Since the death of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook, efforts have been made to vilify his image, and present him as a nefarious fanatic * This character assassination was done deliberately by the secular Left, because he had thwarted their dream of ruling over the state, and society * Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda did indeed influence the borders of the state and the shaping of the image of religious Zionism, but all of this was achieved by means of clarifying ’emunah’ (faith) and love of Israel * There are those among the religious public who believe in this distorted image, adopting a dark and narrow outlook, and claiming that this is the path of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda * However, the evidence of his encounters with anti-religious groups, Reform Jews, and even Catholic priests, proves his openness and breadth of perspective
In honor of the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook ztz”l (14 Adar 5742, Purim 1982), it is fitting to recall the luminous figure of the man who merited to successfully continue his great father, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook ztz”l, and clarify and establish the Torah of Redemption. As a result, he elevated the exalted virtue of Torah study among the national-religious public, to the point where tens of hundreds of yeshivot, mechinot (army preparatory yeshivas), midrashot and ulpanot (seminaries), for both men and women, were established on account of him and his disciples, and thus, the national-religious public became a major and influential factor in Israeli society, to the extent that it changed the map of the Land of Israel by means of the expansion of settlements in Judea and Samaria, and the Golan Heights.
The Deliberate Vilification of His Image
Over the years his character has been tarnished. He was portrayed as narrow-minded, zealous nationalist, who constricted and distorted his father’s broad teachings. True, he was of firm character, but he was also of firm character in his broad-minded perspective and in the love of Israel and of man, and was uncommonly welcoming and generous.
Even so, he was an ideological opponent of the intellectuals on the Left, and in fact, his spiritual efforts disrupted their political plan to withdraw from Judea and Samaria, and thwarted their plot to uproot the Torah and all things sacred from Israel’s revived culture. In the course of his spiritual efforts, he did not have them in mind at all – he was engaged in Torah and ‘emunah‘ (faith) for the sake of ‘Klal Yisrael’ (all of the Jewish people), but his actions destroyed their plans for withdrawal and destruction. They knew that if it had not been for him, the State of Israel would have withdrawn from Judea and Samaria, the national-religious public would have remained marginal, and the ideas of ‘emunah’ would have been exploited as a meaningless ornament in the life of Israeli society. As a result, from their point of view, he was their enemy.
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda was not adept at organization, but in his Torah greatness he clarified the foundations of ‘emunah‘ and determined the value of the mitzvah of settling the Land within the broad context of the Jewish people’s destiny – to reveal the Torah in all the actual spheres of life of the nation, in both the spiritual and material realms. From this, he determined that one must be ready to sacrifice his life for the settling of the Land of Israel. These fundamentals, after having been profoundly clarified by him, became a crucial factor on the national and international agenda.
Many years after he passed away, the false account of him being narrow-minded and an extremist man began to influence some of the religious society, who believes that Torah truth resides in the narrow-minded Haredi view, and all that needs to be inserted, in their opinion, is merely the mitzvah of ‘yishuv ha’aretz’ (the commandment to settle the Land) in its restricted understanding, and nothing more. Today, such people are prone to conduct religious wars in his name. Therefore, it is fitting to go back and take look at his luminous figure, and at the less-known aspects of Rav Tzvi Yehuda to the general public.
His Position against Religious Coercion
From newspaper interviews he gave:
Q: Rabbi, it is known that you were a supporter of the ‘League for the Prevention of Religious Coercion’.
Rabbi Kook: “Correct. I said at the time to the members of the ‘League’ that they were absolutely right: I hate religious coercion. With what sort of justice, and with what kind of integrity can one impose religion on a person? … To my dismay, it later turned out that among the group were some who hated religion … but in the sense of opposing coercion, they are truly righteous, and there was a mutual understanding between us. Some good advice was given to the members of the ‘League for the Prevention of Religious Coercion’ around this table.”
Q: Rabbi, do you think that there is religious coercion in the state?
Rabbi Kook: “I once said that matters in the country are managed by the Knesset. There is no other democratic way to arrange matters. And if laws are passed by them – they should be honored; this is not coercion.”
Q: But nevertheless, as a result of the recent coalition agreement, the polarization between religious and secular has increased.
Rabbeinu: “We, thank God, increase love among Jews in our circles; this was the way of Abba ztz”l, which I continue. We need to increase ‘ahava‘(love) and ’emunah‘(faith) …”
Other things he said in an interview with Shivti Daniel (Hatzofeh, 10 Av 5733 (1973), quoted in “Maracha Ha’Tziburit” pg. 61-62):
“From my personal experience I am aware that intellectuals and people of mind and spirit are sending out feelers of ‘teshuva’ … Of course, the turning point doesn’t occur in one day… It is an internal and slow process, but it exists and influences, returning quite a few to the source of the Torah …I believe that the majority of Jews are connected to tradition, including those that seem to be the furthest away … If they saw in all Jews a model of faith and love of Israel, integrity, and benevolence, certainly the rapprochement would be immeasurably greater. Just recently, the Prime Minister (Golda Meir) said that if the tragedy of a split between religion and state occurs, the ultra-Orthodox Haredim from ‘Aguda’ would be guiltier than the secular Jews. To my great dismay, this is the situation: those people, in their narrow, faith-limited ‘Haredi-ism’, pushing for divisiveness – are delaying the return of Jews to Torah and mitzvoth”, from “Maracha Ha’Tziburit” edited by Rabbi Yosef Bramson, pg. 122).
A Principled Position that was Strongly Expressed
Seeing as this is a sensitive issue which must be dealt with precisely, I will bring additional quotes from another book “Mashmiya Yeshua”, written by leading rabbis who were Rav Kook’s students (p. 221):
“The ‘League for the Prevention of Religious Coercion’ was founded after the establishment of the State in order to fight religious coercion. When Rabbi Kook heard about it, he asked to join. He paid a membership fee of one lira – which was not a small sum of money in those times. The first receipt issued, number one, was in his name.
In regards to his participation in the group, Rabbi Kook addressed the issue in a meeting of hundreds of rabbis for the organization and functioning of the Chief Rabbinate as an independent body, he said: “As far as the Torah is concerned, there is no room in our current situation for any religious coercion whatsoever, let alone the Haredi terrorism of personal coercion.”
In another quote: “In internal conversations in the Yeshiva, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda explained that his membership in the league is based on his fundamental view that one must educate and bring Jews closer to Torah, but one should not force religious matters. After a few years, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda cancelled his membership in the League. He explained why by saying that it functions as a league for anti-religious coercion, and not as a league against religious coercion.”
In other words, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah’s support for the struggle against religious coercion was profound and fundamental, to the point where the first membership receipt to the ‘League against Religious Coercion’ was in his name.
When Rav Tzvi Yehuda Expressed Appreciation to the “Canaanites”
It is further written in the book “Mashmiya Yeshua” (page 221): “The author, Aharon Amir, said: “During the British Mandate, we established the ‘Young Hebrew’s Movement’, which advocated creating a new people in the Land whose outlook was directed to the future, without any connection to the past. A new nation that would influence all countries surrounding it. The resistance to our movement was great. The detractors called us ‘Canaanites’, and slandered us by saying that we danced naked in front of idols.”
“We began publishing a magazine called ‘Alef’, but we did not receive a license to publish it, and other newspapers called for the public to ignore this journal. After we published two issues, one in the year 1959, and the other in 1968, I received a letter from Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, saying that he was interested in meeting me. I arrived at his apartment bareheaded, without a kippa, but from what I saw, my appearance did not affect him, and he received me with great warmth. He explained to me that in our view of the Land of Israel as being a central point, he agreed with us … Rabbi Kook revealed to me an all-embracing worldview, and I, who found great interest in the ideological clarity, began visiting him every two months. On every occasion I came to see him, he received me warmly.”
“These meetings lasted for a number of years, until we stopped issuing ‘Alef’. But my impression of his personality, his broad and deep vision, and his actual and consistent worldview, has accompanied me to this day.”
Rabbi Menachem Froman added: “The members of the Canaanite group were educated people, among them poets, but they were anti-religious extremists … in one of our first meetings, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda described himself as having a certain affinity to the opinions of the Canaanites. I was amazed, because I knew how extreme they were. But Rav Tzvi Yehuda explained his position thoroughly. The fact that they were ‘apikorsim‘ (heretics), he claimed, was not a ‘chiddush‘ (novelty), because there were ‘apikorsim‘. However, the idea that a Jew living in the Land of Israel is completely different from a Jew living in exile, is a very important idea. They, the Canaanites, were the ones emphasizing this important matter of a Jew who lives in his country on his Land, and for this, they are worthy of appreciation.”
A Meeting with Priests in the Yeshiva
Several times, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda spoke in his classes about his meeting with Protestant Christian religious leaders. However, I do not wish to embrace the content of this issue, rather, to address the very openness of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda of holding such a meeting, and sharing it with his students. This is what he said: “A few years ago, I received a letter from the Jewish Agency informing me that a large group of non-Jewish professors from America was about to visit the Holy Land. They wanted to stay in Israel in order to get to know the State of Israel and meet with the residents. They asked me to meet with them. I responded willingly. After a while it turned out that they were professors of religion, Christian theologians and Protestants. I could not change my mind, because I had already agreed. They arrived – hundreds of them! Old and young, men and women. They filled the room in the old building of the Yeshiva, crowded, very respectable people. A friend of mine, Herbert Reinach, a Reform rabbi, served as a translator from Hebrew to English “(Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehuda”, volume “Am Yisrael”, pg. 167, pp. 167 ff.)
In order to put things in perspective, many of the guests actually served as priests, as Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda mentioned to us several times. After he learned that these were the guests, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda could have moved the meeting to another place. Nevertheless, he held the meeting in the old Yeshiva. He also did not refrain from telling his students that he had a friend – a “Reform rabbi”, who helped him with translating. The contents of the conversation are interesting as well, and Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda spoke of universal elements of Israel’s faith. Even when they asked sensitive questions, he answered honestly while respecting their honor, refrained from insulting their religion, and held a friendly atmosphere.
And Nonetheless – Firm in his Position
At the same time, he was firm, as Rabbi Professor Nachum Rakover testified: “At a meeting held at the home of Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim, the son of Rabbi Nissim (Prof. Benayahu) introduced a well-known Kabbalah researcher to Rabbi Yitzchak. At that very moment, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah turned his face away, because of what our Sages said: “One should not look at the face of a wicked person.” The Rabbi Kook responded in this manner because of an item published in a newspaper in the name of that same researcher, who said that he does not believe in God” (‘Mashmiya Yeshua’, pg. 220).
In other words, although Rav Tzvi Yehuda was broad-minded and a loving a person, especially with regard to decent and educated people, when a person engaged in Torah and Kabbalah chooses to publicly announce publicly that he does not believe – such disrespect and wickedness in his position cannot be forgiven. Surely, if he had met him long after that interview, or had heard a nod of remorse from him, he would have welcomed him graciously.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://revivimen.yhb.org.il/