Abraham Isaac Kook

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Abraham Isaac Kook (1864 - 1935) was the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate for Palestine, the founder of the (now) Religious Zionist Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav, and a renowned Torah scholar. He is known in Hebrew as הרב אברהם יצחק הכהן קוק HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, and by the acronym HaRaAYaH or simply as "HaRav."

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

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Main article Judaism and Other Religions

Rav Abraham Isaac Kook was the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the Zionist return to the land of Israel. His writings embrace modernism by offering a vision of the restored land of Israel, at once evolutionary and Hegelian while at the same time mystical and messianic. His influence is widespread and influential as a Zionist dream of renewal of religious Judaism.

As for other religions, in my opinion, it is not the goal of Israel's light to uproot or destroy them, just as we do not aim for the general destruction of the world and all its nations, but rather their correction and elevation, the removal of dross. Then, of themselves, they shall join the Source of Israel, from whence a dew of light will flow over them. "And I will take away the blood from his mouth and his detestable things from between his teeth, and he, too, shall remain for our God." (Zechariah 9:7) This applies even to idolatry -- all the more so to those religions that are partially based upon the light of Israel's Torah. (Iggrot ha-Rayah 112)
It is necessary to study all the wisdoms in the world, all ways of life, all different cultures, along with the ethical systems and religions of all nations and languages, so that, with greatness of soul, one will know how to purify them all. (Arpelei Tohar 33)

Rav Kook acknowledges that other nations have other religions, and that many of them are based on the Torah. He obviously does not mean Torah in the narrow sense, but recognition that religions bring God's presence into the world. Their existence is not an obstacle to messianic times, but rather a challenge: It is part of the Jewish messianic task to “elevate” and “purify” the religions along with the entire world. The precise meaning and method of purifying the other religions is left unanswered, shrouded behind the vision of renewal.

Rav Kook does not seem to assign special historical significance to Christianity and Islam for their status as “branches.” In a move that accepts the already-globalizing situation of the early 20th century, even the non-Abrahamic religions contain gold and holiness, which await elevation and unity with the Source of Israel. One can encounter and empirically study them. Yet, it is a Jewish task to purify these other religions. The actual process, however, of study, purification, and unification is left frustratingly vague. Nevertheless, what is clear, though, is that, personally, Rav Kook was able to look at other religions – and even atheism – and see the Truth of Torah within them.


Abraham Isaac Kook was born in Griva, Latvia (a suburb of Daugavpils, then Imperial Russia) in 1865, the oldest of eight children. His father, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Ha-Cohen Kook, was a student of the Volozhin Yeshiva, the "mother of the Lithuanian yeshivas", whereas his maternal grandfather was a member of the Kapust dynasty of the Hassidic movement.

As a child he gained a reputation of being an ilui (prodigy). He entered the Volozhin yeshiva in 1884 at the age of 18, where he became close to the rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netziv). Although he stayed at the yeshiva for only a year and a half, the Netziv has been quoted as saying that if the Volozhin Yeshiva had been founded just to educate Rav Kook, it would have been worthwhile. During his time in the yeshiva, he studied about 18 hours a day.

In 1886, he married Batsheva, the daughter of Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim, (also known as the Aderet), the rabbi of Ponevezh (today's Paneve.z(ys, Lithuania) and later Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. In 1887, at the age of 23, Kook entered his first rabbinical position as rabbi of Zaumel, Lithuania. In 1888, his wife died, and his father-in-law convinced him to marry her cousin, Raize-Rivka, the daughter of the Aderet's twin brother. In 1895 Kook became the rabbi of Bausk (now Bauska). Between 1901 and 1904, he published three articles which anticipate the fully-developed philosophy which he developed in the Land of Israel. During these years he wrote a number of works, most published posthumously, most notably a lengthy commentary on the Aggadot of Tractates Berakhot and Shabbat, titled 'Eyn Ayah' and a brief but powerful book on morality and spirituality, titled 'Mussar Avikhah'.

In 1904, Kook moved to Ottoman Palestine to assume the rabbinical post in Jaffa, which also included responsibility for the new secular Zionist agricultural settlements nearby. His influence on people in different walks of life was already noticeable, as he engaged in kiruv ("Jewish outreach"), thereby creating a greater role for Torah and Halakha into the life of the city and the settlements.

The outbreak of the First World War caught him in Europe, and he was forced to remain in London and Switzerland for the remainder of the war. While there, he was involved in the activities which led to the Balfour Declaration, 1917. Upon returning, he was appointed the Rabbi of Jerusalem, and soon after, as first Chief Rabbi in 1921. Kook founded a yeshiva, Mercaz HaRav Kook (popularly known as "Mercaz haRav"), in Jerusalem in 1924. He was a master of Halakha in the strictest sense, while at the same time possessing an unusual openness to new ideas. This drew many religious and non­religious people to him, but also led to widespread misunderstanding of his ideas. He wrote prolifically on both Halakha and Jewish thought, and his books and personality continued to influence many even after his death in Jerusalem in 1935.

Israeli postal stamp commemorating Rabbi Kook

Kook built bridges of communication and political alliances between the various Jewish sectors, including the secular Zionist leadership, the Religious Zionists, and more traditional non-Zionist Orthodox Jews. He believed that the modern movement to re-establish Israel as a state had profound theological significance. Per this ideology, the youthful, secular and even anti-religious Labor Zionist pioneers halutzim were a part of a grand divine scheme whereby the land and people of Israel were finally being redeemed from the 2,000 year exile (galut) by all manner of Jews who sacrificed themselves for the cause of building up the physical land, as laying the groundwork for the ultimate spiritual messianic redemption of world Jewry. He once commented that the establishment of the Chief Rabbinate was the first step towards the re-establishment of the Sanhedrin.

His empathy towards the anti-religious elements aroused the suspicions of his more traditionalist haredi opponents, particularly that of the traditional rabbinical establishment that had functioned from the time of Turkey's control of greater Palestine, whose paramount leader was Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, Kook's greatest rabbinical rival. Kook once quoted a rabbinic axiom that "one should embrace with the right hand and rebuff with the left". He remarked that he was fully capable of rejecting, but since there were enough rejecters, he was fulfilling the role of embracer. However, Kook far from embraced all of the elements of modern Zionism. He was critical of the secularists when they went "too far" in desecrating the Torah, for instance, by not observing the Sabbath or kosher laws.

Kook fathered three children through his two wives: two daughters and a son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook. His nephew was Hillel Kook.


Relationship with Religious Zionism

While Rav Kook has been exalted as one of the most important thinkers in Religious Zionism, there is substantial evidence that he never saw himself or his ideas in these terms. Indeed, there are several prominent quotes in which Kook is quite critical of the Religious Zionists (Mizrachi), whom he saw as naive and perhaps hypocritical in attempting to synthesize traditional Judaism with a modern and largely secular ideology. In one letter, he said:

"This gave rise not long ago to the Mizrachi association. But this is not a complete remedy, since in the end we are still strengthening secular Zionism....We can never guard ourselves from the influence of the secularists......How then are the Mizrachim protected from the evil influence of lawless Zionism on their children!"

Rather than being seen as a Religious Zionist leader or proponent, Kook should be properly understood as a pragmatic consensus-builder. Kook never shied away from criticizing his peers, including the Zionists (religious and secular), as well as the increasingly cloistered traditionalists living in the Holy Land, whose way of life he characterized as being similarly affected by the negative and abnormal conditions of the Jewish exile, and therefore just as "inauthentic" as that of their Zionist counterparts. Kook was interested in outreach and cooperation between different groups and types of Jews, and saw both the good and bad in each of them. His sympathy for them as fellow Jews should not be misinterpreted as any inherent endorsement of their ideas, Zionists or otherwise. That said, Kook's willingness to engage in joint-projects (for instance, his participation in the Chief Rabbinate) with the secular Zionist leadership must be seen as differentiating him from many of his traditionalist peers. In terms of practical results, it would not be incorrect to characterize Kook as being, at the least, a proto-Zionist. Rightly or wrongly, his perceived openness to the Zionist movement can be seen as a major stepping-stone to the Religious Zionist movement gaining momentum and legitimacy after his death.

The Israeli moshav Kfar Haroe, founded in 1934, was named after Kook, "Haroe" being the Hebrew acronym הרא"ה – "HaRav Avraham HaCohen". His son Zvi Yehuda Kook, who was substantially more explicit in his Zionism, took over teaching duties at Merkaz Harav after his death, and dedicated his life to interpreting and disseminating his father's philosophy. Kook's popular image as a Religious Zionist can be partially attributed to his son's wide influence in the Religious Zionist community, and substantial success in combining his father's teachings with his own beliefs.

External links



  • Olat Raiyah, Commentary on the Siddur
  • Igorot HaRaiyah, The Collected Letters of Rav Kook
  • Orot HaKodesh
  • Ayin Aiyah, Commentary on Ayin Yaakov the Aggadic sections of the Talmud.
  • Orot, Abraham Isaac Kook, translation Bezalel Naor, Jason Aronson 1993. ISBN 1-56821-017-5
  • Orot ha-teshuvah, Abraham Isaac Kook, translation Alter Ben-Zion Metzger, Bloch Pub. Co., 1968. ASIN B0006DXU94
  • Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems, translation Ben Zion Bokser, Paulist Press 1978. ISBN 0-8091-2159-X
  • The Essential Writings of Abraham Isaac Kook, translation Ben Zion Bokser, Ben Yehuda Press 2006 (reprint). ISBN 0-9769862-3-X
  • Gold from the Land of Israel: A New Light on the Weekly Torah Portion From the Writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, by Rabbi Chanan Morrison, Urim Publications 2006. ISBN 965-7108-92-6


  • The Philosophy of Rabbi Kook, Zvi Yaron, Eliner Library, 1992.
  • Essays on the Thought and Philosophy of Rabbi Kook, ed. Ezra Gellman, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8386-3452-4
  • The World of Rav Kook's Thought, Shalom Carmy, Avi-Chai Publishers, 1991. ISBN 0-9623723-2-3
  • Rav Avraham Itzhak HaCohen Kook: Between Rationalism and Mysticism, Benjamin Ish-Shalom, translation Ora Wiskind Elper, SUNY Press, 1993. ISBN 0-7914-1369-1