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Sunday, 19 February 2017

115) THE CENSORED WRITINGS OF RAV KOOK:


Rav Kook's book which 'never existed'
PART TWO:

[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.]

INTRODUCTION:

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.

‘FOR THE PERPLEXED OF THE GENERATION’ (Li Nevuchei haDor):

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.

THE CONTENTIOUS ISSUES:

RAV KOOK’S EARLY VIEW JEWISH NATIONALISM:

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.

HIS VIEW ON OTHER RELIGIONS:

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.

THE ‘EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS’ OF HALACHA:

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.

RAV KOOK’S WARNING TO THE ’FEEBLE MINDED’:

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’.

PARTICIPATION IN THE SECULAR WORLD:

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.”

BEARDS:

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]

A STORY OF GREAT INTRIGUE:

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.

ANALYSIS:

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 “...be 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]




REFERENCES:

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.

6 comments:

  1. Rabbi Kook's teachings are essential to the refinement of the world and humanity through the people of Israel.
    Here is a video related to his writings.
    https://youtu.be/AhYC-KzYqMw

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Settlement movement" is the wrong word to use. You're thinking of the Kav people, some of whom are settlers and some of whom aren't; some of the settlers are Kav people and some aren't.

    Also, the book was not published by followers of R' Tzvi Yehuda in a censored edition; it was published by Yediot Books in a critical edition.

    ReplyDelete
  3. 1)"REMEMBERING RAV TZVI YEHUDAH KOOK - THE SPIRITUAL LEADER OF THE 'SETTLER'MOVEMENT" -Merkaz Harav Yeshiva Dean, Rab Yaakov Shapira (Title in Arutz Sheva 27/02/13 from exerpts of shiur by Rosh Yeshiva of Merkav haRav).

    1a)"Zvi Yehudah Kook (1891-1982), Kook's son and successor as head of his yeshiva, and spiritual leader of the post-1967 settlement movement..." - Professor Yehudah Mirsky.


    2) "...after the electronic version [of Nevuchei haDor]surfaced this year[2010], Zvi Yehudah's disciples brought out, in book form, a highly censored version." - Professor Yehudah Mirsky.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You are both right/wrong. First the digital version was circulated, then the R' Tzvi Yehuda censored version, then Yediot published the original (I have all 3 :) ).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fascinating. We are in the process of printing the digital version.

      Delete
  5. It seems in all my studies that much data has been hidden or altered in every subject religious and secular for serious reasons mostly to suppress the truth...

    ReplyDelete