Lecture 01b Rav Kook's Letters - Introduction (Part 2)

  • Rav Tamir Granot



This week's shiur is being sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Dov Weinstein.





V.  R. Zvi Yehuda Kook’s Introduction to the Letters



In order to better understand the manner in which the letters were collected and their significance, it is worth studying R. Zvi Yehuda’s introduction to volume I:


A letter, like the form of a face, the mannerisms of the body and limbs, and the form and style of handwriting, expresses, both in its content and its style, the very essence of its author, and serves to demonstrate and clarify his direction and his personality. The main attribute of a letter is that it possesses the inwardness of the individual’s world (“reshut ha-yachid”) through its honestly and naturally spiritual verbal expression, from man to man or even to several individuals. These individual relationships and their objects are also directed toward and correspond to the depths of the reshut ha-yachid in the spirit, which is disclosed through this expression. Therefore, it is also inherent in the innermost element of the spirit, which itself demands the expression of these words, their disclosure and release from within it, their unloading of its burden, their proper and fair treatment and formulation of its relationship to them … An allusion to this: an oath (shevu’ah), which, at its root, is a prohibition that devolves upon the individual (issur gavra) who prohibits himself from an object (Nedarim 2b)is like one who swears by the king himself; in contrast, a vow (neder), which is, at its root, the prohibition of an object, in that he prohibits the object to himself, is like one who takes a vow on the life of the king (Sifrei Matot). Thus, the standard value of published letters is in their personal expression, to an individual or individuals, that was not originally written with consideration of public obligations and needs, and was not initially composed for publication; now, its publication, in all its personal specificity, has special significance and attraction as a sort of revelation of that which was hidden in the recesses of the spirit and buried in its facets. ”But one who was created for the needs of the generation, to be the head of the generation, of those souls created from birth in sanctity and purity, which God created as precious souls, are intrinsically holy; it is therefore said in reference to them ‘that it is good,’ and their name precedes themselves, because the public merit depends on him and his judgment of Israel, and the actions of all Israel are his” (Kohelet Shlomo, R. Shlomo Kluger, Introduction, chapter 2, s.v. “Le-Adam she-Tov le-Fanav”, chapter 1: “Kevar Nikra Shemo”). Thus, the domain of the public, the merits of their actions and direction, and the domain of this individual and his unique and full world, are so interrelated, their nurture of each other is so abundant and fluid, and they are so interconnected and cohesive, that the truth of the matter is that no absolute distinction between the particular and the universal, personal and public, designated for publication and not designated for publication, is possible or justified. All of this together comprises a single great and overarching matter; apprenticeship (“shimush”) under the inward, independent holy person, and the study (“limud”) of the influence, guidance, and knowledge that emerges and branches out from him, appear together here as well. Additionally, the hidden and the revealed, with all of their various and unique fields, touch upon each other and are connected and unified in the complete divine unity of the perfect and soul-restoring Torah and the truth of its laws, which, together, are just.


Yet, it is not the form of the letters, nor the personal intimacy of their content, nor their composition without intent for publication that establishes the value of the spirituality, of the expression of the fullness of essence, and of the manifestation of the soul in the disclosure of its holiness that is present in the letters. The personal expression is not diminished at all by the public context and publication, even though it was absolutely not intended toward that end and its character is really and truly inward … Rather, the direct and explicit communication, to individuals or groups, persons or communities, his addressees, restricts the context of his spiritual attention and relating to its content to people and matters – this forms the basis and is the character of the letters. On the other hand, this focused communication with Klal Yisrael, in the anonymity of its generality and the absoluteness of its public character, even if it is in the form of a letter, thereby reaches the public sphere of those matters, be they religious, literary, or public, and the spiritual and personal order is absorbed in their generality and essence. Thus, in this improved edition of Igrot Ha-RAY’H and the full image of its form, which includes shimush and limud of holy nobility, words of Torah, clarification of faith and opinion, ethics and character, personal and public behavior, the behavior of the rabbinate and of the Yishuv, I also inserted letters addressed to particular public groups such as the people of the Yishuv, those who embrace the Torah, leaders and politicians in these matters, and not those addressed to Klal Yisrael as a whole.


The group of letters published in 5685 under the name Igrot RAY’H with the goal of “spreading light and showing the way” in certain general matters relating to “Torah and the service of God in public and private life” have been included in this improved edition, with the addition of private details that were then left out. Only a few isolated details pertaining to other people and those times have been omitted. Similarly, matters of halakha, whether to decide halakhic practice or to clarify entire issues in halakhic discourse, have been omitted here and set in their proper place, in editions regarding these matters, which I have cited. Only short notes, though great in quality, remain from them here.


Just as those letters were then printed with references to rabbinic works cited, I have added improved footnotes that refer to somewhat obscure biblical verses, various rabbinic works, and even stylistic expressions that are based on biblical or rabbinic works. In these notes, I have also explained the meaning of words and expressions that belong to the issues and events that were current at the time of the writing. In the appendices at the end of this book, I have appended several more letters of interest to complement and clarify matters mentioned in the letters. According to this format of the Letters, unique in their personal spiritual content, I have held off from expanding on matters in these notes, other than what is connected to the bibliographic references. However, one who delves into them and their sources will find explanation and clarification of his holy words. Furthermore, according to this format I have tried to leave the writing in its original form, including their manner of abbreviation (and for further clarification, given that the letters in general are intended for a broader audience, a list of abbreviations and their explanations is provided at the end of this book), where the word “shalom” is written in his manuscripts without a mem at the end, as is usually the case, and where it is written with the mem, where the letter kaf, when indicating the date of the month, is written as a final kaf and where it is written as a curved kaf, and the various ways in which he signed his name at the end of each letter. In his manuscripts, the alef and lamed of “E-lohim”-derived Names of God are combined together, as was found in print, with the alef missing its left leg and with the upper line of the lamed extending above it.


For the sake of the completeness of the improved edition of the Letters, we have tried to include, in accordance with the purpose clarified above, the holy letters of my father and master, the Rav ob”m, to the degree that we have been able to obtain them. Unfortunately, however, his letters have been copied and preserved only from Kislev 5667 on, and even within this period, many of them, with great practical/academic value and which we still hope to obtain and arrange into forthcoming volumes, please God, even if not in chronological order, seem to be missing or withheld from us. In this volume as well, there were several letters that for whatever reason had to be arranged out of their chronological order. From earlier years, we have obtained only a very limited number of his letters, which appear in this book. With this in mind, I will now list those letters that I know of that are of importance by virtue of their content or the personalities they involve and that we have not yet been able to obtain:


A) His letters to my great uncle, his first father-in-law, the Gaon R. Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim, the Aderet ob”m. Over the course of about twenty years, they constantly exchanged letters, back and forth, regarding matters of Torah and Divine service, communal issues, and practical rabbinics. It can be estimated that aside from their great qualitative value, they can fill several volumes.


B) In addition, his letters to his father, ob”m, and brothers, aside from the matter of their personal nobility, were also filled with similar content.


C) His letters to the Gaon R. Yitzchak Blazer ob”m regarding the study of mussar and pertaining to the appearance of the work Or Yisrael with the writings of the Gaon R. Yisrael Salanter on this matter.


D) His letters to the Gaon R. Shmuel Yaakov Rabinowitz ob”m regarding the arrangement of a hetter iska at the foundation of the Jewish Colonial Bank by the Zionist Federation.


E) His letters to the Jewish Communal Committee of the city of Yaffo regarding their offer and his acceptance of the position of Chief Rabbi there. The deliberations and negotiations on this matter extended for about two years, with letters being exchanged constantly throughout that time, due to delays caused by the Jewish community in Bausk, which attempted, for its own benefit, to prevent his departure, and by the leading sages of Lithuanian Jewry, especially the Geonim R. Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, R. Eliezer Gordon, and R. Ze’ev Ya’avetz ob”m, as well as other rabbis in the area, who contended that it was to the benefit of Judaism and its Russian majority that he remain there. From this great and important affair there have remained only the letters of my great uncle, the Aderet ob”m, several of which are significant in and of themselves; I have arranged them in the appendices at the end of this volume.


F) His letters to the Gaon R. Shmuel Alexandrov shlit”a, over the course of several years, which included responsa and clarifications on Jewish thought, faith, and opinions, Judaism and humanism, of which only the remnants, from 5667 on, remain with us.


G) His letters to the Gaon R. Eliezer Gordon ob”m, who was the head of the rabbinical court and the yeshiva in Telz and who wanted to appoint my father and master, the Rav ob”m, to be the permanent head of guidance and influence in the yeshiva there; only the matter of Eretz Yisrael and the merit of settling therein that came about through the offer to accept the Chief Rabbinate of Yaffo and the surrounding areas that was nearing completion at that time tipped the scales regarding all other wishes and claims.


H) His letters on the matter of the practical rabbinics of Yaffo and the surrounding areas, especially during the first two or three years after his aliya to the Holy Land at the beginning of Sivan 5664. Many matters of practical rabbinics in general and of mitzvot relating to the Land of Israel have also been included. We have only obtained a few of those, and they are presented in this volume.


I thank and acknowledge the following: My uncles, R. Chaim Kook shlit”a, from whom I obtained clarifications of some important information mentioned in the footnotes, R. Shaul-Dana Kook shlit”a, whose great credit for preserving and saving all of the manuscripts of my father and master, the Rav ob”m, here in Yerushalayim during the years of wartime wandering, 5674-8, continues and is supplemented by the current publication project of the Rav ob”m’s manuscripts, and through whom several letters (nos. 4, 5, 7, and 14) as well as several other matters were preserved and provided by him, and R. Shmuel Kook shlit”a, who originally started the procedure of copying and preserving the letters in 5667 and who dealt with the publication of the Rav ob”m’s writings prior to the war, and through whom many of the letters were preserved and provided to us (nos. 6, 9, 11, 13, 15, 23, 39, 41, 43, 79, 81, 82, 85, 86, 104, and 105).


We received Letter 8 from R. S. F. Wohlgelernter of Seattle, WA (U.S.). We received Letter 10 from my uncle, the Gaon R. Yaakov Rabinowitz. Letters 16 and 19 – from R. Yaakov Mordechai Singer of Rishon le-Tzion.


Additionally, the community councils of Rechovot (which was the summer lodging of Rav Kook while he lived in Yaffo) and Chadera agreed to provide us with several letters addressed to them.


Last but not least, our esteemed friends R. Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky (letters 24 and 81), R. Aryeh Levin (letter 3), and R. Dr. Seidel (letters 89-93), who also merited from their special ties to the light of the Torah of Rav Kook and who bask in the shadow of his holiness, have agreed to provide several letters that they preserved.


Above all, my mother and teacher, the righteous Rabbanit Raiza Rivka shlit”a, whose constant service and helpful devotion to the holiness of Rav Kook, whose recall makes it as though Rav Kook is still here with us.


May God grace us with the revealing of the sweetness of His right hand on us and all Israel by speedily establishing, from this place, from the heights of the holy mountain of His estate, which He chose and desired for a dwelling place, and which He will never abandon, welfare and security, redemption and salvation, to encourage and comfort us to doubly compensate for the days of our torment and the years that we countenanced terrifying evil, the venomous atrocities of His anger that was poured out on most of the quality and quantity of His beloved nation, when there arose against us, in the whirlwind of the world war, a flask full of impurity from the nations to destroy us overnight, with the loss of thousands and myriads of us, including giants of Torah, righteous and pure people, chiefs and leaders, sages and scribes, Torah scrolls both written and living, yeshivot that nurtured Torah and its pupils, may God avenge their blood. Our God has left us a small remnant in Zion that has been inscribed for life, and has been sanctified – and now it shall be seen and revealed, from the holy and splendid Temple, the efforts of the prince of Israel in raising the soul of its highest priest … With the expansion of the influence of his Beit Midrash, and the publication of all his writings, may he “be a shield to our brothers of the House of Israel, to unite as with one heart to our Father in Heaven,” may his merit exalt the Torah and the mitzvot, bring about sublime purity and holiness, strength and peace, for good and fulfilled lives for the individual and the community, to raise us from the depths of darkness to the wonder of the great light, in the true redemption and everlasting establishment, that will manifest on His treasured estate speedily in our days, amen.


Zvi Yehuda ha-Kohen Kook


10 Menachem-Av, 5703, Yerushalayim



Several Notes on R. Zvi Yehuda’s Introduction


·        In R. Zvi Yehuda’s opinion, the importance of the letters is that they place the person behind them at the center. As he explains, when studying Torah, we generally are engaged with an object of Torah – the written word, an idea, an issue – and the personality from which it emerged somewhere in the background. The Letters move their author to center stage; the thought is connected to their writer. With this in mind, R. Zvi Yehuda selected only those letters that had a specific addressee, even if it is a group or party. General letters, addressed to the entire nation, do not enter the framework of the Letters, whose basic criteria are their personal character, related to the individual addressee.


·        Toward the end of his tenure in Bausk and the beginning of his tenure in Yaffo, Rav Kook began to write his letters on carbon paper and to keep a copy of them. Thanks to this, we have most of his letters. The rest of his letters have been collected from his various correspondents, either by R. Zvi Yehuda himself or by students and scholars, some of whom have been mentioned. That Rav Kook himself preserved his letters attests to the significance that he attributed to them.


·        Editing the Letters: R. Zvi Yehuda testifies that the letters are brought in their original form, but that he omitted letters to the Jewish people, halakhic decisions, large halakhic discourses (there are letters that are cut off in the middle and whose halakhic content appears in his responsa), and unimportant personal details.


·        Many letters are not available. Some seem to have been lost, some are still scattered amongst various heirs, and some have simply not been published. Hopefully, we will merit their publication.


·        The scope of the Letters: there is a huge number of letters – over two thousand (this number only relates to the letters as defined above). Of course, they are not of equal length or importance.


·        The manner of their writing: Rav Kook wrote about himself that he never erased or emended what he wrote. He wrote continuously, and the words expressed his thoughts well. Without this testimony, it is hard to understand how one person could write so much. It is still amazing (see Shivchei Ha-RAY’H, pp. 138-9).


·        R. Neriya testifies that Rav Kook wrote in pencil so as not to disturb the flow of his writing by dipping the quill in the inkwell (Bi-Sedeh Ha-RAY’H, p. 97).


·        R. Tzuriel recounts (Otzarot Ha-RAY’H, new edition, p. 105) that R. Avraham Zaks calculated that based on the available writings of Rav Kook, he wrote, on average, seven essays in halakha, Jewish thought, or agadda every day. Considering his other activities, this sum is astronomical – but facts are facts!


·        Finally: Regarding the Letters, as well as in other notebooks, there was a debate about how proper it was to publish ideas and other spiritual expressions that were generated in a private and intimate context. Why should the private domain be breached and treated like the public domain? This was one of the problems faced by those with the rights to the “Notebooks” and which prevented their publication for many years. We will bring one responsum of R. Zvi Yehuda and testimony regarding Rav Kook’s own attitude on the matter.


R. Zvi Yehuda explains in his introduction that Rav Kook was an all-encompassing soul who lived his whole live on behalf of the nation. Therefore, in his case, there is no justification for distinguishing the public from the private.


Prior to the publication of Orot ha-Kodesh, when they asked Rav Kook what should be printed, he answered: “According to me, everything should be published! But ask my censors…” I.e., Rav Kook himself wanted to publish all of his writings, even the most personal ones.


VI. Who were Rav Kook’s Correspondents?


Before briefly addressing this, we must acknowledge R. Neriya Gutel shlit”a, who in 5760 published his work Mekhutavei Ha-RAY’H (“Rav Kook’s Correspondents”), in which he conducted the basic work of categorizing, counting, ordering, arranging, and presenting all of the correspondents. One who wishes to do elementary research on the topic of the Letters and the circles close to Rav Kook can refer to this work (mainly up to p. 94). Some of the information presented above was taken from this book, as well as from various other sources.


The Primary Groups of Correspondents:


1. Rabbis – including the greatest Jewish sages and leaders, heads of yeshivot and Chasidic masters, small-time rabbis who asked Rav Kook questions, city rabbis, etc. In Iggerot La-RAY’H, many of the letters that these great sages wrote to Rav Kook are published, including questions to him and responses to his replies.


2. Students – many of the deeper letters were written to the greatest of his students. Foremost amongst them is, of course, his son, R. Zvi Yehuda. After him are R. Charlap, Rabbi of the Shaarei Chesed neighborhood in Yerushalayim, and R. David Cohen, the “Nazir,” whom Rav Kook met in Switzerland. Behind them are two students who were also scholars: R. Moshe Seidel, a biblical scholar, and R. Binyamin Menashe Levin, compiler of Otzar Ha-Geonim. Of course, there were many others. Only a few of their letters to Rav Kook are available.


3. Students, friends, and colleagues – some of the correspondents were men of renown, expert in Torah and Jewish thought, who were influenced by Rav Kook and who kept in touch with him. For example: R. Shmuel Alexandrov, R. Yitzchak Isaac Halevi (the author of Dorot Rishonim), R. Maimon, R. Bar-Ilan, and more. The letters to Alexandrov, a philosopher in his own right, are very important; we have his letters to Rav Kook, which are full of content and were written with great passion.


4. Groups and parties in the Yishuv and throughout Jewry – for example: Tze’irei Yisrael, the pioneers, Mizrachi, and Agudath Israel.


5. Various Jewish leaders and politicians.


6. Regular people, fans from all over the world, and more.


Thus far, we have presented a general preliminary survey. I am convinced that we will get a much better idea of the form and essence of the Letters by studying them over the course of the year.


Next week, please God, we will study Letter 20.


(Translated by Elli Fischer)