bialik. After Bialik's first visit in Eretz Yisrael, he gave me a report of everything he saw. But his greatest enthusiasm was about a Jew whom he had met, then rabbi of a small community in Jaffa. He told me wonders about this man's wisdom, his Torah and breadth of knowledge, and his tremendous expertise. Not only in Torah, but also in all the latest philosophies. And over all of this, Bialik added, hovers a personality of giant stature in its depth, love and dedication, and in its way of relating to the new phenomena in the world.
When I made my second trip to Eretz Yisrael, I knew of course that I must meet this man whose fame precedes him. I then recognized that Bialik's words were true. [Rav Kook] was flowing with ideas - brilliant, sparkling ideas in all aspects of life. When one spoke with him - or more precisely, when he spoke, for it was impossible to have a conversation with him, he would always fill the conversation, while others would listen and absorb - one would gain from him such a wealth of ideas and views, that sometimes one had to struggle to fully grasp their depth. One could not help but be enthralled with the brilliance of his ideas and the beauty of his imagery. After conversing with him, one always left the room with some new view, some new concept, some new insight, whether or not one agreed with him.
Even though his views on life, especially regarding our [national] life in Israel, were original and dazzling, he remained with both feet firmly entrenched in our ancient traditions. He did not move a hair's breadth from the tenets of our fathers and our ancestors. Yet he possessed a radically different approach on how to bring understanding of this tradition to the new and renewed world that confronts us.
First of all, there must be a soul-connection between the previous generation and the new generation. His admiration for youth in general, and particularly the youth living in Eretz Yisrael - youth who are thousands of miles away from his own worldview - this was a father's understanding of his son, a father who wishes to instruct his son and draw him close with insight and love.
Many of you have heard his remarkable reply to a prominent rabbi - a rabbi who criticized him for his cordial relationship with the anti-religious youth. 'How can you join forces with these people in common causes?'
And the Rav responded:
As you know, the Holy Temple had [separate] courtyards for kohanim and for Levites and for regular Israelites and for women. And there was one place called Kodesh HaKodashim, the Holy of Holies, which only the High Priest was allowed to enter once a year, on the holiest day of the year.
All this was true when the Temple was standing. Then there were separate areas for each sector of the nation, and each person knew where he was permitted and where he was forbidden to enter.
However, what do you think it was like when they were building the Temple? Then there were certainly no barriers. The workers went to any place that required their skills. Even into the Holy of Holies. [See Me'ilah 14a: 'They build with the mundane and sanctify it afterward.']
Nowadays, the Rav concluded, we are building the Third Temple. We are in the period of building. There are no - and there must not be any - barriers between the young generation and us, between the religious and the secular. We are all busy with one project; we all work toward one goal. First, let us build the Temple. Afterward we may speak...
And we will add, between the growth and role of women in our generation and those who abide by the traditional past of our generation
This was his philosophy, from the first day that he arrived in the country, until his final day.
(From the minutes of the Nineteenth Zionist Congress. Quoted in Zichron Re'iyah, pp. 248-250.)
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