Rav Kook: On the Cheap or in Full?

You don’t honor a great man by ignoring a major part of his vision.

Bayit Yehudi recently proposed a national day of commemoration for Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, zt”l. The tone of the proposal reflects the way that dati leumi Israelis often perceive Rav Kook: champion of Jewish national destiny in Eretz Yisrael and sovereign rights therein. In essence, Rav Kook becomes an early practitioner of hasbara with a religious flavor.

This monochromatic view hollows out a major theme in Rav Kook’s thought: the duties and contingency of Jewish nationhood.

“Judaism’s entire purpose,” Rav Kook writes in Orot, “is the illumination of godliness in the purest, brightest form, in its very midst and in the world and life at large, and the completion of this national character, according to its essential spirit, in its historic land.” A corresponding idea is that events in Israel have global effects:

Anything that has to do with Israel is not limited to it, but is just concentrated in Israel, and this core influences the rest. Israel among the nations, the Land of Israel among lands, the Torah of Israel among all beliefs, these are the three centers, where all of life and the light of the world are concentrated, and through which the rest of the world is elevated and hallowed.


…the final goal is not nationalism itself, but rather the aspiration to unite all the inhabitants of the world in one family, ‘that they may all call on the name of the Lord’ (Tzefaniah 3:9). This too requires a special center, nevertheless the purpose is not the center but its effect on broad humanity.

In that vein, Rav Kook observes in Midbar Shur concerning national purpose:

At Mount Sinai, God informed them that they would be a mamlechet kohanim as well as a goy kadosh…Mamlechet kohanim refers to the aspiration to uplift the entire world, so that all will recognize God. The people of Israel will fulfill this mission when they function as kohanim for the world, teaching them God’s ways.

So far there’s nothing here much counter to the aforementioned “rights and destiny” mentality. This, however:

A kingdom of priests ministers to the other nations in order to morally perfect them. So the separation from the nations is itself the greatest unification, in order to benefit the human race. However, if Israel will desert the good, which is the holy Torah, then its nationhood and its territorialism are an abomination before God [emphasis added]…Therefore, several times over, the Torah links the giving of the land to the observance of Torah.

Elsewhere Rav Kook likewise writes, “The b’rit that governs our national and political success was made contingent on observance of the Torah.” In Ein Ayah he affirms:

For Israel, Zion must be ‘the house of the Lord,’ which is to say, walled and protected by boundaries…The influence of other nations within the House of Jacob spells rotting of the House of Israel. We know already what evil has come from turning to foreign philosophies.

And in Orot:

When we regard the connection of Torah to the nation, a covenant was made with the Land and the People that when they cling to the Lord their God, they succeed and develop, sink roots in the Land and prosper; when they stray after foreign gods they are impoverished and fall, the People and the Land are destroyed, and troubles and annihilation follow.

Compare with Rav Kook’s linkage of the 1929 massacres with chillul Shabbat (described at 5:05 here) and alarm at certain immigration patterns (described at 1:21:45 here). He expressed a similar theme after Theodor Herzl’s death:

It [Zionism] is unequipped to realize that the development of Israel’s general [material] aspect is but the foundation for Israel’s singularity…[T]his is not the end goal of Israel, but only a preparation. If this preparation will not submit to the spiritual aspect; if it will not aspire to it, then it is of no more value than the kingdom of Ephraim, “a cake readily devoured” (Hoshea 7:8), because “they abandoned the source of living waters” (Yirmiyahu 2:13), and “Egypt did they call hither, to Assyria did they go” (Hoshea 7:11).

Now consider Israel in 2017. Along with being a high-tech giant with renowned universities and elite military strength:

Can one seriously believe this is the sovereignty that Rav Kook envisioned? What are the consequences for both Israel and the world? Viewed with the above material, the implications are horrifying. Furthermore, juxtapose today’s practices with Rav Kook on paganism and homosexuality:

Rav Kook on the cheap begets warped, conceited nationhood and prolonged suffering. Honored in full, Rav Kook is a path to national justice and global redemption. The stakes are the highest:

“The building of the nation and the discovery of its spirit are one concept, linked to the building of the world, which is disintegrating and longing for a force filled with unity and loftiness, and all of this is found in the soul of Knesset Yisrael.”



Occasional writer, fan of racquet and barbell sports, dabbler of languages

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Myles Kantor

Occasional writer, fan of racquet and barbell sports, dabbler of languages