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Rabbi Kook's legacy by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen
Rabbi Jeremy Rosen
Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

The huge Jerusalem yeshiva, Merkaz HaRav Kook, is nowadays the Alma Mater of the religious Zionist movement and is more than any other ( and there are of course others), associated with the settlers and those demonstarting against the planned removal from Gaza.

The yeshiva was founded by Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook (1865-1935), but it was his son, Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook (1891-1982), who turned some of his father's ideas into a political platform when, immediately after the Six-Day War, he came out publicly against any territorial concessions and emerged as the spiritual head of the movement and attracted thousands to hear his words of strident, apocalyptic nationalism.

I studied in Merkaz in 1961 when it was still in its old building in the centre of town in Rav Kook Street and I shared a rented apartment in Rehov HaChabashim just opposite the Ethiopian Monastery up the hill. There were very few students there at the time. It was run down and neglected. I went there because I wanted to be in Jerusalem and I was attracted by the extra curricular lectures and classes given by the Nazir, the Nazirite, a friend and associate of the ‘original’ Rav Kook ( and father of the present Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rav Shear Yashuv Cohen). He talked about philosophy, mysticism and ethics and was regarded by most at the time as the one really creative mind of the old Kook movement.

Rav Kook the son, Zvi Yehuda, gathered around him a coterie of faithful idealogues who seemed to be in a world of their own and most of the yeshiva at the time ignored them and him. They preferred to listen to Rabbi Shapiro ( who later became Chief Rabbi and is one of the rabbis presently insisting that  Israeli solidiers refuse orders).Indeed very few people other than his faithful bothered to turn up to hear Rav Zvi Yehuda talk altogether. When I was there he was regarded as something of a wild man living in cloud cuckoo land. But after the Six Day War he bloosomed and became an icon. Proof, I guess, that is not ‘The man who maketh the hour’ but rather ‘The hour that maketh the man.’

The ideology that Rav Kook, indeed  Nachmanides, Yehuda HaLevy, the Maharal, Rabbi Loewe of Prague and many others, based on the Talmud, was that the Land of Israel is sacred and its original sanctity was reiterated during the second Temple ( Makkot 19a etc). The Land, Torah and the People made up an inextricable bond ( ‘The threefold rope cannot easily be broken’ Ecclesiastes 4) that was the very essence of Jewish peoplehood. It was this emphasis on Land that was controversial not in its position as part of the ‘three’ but to the extent that it was  practical and obligatory.

For many, including the most extreme Hassidic sects, Land was inextricably bound up with the Messiah and nothing should or could be done practically until the Messianic era. In fact this idea to this day really differentiates the Ultra Charedi world from the the Religious Zionists. In fact many Hassidic sects are happy to compromise and take advantage of the very State they profess to disapprove of.

Rav Kook, senior, regarded any one building the land of Israel and a Jewish State, regardless of his or her religious practice, as helping to fulfill a Divine command  and the elite of the Jewish people. He was, for his pains, rejected and even ‘banned’ by the Old Yishuv, the established Ultra Orthodox rabbinate led by Rav Sonnenfeld. Now as then the charedi world regards Torah as the absolute priority ( sometimes I think over God too) and takes the halachic line that human life comes before land. Chabad Lubavitch are the exception but then they are the exception to about everything in Judaism.

There is something beautiful about passion, passion for life, passion for love and passion for God. I have always admired Rav Kook the father as the greatest spiritual mind of the Twentieth century. His writings are so poetical, universalist and humanitarian as well as powerfully and intensively Jewish. He would be my hero if I had one ( apart from my father!).

But I have to say I cannot really get worked up about the passion for Land. Its not Land as such, after all I love the Land of Israel with a passion and theres nowhere I ‘d rather live if it were up to me. It’s the notion of state and political nationalsim ( secular Zionism in a way) that I have difficulties with. I guess its all connected to my jaundiced view of politics and politicians. When ideologies are turned into gods, then I part company. Everything I value about religion is concerned with the relationship between humanity and God that makes humans and the world a better place to live in. Other things come lower down on the priority scale. Even Torah to me is a means to this end.

So is the protest at withdrawl from Gaza religious or political? If it’s political well there a debate and frankly I don’t have the military expertise to know whats right, even though it has always struck me that occupation is an evil even if sometimes it’s a necessary evil. If it’s religious then with all due respect there are other religious view points and it becomes a matter of which club you belong to. And I have never been much of a joiner. So long as Judaism does not have a totally unambiguous, indisputable position then as far as I’m concerned there’s always room to disagree. And if one ignores other points of view then the borderline between conviction and fanaticism is a very very fine one.

Important as the Land of Israel is to us, Moses ( and God ) were willing to allow the two and half tribes to stay and settle outside the Land of Israel ( Numbers 32). Were they traitors to the Jewish people? I don’t think so.

Shabbat Shalom


Visit Jeremy Rosen's web site at:  www.JeremyRosen.com



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