Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Rav Kook

Rav Kook's problems were twofold:

(1) The support of Zionism, not only in the form of support, but making it into a central theme of Judaism;

(2) His creating his own system of values against the Torah. If someone was the biggest Apikores and enemy of Hashem, as long as he would "work the land" if Israel, Rav Kook considered him holy. The soccer players, mechalelei shabbos b'farhesia, were to Rav Kook, "holy". He did not mean "Tzelem Elokim" holy, but rather, because they assisted the Zionist cause they were "holy", regardless of their status according to the Torah. The Chofetz Chaim remarked in disgust, "Kook Shmook!" when he read of such a quote from him.

PS - Nobody can take away anyone's title, though there were those who ruled that nobody may listen to Rav Kook's psakim. Those who disagreed did so not because they supported his outrageous positions, but rather because they held that outrageous positions do not disqualify the legitimate Torah thoughts that he had.


Rav Kook was criticized on numerous fronts. First, his Zionism was declared as against the Torah. Then there were statements he made about non-religious Jews, even enemies of religion being holy because they did things like build Eretz Yisroel, and other such problematic things.

There were those who held that those beliefs made Rav Kook a plain Apikores and it is forbidden to listen to his Torahs altogether; others held that his non-Hashkafic Torahs are OK to use but his Hashkafic opinions are rejected; the Mizrachi (Zionists) held from him completely.

He definitely was a great Talmid Chacham, but he was considered (but not by the Mizrachi) as another Talmid-Chacham that was sadly brought down by the Satan, like Korach (who actually possessed Ruach HaKodesh), Yeravam ben Nevat, Shabse Tzvi, and others like them.

Different Gedolim had different opinions about how to treat him. There were those who definitely considered him a full fledged villain, others held differently.

But that's not the point. The comparison to Yeravam is intended to explain how a man of such advanced Torah scholarship can be off the derech. My answer was that people of even higher caliber went off the derech, so it is possible to happen here too. Therefore, if you are correct, that Rav Kook did not fall as far as those others, you have supported my point even more. Because if such great people can fall as far as Yeravam did, surely they can fall as far as Rav Kook did.

Second, Korach had the Roshei HaSanhedrin on his side, who we can assume were greater than all the prominent rabbonim who supported Rav Kook. So just because someone has prominent rabbis respecting him doesn’t mean he’s not a villain, nor does it mean Rav Kook cannot be compared to any of those others, since they, too, had the respect of many great Tzadikim.
(Rashi didn't say the Roshei Sanhedrin had a vested interest in Korach's legitimacy. Merely that they benefited from his money, which is legal tender whether he is legitimate or not. His donations were not contingent upon his being a Tzadik.)

In the days of Korach, too, someone could have said, "Would these great Roshei Sanhedrin respect a terrible villain? So Korach can’t be bad!"

So the possibility of being a villain as great as Korach or Yeravam still exists despite having great Tzadikim respecting you


Great people originally thought Shabse Tzvi was Moshaich; that Rav Yonason Eyebushitz was a follower of Shabse Tzvi; that the Ramchal was a heretic and a villain; and more.

This happens for many reasons. The Maharsha (Gittin 56a) explains that if the followers are not worthy, Hashem will, as a punishment, make the leaders foolish. The Hafla'ah says the same thing. This has happened even in the days of Chazal. If the generation is not worthy, Hashem blinds the eyes of its leaders. This is a punishment for the generation, not necessarily an imperfection in the leaders.

And "vested interest" doesn't have to have financial value. The Marahrashdam writes that, regarding the Halachah of following the majority, that it only applies if the entire group sat down together to discuss the issue, and the majority of people within the group decided one way. But if individuals decided amongst themselves without discussing it previously in a group setting, that is not considered a majority, since everyone did not hear the counter arguments. And, he continues, once you decide one way or the other, it is too late to then get together with the group, because once you formed your opinion, you have a vested interest not to change it.

Of course, I do not mean to say that any specific person has any vested interests in anything. Rather, that a disagreement such as this cannot be diluted by saying Rav Kook had people who respected him, since history - and the Halachah - shows that having good people respect you is not proof of your legitimacy. It does not disprove those who say he was a villain even if he had great people who respected him. That has happened in the past, even with villains.

And especially with Rav Kook in particular, where during the earlier part of his career, his objectionable statements were not yet made by him, or not yet publicized.


The issue over here is not Rav Kook's Zionistic ideas. That was unanimously agreed upon by the great Gedolim to be terribly misguided. Like I said, the Gedolei Yisroel were dead against creating a Jewish State. Only the Mizrachi was for it. Nobody else. That his ideas are heresy there was not much disagreement. The issue is, does having such ideas make him personally a heretic? Or merely misguided? Is he to be ignored or disgraced? That is the disagreement.


Having a mesorah means having Rebbeim and Rebbeim of those rebbeim who handed down your positions. Yet Rav Kook had no such thing. No predecessors or line of tradition that he was continuing. If such a tradition exists in our religion, how come nobody except Rav Kook ever heard of it?

Rav Kooks' position was created by himself, as opposed to any such chain of tradition.

The Chofetz Chaim's dismissal of him ("Kook, Shmook!" is the exact quote) doesn't sound like something that paragon of Shemiras Halashon would say about someone following a legitimate Mesorah, no? Or Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld's description of him as a "Purim Rav the whole year". Yet both do not come close to the blunt labels of villain, apikores, and kofer that other Gedolim heaped upon him.

There are numerous opinions about Rav Kook, but none of them claim he was merely following a "different mesorah" than we are. He was either sadly mistaken, misled, a simple apikores, or, as the Zionists hold, correct.

Where would such an alternate mesorah come from? Who are its sources? No, there is no such mesorah.


As I said, different Gedolim had different opinions about Rav Kook. The Satmar Rav ZTL rules clearly that he had the status of an Apikores.

He bases this on a number of statements of Rav Kook that he says he saw first hand in his (Rav Kooks) writings, which include, it seems, statements about the non-frum Jews, probably the soccer players.

True he did not say they do not have to be frum, but he did say that their playing soccer in Israel is enough to make them praiseworthy to Hashem (Hanosen l'yaef Koach etc.) and holy even though they are total atheists and the soccer playing actually takes place on Shabbos.

That's pretty bad, and nobody disagrees with that. It's much worse than a misconstruing of the "pintele yid".

The Satmar Rav quotes Rabbeinu Yonah in Brachos who explains why, if a Chazan skips the blessing of V'lamalshinim we suspect he is a Apikores, even though if someone skips Techiyas Hameisim we do not suspect him for denying Techiyas Hameisim.

This is because if someone refrains from cursing the Apikorsim we suspect he is one of them, even if the person may be the Gadol Hador (as was the case in the Gemora). But if a person skips Techiyas Hameisim there is no such suspicion.

Therefore, he says, if someone considers them holy and praiseworthy he surely is not cursing them when he should be...

Agree or disagree, that’s his position, based on Halachic grounds.

Also, a "toeh b’shikul hadaas" becomes a plain Apikores when it was possible for him to have seen his mistake and willfully - due to vested interest or otherwise - espoused anti-Torah ideas.

Rav Kook was perceived by this group of Gedolim to have been way above the empty arguments he put forth on behalf of Zionism and his other deviant ideas. He was perceived as trying to fit a square peg into a round hole for the sake of Zionism.

Regarding Rav Hutner, it is true that when he was young he was a Talmid of Rav Kook, and that Rav Kook had a tremendous influence on him, in many ways. However, as time went on, Rav Hutner changed his position towards Rav Kook drastically, distancing himself from him in very obvious ways. He never, ever quoted Rav Kook in any of his Maamarim or Seforim or Shiurim in Yeshiva. In the '60's he took down Rav Kook's picture that he once had in his Sukkah - a public statement.

Although he definitely did not publicly humiliate Rav Kook, but he made sure not to give him any public honor, either, despite his being a Talmid. He made sure that his students knew that he felt Rav Kook was wrong.


The Imrei Emes said that he had a letter from Rav Kook retracting his statement about the soccer players. Not because it was misunderstood, but simply because he regretted it. And some other statements in his books as well.

However, as an Odom Godol said to the Imrei Emes about that:

The whole world has his books - with the statements - and only the Imrei Emes has this letter. If the whole world would have the letter and only the Imrei Emes the books, that would be fine. But he publicly made statements, wrote them in his books, people built their lifestyles on them - and then, in private, he tells one person that he regrets it.

But the public still has the old version!

Rav Kook never publicly retracted the statements that he said publicly. It is altogether possible that he regretted everything he said, but if nobody knows what his "new" policies are - and they are still following the old policies, he still has mislead the masses of people.

Many of his followers even deny that Rav Kook ever wrote such a letter. In any case, a public policy cannot be retracted privately. His followers are still following his public policies, and even if there is a "Rav Kook" who we don’t know, who regretted a lot of what he said, the "Rav Kook" that is being followed in Mizrachi circles is the well-known, public one.


Rav Zonnenfeld contacted the Satmar Rav enlisting his help against Rav Kook. The Satmar Rav's response to Rav Zonnenfeld is printed in the Teshuvos Divrei Yoel. That Teshuva contains the strongest of statements that I have ever seen against Rav Kook. In there he does say that in light of the things Rav Kook wrote and said it obvious that one may not rely on his psakim in any way whatsoever. But at the time the Satmar Rav was not yet head of the Edah Hachareidis, so I do not know whether the Edah made that Teshuva their official position.


Rav Kook's vast knowledge of Torah, which is not contested, does not diminish the accuracy of the charges leveled against him. The contention is that he is a Torah giant like Korach and Yeravam, and Shabse Tzvi, all from who we see that a person's Torah learning is no guarantee of reliability.

The charges against Rav Kook are that he believed in values that are directly opposed to those of the Torah, most prominently the idea that people who do not believe in G-d, are not even Tinokos Shenishbu, and are even anti-Torah, are considered "holy", if they contribute, physically and not even spiritually, to the building up of civilization in Eretz Yisroel, and will do teshuva because they live there. Then there are the other super-Zionist teachings, and bizarre things in that direction, things about Moshiach and the like. (There are other strange teachings as well, though less conflicting with basic Torah principles, such as his ideas about vegetarianism and other things, but they are irrelevant to this discussion).

The problem is that the quality of his Torah and reasoning for his conclusions in these areas are much much weaker than his Torah in other, non-Zionistic areas, so much so that if we would not know better, we would say that they for sure were not said by him.

But unfortunately we know they were. They are in his seforim, and well documented. And, again, we are not talking about plain errors or mistakes - everyone can blunder, even the greatest - we are talking about values and hashkafos and statements that are against the very fundamentals of our Torah, the simplest being that Mitzvos make you holy and aveiros make you unholy. It’s like Aleph Bais. And nobody, including Rav Kook, has ever come up with anything close to making sense out of this.

The stories written about Gedolim praising him are mostly undocumented. The true ones, however, if you check them out, mostly took place before he came out with and spread the problematic Torahs. As you said, he was known as a prodigy. Things changed as he developed and publicized his teachings.


Rav Yeruchim Gorelik ZTL, a Rosh Yeshiva in Yeshiva University, used to tell how when he was a boy, he and his father were by the Chofetz Chaim when the Chofetz Chaim unwrapped the fish he was about to eat from the newspaper that the fish merchant wrapped it in. In that paper, the Chofetz Chaim saw quoted Rav Kook's famous statements about the heretical soccer players in Israel, about how holy they are because they’re building up the land etc. The Chofetz Chaim made a fist, and said "Kook? Kook shmook!"

Basically, he's not even worth thinking about what he said. A simple but effective dismissal.

That's from the Chofetz Chaim. Whether you are going to consider him an Apikores for making such statements of not, we certainly reject the statements themselves, in nothing but the strongest terms.

The Chofetz Chaim's statement of Kook Shmook being a "ridicule, not a cherem" does not mean the Chofetz Chaim did NOT consider him a machti es harabim. It was not the Chofetz Chaim's halachic ruling on Rav Kook, merely a one-time reaction.

That story was told over first hand in public countless times, and Rav Berel Soloveichik in Brisk of Yerushalayim used to tell it to his Talmidim as an example of what the Chofetz Chaim held of Rav Kook.

That is from the paragon of Shemiras Halashon. That and the statement that the Zionists were real Amalekim.
If the Chofetz Chaim was not deterred from saying such things, it means there is nothing wrong with saying it. And that is because that idea of Rav Kook's, that those who desecrate Hashem's name, desecrate His holy day, and step on the Torah are holy because of some involvement in real estate development in Eretz yisroel, is so unholy and so against the Torah that the Chofetz Chaim was teaching us what our reaction should be: "Kook shmook."

Don't forget also - that Rav Kook was accepted a lot more before he started with the Zionism thing. Many Gedolim were impressed with him - he was indeed an impressive person - but changed their tune about him after he started with the stuff about the soccer players and the Zionism.

And that was not the worst thing that was said about Rav Kook. The Satmar Rav ZTL writes that Rav Kooks seforim are full of Apikorsus, and it is clearly prohibited to use him as a rabbi regarding any issue at all.


Rav Kook was accused of making up these teachings ex nihilo. It is those teachings that one would have to find a source for. Finding more sourceless teachings doesn't help the case.


Besides the soccer players, we're talking about the very idea that a State of Israel itself is not only a holy thing, but it constitutes the "birth" or "rebirth" of the nation; that Eretz Yisroel wants even reshayim to come - and of course if they do they will end up doing Teshuva; that nowadays, in ikvesa demeshicha, most reashayim, even apikorsim, are not in the category of al tischaber larasha afilu lekarvo teTorah, but rather have neshomos from the "olam hatohu" (and he can tell which is which, by the way) which are higher than the neshomos of regular people (from the "olam hatikun") and therefore, we don’t apply to them the prayer of velmalshinim, but rather we bring them in close; that it is a mitzvah to love kofrim; that those Tzadikim who do not do this but rather fulfill what Tzadikim have been doing for all generations who did not know all of this, it is because Hashem puts hatred in their hearts against these people to make them stay away from them in order not to be influenced, but talmidei chachamim who are higher than them realize that they are not to be distanced but brought close; that people coming to Eretz Yisroel nowadays and making a yishuv there and a state are actually fulfilling kibutz goliyos; and it is worth even being maikel in halachah (I.e. heteirim of dochek) in order to have this state and this yishuv because not doing so postpones the coming of Moshiach; hashkaficly and halachicly he held that a Jewish State and yishuv in EY nowadays versus not having them is comparable in numerous ways to the difference between golus and geulah (e.g. he says that it is not reasonable that because of shmitah Jews should be unable to live in eretz yiosroel, because just as Chazal say that it is not reasonable that the violation of an issur derabonon caused the churban bayis sheini and golus - and so the shagas aryeh proves that birkas haTorah is doraisa because if it were derabonon we would not have incurred golus due to lo barchu baTorah tachilah - so too since nowadays shmitah is derabonon it cannot be that we should have to fulfill shmitah in a way that it would prevent Jews from living in eretz yisroel due to hardship, since we see that an issur derabonon cannot cause churban bayis and golus). The list does not end.



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