Sunday, 19 February 2017


Rav Kook's book which 'never existed'

[The reader is urged to read the previous post to get an idea of Rav Kook’s radical writings, and to understand why some would rather we did not have access to these views.]


It has been commonly asserted for some time now, that the teachings of Rav Avraham Yitzchak haCohen Kook (1865-1935) have been subjected to a degree of censorship - allegedly by his own son Rav Zvi Yehudah Kook (1891-1982) as well as by some his (Rav Zvi Yehuda’s) followers, particularly those in the post-1967 settler movement[1].

What is not so well known is the scale of, and the amount of intrigue relating to, this censorship. We will attempt to explore both.


Around 2010, a text of Rav Kook[2] which had never been seen publically before, was leaked onto the Internet by an unknown individual. This text entitled ‘For the Perplexed of the Generation’ was written prior to 1904 when Rav Kook was still living in Latvia, before he moved to Palestine.[3] 

People were vaguely aware of the theoretical existence of this work because its title had appeared in a 1937 list of books which announced forthcoming publications of Rav Kook’s works to soon be published. Rav Kook had passed away two years earlier so these would have been posthumous publications.  However, this book was never published or made mention of again.

Rav Zvi Yehudah went so far as to deny its very existence. He furthermore instructed his students ‘not to publish many of his father’s early manuscripts or to reprint those that had appeared in his (father’s) lifetime.” [4]

When the work did eventually make a surprising debut on the Internet, almost thirty years after Rav Zvi Yehuda’s passing, its existence could no longer be denied.

The book was then published by the followers of Rav Zvi Yehudah but only after undergoing rigorous censorship.[5] This is clearly evident by comparing the censored version with the original version.



Rabbi Professor Yehudah Mirsky, who has spent years researching Rav Kook’s less-known writings, presents several examples of concepts in the book which would have been considered ‘problematic’ by some, who would not have wanted these ideas to be made public.

Mirsky writes:

Thus for him (Rav Kook), modern nationalism is a form of élan vital[6] that, in its secular form, will self-destruct in chauvinism, but if disciplined by Jewish ethics can be a positive force in the world.”

In other words, Rav Kook felt that Jewish nationalism would self-destruct if it just championed raw patriotism. It had to be tempered by a universal ethical system and play an interactive and principled role within the rest of world.

Another offensive issue was the surprisingly total lack of any reference to the Land of Israel in this work (although his later writings are of course filled with such references, as he is, after all, regarded as the father of the religious-Zionist movement).

- Those with strong nationalistic agendas would not want to draw too much attention to this.


Aryeh Sklar points out a number of other ‘objectionable’ concepts which Rav Kook touched upon. [7] These include his views on the moral and even spiritual benefit of other religions to their particular followers, together with the role they play in bringing spiritual values to the world in preparation of the ‘redemptive future’. [8]

He was particularly bold when he referred to the founders of those religions having a form of ‘prophecy’ and even the ability to perform miracles or ‘perceptible wonders’.

He wrote:

It is possible that the founders [of those religions] had a divine idea for them to strive to improve the impressionable part of humanity however much they could. For this purpose, it is possible that some perceptible wonders were prepared for them, if they needed to strengthen [their message], since this is relevant to humanity’s improvement.[9]

He continues:

There are other people who think that a person can only have perfect faith in Moses’ true Torah so long as one also believes that the other faiths are all false and foolish, and that there is nothing positive in holding fast to them. But this is not true. However...much of the masses...think this. This view is indeed useful in that it sometimes strengthens Jewish faith in the hearts of fools, for they cannot understand the lofty value and the holiness of our Torah without also thinking of other faiths as mistaken and completely useless...there is much evil that comes from this view if it is not corrected.”[10]

If that’s not revealing of Rav Kook’s open-minded philosophy, look at what he writes about idolatry:

“...not all idolatries are the same. For sometimes there are nations whose ethics lift them up. To the extent that despite the fact that they are idolaters, they are standing on the proper level through morality, with [good] character traits, and respect...Therefore, one cannot assume that all idolatrous nations are of one viewpoint and one way...And coming generations, even from these idolaters, are already more prepared for the true light.”[11]

Rav Kook sums up his view on other religions with a fascinating analogy:

The guarding [from], and the distancing, that is appropriate for every Jew especially, to distance himself from getting close to the ways of other religions, in their customs, and their religious ethics, should always be weighed in the same way as the chaste distancing from his fellow’s wife, which shouldn’t come from jealousy and meanness, rather from purity of the soul...With our distancing ourselves from that foreign woman, we are lovers of humanity, who strive for its welfare.”[12]

These sections have been removed and excised from the Machon Rav Zvi Yehudah edition. According to Aryeh Sklar, sometimes the censorship goes one step too far and may be guilty of ‘even changing the thrust of his thought, or even his view entirely, which is surely a larger offence.’

I did some of my own research into more of Rav Kook’s original writings and found other fascinating concepts which clearly had the potential to upset many people.


Rav Kook writes:

 “According to the law, the rabbis have the authority to actively uproot a matter from the Torah, obviously only where there is pressing need, and a necessary purpose...this follows the view of Rav Chisda and other Talmudic sages...

Rav Kook maintained that Halacha should evolve along those same universalist lines toward the messianic future.” He believed, for example, that in the Third Temple we will bring vegetarian and not animal sacrifices. And he believed that the rabbis had the authority to effect such changes.[13]

He gives the reason why these laws can sometimes be changed:

We don’t have clear traditions regarding the exactitude of the laws (which would clarify) which ones were given to Moshe at Sinai, or which were decreed or determined by the courts throughout the generations.”[14]

Rav Kook appears to be questioning our ability to determine a scale of authority with regard to some of our rulings.  Accordingly, we are not always entirely sure who instituted what and when.

Then he continues:

 “It is clear that just like the Great Court (of the future) will sometimes be lenient regarding matters which were traditionally dealt with strictly – provided there is a good reason and a basis from the Torah – so too will it at other times rule strictly, according to the pressing needs of the time. In order to protect and strengthen the Torah.”[15]

In Rav Kook’s view, the future Sanhedrin could radically alter much of Judaism as we know it. Sometimes ruling more leniently than in the past, and other times more strictly.

Rav Kook then explains that in messianic times when the Jews are living in the land of their fathers, they will not only equal the religious potential of their forefathers but even surpass them:

 “We will no longer say to our sons that they are a Minor Court in terms of wisdom and number, compared to the courts of previous generations. But they will be extremely elevated over them...and will rule with clarity and truth and no longer stumble...

These ‘new courts’ will then have the ability to issue new rulings, closer to the ‘truth’ and with more ‘clarity’, all in accordance with authentic Torah tradition. [16]

This again, plays into Rav Kook’s controversial notion of the future ‘progression and refinement’ of the law in the post-messianic era.


After Rav Kook elaborated on his vision of a broad and more refined post-messianic Judaism, he issued a stern warning:

 “I know, however, that this ideal could be interpreted dangerously by the simple minded who wish to hasten the end (of days), and want to pursue after the future when its time has not yet arrived.”[17]

This telling sentence may have caused great consternation in some circles of ultra-nationalists, who would not want to be seen as the ‘simple minded who wish to hasten the end’.


For Rav Kook, participating in and contributing to the modern world was no contradiction to traditional Judaism:

 “Living one’s life according to the (dictates of) the Talmud, will (should) not create a crisis for us, chaliah. It will (should) not at all prevent our development as a nation. We must strive to increase enlightenment (haskalah) for our people, which includes (secular) knowledge and science, physical and mental progress, industry and arts, fortified spirit and self-esteem which is required for a progressive and powerful nation.”


Another concern of the censors was Rav Kook’s view on beards:

He writes that the ancient Israelites grew beards in the post-Exodus generation because it was a sign of freedom since slaves were not permitted to grow beards. The Torah wanted to encourage this sense of freedom and dignity. Rav Kook explains that for modern man, a beard was no longer prestigious and may, in fact, be considered undignified. Nonetheless, he still encouraged men to grow beards as a reminder of the time when beards were considered dignified.

This is how the chapter ends in the censored version.

In the original version, however, it continues with Rav Kook explaining that the rabbis of the Talmud knew there would come a time when perceptions of beards would change. 

And that; 

In order not to go against the spirit of the times, they (the rabbis) found permissible ways to be presentable by removing the beard through ointments, or scissors...” 

This would make it possible to still keep the law even when cultures change.[18]

This last section is blatantly omitted from the Machon Rav Zvi Yehudah edition.

These and many others instances of censorship have taken place under the auspices of Machon Rav Zvi Yehudah, the institute that was established to publish the writings of Rav Kook.

R. ISAAC KOSSOWSKY (1877-1951):

In the 1930’s, R. Isaac Kossowsky, a well-respected rabbi who came to Johannesburg, South Africa, wrote a work which was later cryptically entitled; ‘A Eulogy for One of the Rabbis’. The name of the rabbi is omitted, but by comparison with other sources, it is clear that he was referring to Rav Kook. 

The reason why his name does not appear is because the editors intentionally removed all references to Rav Kook. This omission was intended to protect the untarnished image of R. Kossowsky from any association with Rav Kook who was considered a heretic in some ultra-Orthodox circles.[19]


Rabbi Hillel Fendel researched the clandestine drama that began to unfold soon after the passing of Rav Kook’s son, Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook in 1982. At that time, it appeared that a number of Rav Kook’s still unpublished manuscripts would remain unpublished forever.

Rabbi Fendel explains that this was “because the newly-established Rav Tzvi Yehudah Institute (RTYI) did not go out of its way to convince the Raanan family – direct descendants of Rav Kook and the owners of his papers – to allow them to be published.”[20]

Then, out of the blue, various texts slowly began to appear on the scene in an almost ‘pirate’ fashion.
According to Fendel, amongst those determined to expose the conspiracy of silence, were yeshiva students Boaz Ofan and Matanya Shai. Although they do not divulge exactly how they got their first copies of the secret unpublished manuscripts, they soon amassed quite a number of texts that the Institute did not want to publish.

Ofan then issued the Institute with an ultimatum;

I have photocopies of all Rav Kook’s writings. Either you publish what you have – or I will.”

Although the Institute denies it acted on this, it soon thereafter published the Shemoneh Kvatzim or Eight Collections.

Then an interesting development took place. Immediately upon the publication of the Eight Collections, all the books were sold out! This may have been because of popular demand, but some suggest that the ‘order’ was given to quickly buy up all available books so that they would not be widely distributed.

Ofan, now more determined than ever, together with his yeshiva friends worked for four years and managed to publish the work once more. This time it was known as the Ramat Gan Eight Collections, or Ofan edition, and it came out in 2003.

Ofan then made a great discovery. There was another collection of unknown Rav Kook manuscripts hidden away in the National Library archives. When they tried to gain access to them, the librarian allegedly ‘stood guard’ to ensure no one tried to copy them.

Somehow they “prepared look-alike documents to keep in the archives” and “photocopied one original after the other. Even with the help of friends, it took months.”

Once again they approached the Institute and requested they publish the new findings. When the Institute refused, they again published their own edition of new writings of Rav Kook, entitled Kvatzim[21] Mikhetav Yad Kodsho, or Collections from his Holy Hand.

Apparently, there are still more writings of Rav Kook waiting to be shared with a world thirsty for these unusually profound teachings.

1920 booklet protesting the appointment of Rav Kook as Rabbi of Jerusalem.


It’s interesting to see how some of both the right-wing Zionists and Chareidim have dealt quite harshly with Rav Kook, and for very different reasons.

In fairness, though, with regard to Rav Zvi Yehudah, one can understand how a son would want to protect his father from bitter opposition by leaving out certain ‘problematic’ sections of writing. In 1924, Rav Kook himself wrote to his son asking him to “ exacting that nothing is issued which is not thoroughly explained. “ Rav Kook was obviously referring to what he knew would be considered by many to be controversial views. He also may have, and indeed did, change his mind about certain issues as time moved on.

This is perfectly understandable as all writing must undergo a degree of considered editing, which may result in occasional omissions. But this editing must always be with the knowledge and permission of the author of the writing. If the author is no longer alive, it is disingenuous not to point out where sections have been omitted.

The difficulty is that in the instances we have looked at, there is no mention of the fact that sections of original writing have been omitted, and they are misrepresented as being the original.

And Rav Kook asked for his controversial writings to be explained not excised.

Perhaps the best analysis is a quote from Dan Rabinowitz:

Today, censorship of Hebrew books takes place on many levels. Although previously the censorship of Hebrew books was driven in large part due to external concerns, today, most of the censorship takes place internally, by Jews for Jews. This censorship is generally driven by the false notion that Orthodox Judaism is and was monolithic. Of course, students of history know that this is entirely false; within the confines of Orthodoxy, there was diversity of opinion and practice (perhaps due to modern day censorship, this diversity has been slowly eroding within the Orthodox community).”[22]


The Kook Perplex, by Yehudah Mirsky, Aug. 2010

‘Lovers of Humanity’: Rav Kook, Christianity, and the Ongoing Censorship of His Writings, by Aryeh Sklar, March 22, 2015.

Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History, by Rabbi Professor Marc Shapiro.

Rav Kook’s Secret Writings: A Drama In Several Parts, by Rabbi Hillel Fendel.

The Censorship of Rav Kook and Other Hebrew Books on Hebrew Book Databases. Seforim Blog.

[1] When Rav Kook passed away in 1935, his son Rav Zvi Yehudah took over as Rosh Yeshiva and later, after 1967 he became the spiritual leader of the settler movement.
[2] In this article ‘Rav Kook’ refers to Rav Avraham Yitzchak haCohen Kook.
[3] In many ways it was styled after Rambam’s Guide for the Perplexed which dealt with relevant generational issues such as universalism and the role of secular knowledge.
[4] See The Kook Perplex, by Yehudah Mirsky, Aug. 2010
[5] See Pinkesei haRe’iyah, vol. 2.
[6] Élan vital is a term coined by French philosopher Henri Bergson in his 1907 book Creative Evolution, in which he addresses the question of self-organisation and spontaneous morphogenesis of things in an increasingly complex manner.
[7] See ‘Lovers of Humanity’: Rav Kook, Christianity, and the Ongoing Censorship of His Writings, by Aryeh Sklar, March 22, 2015.
[8] This too has a strong Maimonidean influence as other religions generally can bring a sense of ethics to the world, notwithstanding their particular theologies which may be at variance to ours.
[9] Page 31. Translation by Aryeh Sklar.
[10] Page 71. Translation by Aryeh Sklar.
[11] Page 74. Translation by Aryeh Sklar.
[12] Page 75. Translation by Aryeh Sklar.
[13] See Chapter 13 of the uncensored version.
[14] Chapter 13. Translation mine.
[15] Ibid. Translation mine.
[16] Ibid. We mentioned earlier that there were, allegedly, no references to the Land of Israel in this work. Although this is a reference to a future or messianic Land of Israel, a distinction may be drawn between a political and nationalistic state as opposed to the vision of a post-messianic state which reinstates the Sanhedrin. The latter is referenced here.
[17] Ibid. Translation mine. I was not sure whether Rav Kook was referring to over-zealous Zionists who wanted to ‘hasten the end’ – or to reformers who would want to ‘hasten the end’ and refine Judaism without the deliberations of a future Sanhedrin. I consulted with a rabbi and Hebrew scholar who suggested that the reference was to the former. If this is the correct reading, then it would indeed be a very controversial statement for those with a more messianic vision of modern Zionism!
[18] See Chapter 14 of the uncensored version.
[19] See Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History, by Rabbi Professor Marc Shapiro.
[20] See Rav Kook’s Secret Writings: A Drama In Several Parts, by Rabbi Hillel Fendel.
[22] I haven't seen this work, but have seen it alternatively referenced as 'Ktavim' Mikhetav Yad Kodsho.
[21] The Censorship of Rav Kook and Other Hebrew Books on Hebrew Book Databases. Seforim Blog.

Sunday, 12 February 2017


Painting of The Philosopher by Rembrandt 1632


“I don't speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don't have the power to remain silent.” (Rav Kook)

Rav Avraham Yitzchak haCohen Kook (1865-1935) was the first Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, and one of the founders of religious Zionism. He tried to bridge the gaping chasm between Jew and non-Jew, and particularly between religious and irreligious Jew. But he also defined (redefined?) the essence of Judaism as he saw it.

For much of my religious life, I have been discouraged from reading Rav Kook. Now I know why. His writings pose a serious threat to those who would rather keep us in little boxes and bubbles.

If you are not too familiar with Rav Kook’s pragmatic, often mystical and always fearless writings, here are some aspects of his astonishingly profound thought:


How can it be that some who are involved in the pursuit of organised religion are often recognisable by a lack of any semblance of spirituality?

Rav Kook wrote:

Expanses divine my soul craves.
Confine me not in cages,
Of substance or of spirit.”[1]

Rav Kook points out something that for him was blatantly obvious – not all spirit sets one free. Sometimes religion chains one to a prison-cell of thought and deed...instead of freeing the mind and opening up ‘expanses divine’.

He knew that it was common and likely to be drawn into a state of ‘religious sociable confinement’ without even being aware of it, and prayed that he be spared such a fate.

Everyone knows there are physical chains. But Rav Kook wanted us to be aware that there can also be spiritual chains of religion which entrap just the same.


Religion today has a huge social and political component and agenda. One needs to be conscious of this. The leadership certainly is conscious of this and often uses society as a very effective tool.

The shepherds of our people are in a deep slumber. This is not the way. We shall not seek conferences at this time, but we shall create a literature.”[2]

Religious conferences and committees (which deal with socialisation as opposed to spiritualization) do not usually determine any halacha or Torah we don’t already know. We have this information already in our seforim - but instead, they determine policy. There is a big difference between policy and halacha. The former is a social construct the latter is an authentic tradition.

Our ‘shepherds’, who attend conferences and determine policy, lay down new norms of social and peer behavioural Judaism for their flock. They are in a ‘deep slumber’. This does not mean that they are not successful. On the contrary, they are extremely successful and run some very powerful organisations. 

But we are supposed to be more than an effective religious ethnic group bound by societal constructs. We are spiritual thinkers and need to focus less on the social order and more on ‘creating a literature’. We are not just societal beings that mirror each other – we are also cerebral. 

When we lose our intellectual component we don’t just slumber...we die...even whilst being part of a well-coordinated group.


Not only must we move from obsession with the group to a passion for intellect, but the intellect must be expansive and not parochial or narrow as that would defeat its very purpose:

As long as Orthodoxy maintains stubbornly; ‘No we shall concern ourselves only with the study of Talmud and the legal codes. But not with aggadah, not ethics, not Kabbalah, not scientific research, not the knowledge of the world, and not Chassidism, it impoverishes itself. And against this I shall continue to wage battle.[3] 
This is an amazing piece of writing. In it, Rav Kook sets himself apart from much of the religious mainstream. Some do study Torah, but only Talmud and halacha. Ethics and mysticism are considered extraneous. Some study Talmud and mysticism but ethics is considered superfluous.

Different aspects of Torah are an anathema to different groups of people. 

Few, however, in their wildest dreams would think that ‘scientific research’ or secular ‘knowledge of the world’ would be permitted, let alone form part of...or even be of benefit to...their religious order.

But Rav Kook felt it would, to the extent he was prepared to ‘continue to wage battle’ in this regard, even against the mainstream.

Rav Kook talking to Chaim Bialik


Rav Kook wrote:

“I walk around with an overwhelming jealousy of the secular world. It is a jealousy that consumes me. For is it possible that the power of creativity has ceased within the religious world?...A piercing pain stabs my heart when I see secular thoughts and dreams spread throughout the world, winning people’s hearts, acquiring followers, and eventually becoming actualized in concrete deeds – whereas dreams and thoughts of holiness are left alone like a dead stone that no one picks up or notices.”

Rav Kook was consumed with the notion that religious Jews should make visible contributions to the world, on all levels, instead of viewing their insularity as their only bequest to mankind.


“When I lived in London, I used to visit the National Gallery. My favourite pictures were those of Rembrandt. I truly think that Rembrandt was a Tzadik...We are told that when G-d created light, it was so strong and penetrating that...he reserved that light for the righteous to use when the Mashiach would come. But now and then there are great men who are blessed and privileged to see it in their lifetime. I think Rembrandt was one of them, and that the light in his pictures is the very light that was originally created...”[4]

Whether one agrees with Rav Kook’s assessment of Rembrandt or not, he certainly makes the point that G-dly radiance is not restricted or limited only to the four cubits of the law.


Rav Kook the individual was essentially a mystic:

It is no accident, but rather of the very essence of my being, that I find delight in the pursuit of the divine mysteries in unrestrained freedom. This is my primary purpose. All my other goals, the practical and the rational, are only peripheral to my real self. I must find happiness within my inner self, unconcerned whether people agree with me, or by what is happening to my career. The more I shall recognise my own identity, and the more I will permit myself to be original, and to stand on my own feet with an inner conviction...the more will my potentialities develop to serve as a blessing to myself and to others.”

While it is important to be open to various disciplines, Rav Kook was true to himself with an unabashed sense of individuality.  He chose to give pre-eminence to the mystic in him, but he could just as much been a rationalist or religious scientist. It wouldn’t really matter as long as he was honest and true to himself and unconscious to the protestations of the world.


Although an avowed mystic, Rav Kook displayed not just tolerance, but even understanding and respect towards those who chose a different path. This is what he had to say about religious rationalists:

Fundamentally we are compelled to say that there is a certain richness of the mystical among the devotees of the revealed, which makes it unnecessary for them to labor over refined, spiritual subject matter. They already possess satisfactory substantive matter from the realm of the spiritual. This sufficiency leads them occasionally to feel impatient with all mystical matters.”[5]


His deference towards the irreligious, for example, was legendary:

Ordinary people who are not learned (or religious) have many advantages over the learned. This is because of their natural ability to think. Their basic decency has not become clouded by mistaken perceptions, fatigue and irritability that may arise out of scholarship. For these reasons, the learned need to adopt some of this innate capacity of ordinary people - both with regard to general outlook on life and also to basic human decency. This will greatly help the religious to expand their minds.”[6]

Never mind simply getting along with and tolerating the irreligious, but the religious are duty bound to sometimes learn the basics of normative behaviour from their secular co-religionists.

“The fear of heaven must never quash the natural morality of man, because it then ceases to be a pure fear of heaven. . . A sign of pure fear of heaven is when natural morality, implanted in man’s upright nature, ascends higher than where it would stand without it [the morality of the Torah].”[7]

Religion, in Rav Kook’s mind, must never cause people to become less ethical than they naturally would have been, had they never come into contact with it. He was worried that sometimes religion could have the effect of making some people less sensitive and less ethical.


Rav Kook had the most novel approach towards atheists. Instead of viewing them as ideological enemies, he believed they had a positive role play. Their job was to purge us of some of the ‘foulness that has attached itself to religion.’ 

Atheism has a temporary legitimacy because it is needed to purge the foulness that has attached itself to extirpate the dross that obscures from man the true light of G-dliness....Through the clash of these contradictory forces (atheism and religion), mankind will be aided greatly to appreciate an enlightened knowledge of G-d.”[8]

What Rav Kook may be saying is that just because something comes packaged and labelled as ‘G-d’ or ‘religion’ doesn’t necessarily mean it is. A distorted image of G-d doesn’t come into focus simply because the believer is religious. Sometimes it takes an outsider to make that point.

By definition, spirit always had to have elements of paradox and even contradiction. To Rav Kook, it was obvious that faith was hidden in atheism, as was atheism hidden in faith.


Rav Kook spoke of the inevitability of ideological conflict:

Ideologies tend to be in conflict. One group at times reacts to another with total negation. And this opposition becomes more pronounced the more important a place ideas have in the human spirit. (This is like) the separation of plants, which serves as an aid to their growth, enabling them to absorb from the soil their required sustenance. Thus will each one develop to its fullness...One begins with separation but concludes by unification.[9]

Sometimes ideological conflict is positive because it creates different spaces for each ideology to nurture unabated. Disharmony can be beneficial, but only if it creates space for growth.


According to Rav Kook man was originally intended by G-d to be vegetarian. Adam was to eat only fruit. It was only later, in the time if Noah when man had sunk to a terribly low level of morality that the Torah permitted the eating of animal flesh. This was to prevent depraved man from sinking even lower because he was just one step away from eating human flesh. However, this dispensation was supposed to only be a temporary concession until man evolved to discover his higher self.

Rav Kook was essentially vegetarian except that he made a point of eating a small amount of chicken only on Shabbat (perhaps in order to fulfil the mitzvah of eating meat on Shabbat or to show that he believed man had not yet found his higher self).
However, he had a fascinating interpretation of the future vision of ‘animal sacrifices’ in Messianic times:

In the future, the abundance of enlightenment will spread and penetrate even the animals...The gift offerings of vegetation that will then be brought as sacrifices will be as acceptable as the (animal) sacrifices of ancient days.”[10]

He believed, as did R. Yosef Albo, that in Messianic times we will once again become the vegetarians we were originally intended to be, and our future sacrifices in the Third Temple will be vegetarian and not animal. He (like Rambam) viewed animal sacrifices to have no place in a future world of ‘abundance of enlightenment.’


Perhaps one of the most amazing of all Rav Kook’ s teachings is his description of the ‘anguish’ one experiences upon entering the ‘confined world of halacha’:

Great anguish is experienced by one who leaves the wide horizons of pure contemplation, where poetry and the most exquisite beauty was experienced, and now enters the study of the confined world of halachic enactments...A person who is stirred by a soul ennobled with the splendour of holiness suffers frightful anguish at the chains of confinement when he leaves the one branch of study for the other.”[11]

This teaching becomes even more poignant when one remembers that Rav Kook was also a great halachist, and the head and founder of Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva. Yet he wasn’t afraid to admit that he experienced ‘frightful anguish at the chains of confinement’ when he went from spiritual pursuit to the discipline of code and legislation.

Do not allow the Names, phrases and letters swallow up your soul. They have been given over to you – not you to them.[12]


Rav Kook had much opposition from all over the establishment, to the extent that some printers no longer published his approbations to their new editions of older books that originally carried them.

In 1920, a twelve-page booklet entitled Kol Shofar was distributed in Palestine criticising Rav Kook, the then Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. He was ridiculed for his endorsement of secular education and attacked for his interaction with the non-(and anti-)religious early Zionists. He was criticised for his tolerance of other faiths even accused of creating a ‘Christian-like cult’.

It is said that the Chazon Ish, a founder of Chareidism in post-independence Israel, said that one can study Rav Kook’s halachic writings but not his hashkafic or philosophic books.

Even at the other end of the spectrum, Rav Kook was regarded as being so controversial that the followers of his son, R.Tzvi Yehudah Kook, meticulously and intentionally censored vast swaths of his teachings.

But Rav Kook spoke from his soul and did not fear the consequences. In this sense, he was like the Kotzker Rebbe who felt the need to infuse basic honesty and truth back into a system he believed had gone off message.

Although Rav Kook regarded himself primarily as a mystic – he was equally at home in love for ethics, art and poetry, humanity, animals, rationalists, secularists and even atheists.

In this sense, it may be more accurate to describe him as a mystical rationalist, or as a spiritual pragmatist, whose words resonate with those who straddle multiple worlds and do not wish to compromise on any of them...

[1] From a poem of Rav Kook.
[2] Igrot, Vol. I, Letter 184.
[3] Igrot, Vol. 2, Letter 602.
[4] The Jewish Chronicle, London 13 September 1935, p. 21.
[5] Orot, Vol 1, pp.88-89.
[6] Shmona Kevatzim 1. 463 see also 1. 75.
[7] Orot HaKodesh, vol.3, p.27.
[8] Orot, pp.126.
[9] Orot, Vol. 1, pp. 15.
[10] Orot, Vol.2, p.474.
[11] Orot, Vol. 1, p.28.
[12] Orot haKodesh 1, pp. 83-84