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Rav Kook

Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Rav Kook
    Book Description:

    Rav Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) was one of the most influential-and controversial-rabbis of the twentieth century. A visionary writer and outstanding rabbinic leader, Kook was a philosopher, mystic, poet, jurist, communal leader, and veritable saint. The first chief rabbi of Jewish Palestine and the founding theologian of religious Zionism, he struggled to understand and shape his revolutionary times. His life and writings resonate with the defining tensions of Jewish life and thought.

    A powerfully original thinker, Rav Kook combined strict traditionalism and an embrace of modernity, Orthodoxy and tolerance, piety and audacity, scholasticism and ecstasy, and passionate nationalism with profound universalism. Though little known in the English-speaking world, his life and teachings are essential to understanding current Israeli politics, contemporary Jewish spirituality, and modern Jewish thought. This biography, the first in English in more than half a century, offers a rich and insightful portrait of the man and his complex legacy. Yehudah Mirsky clears away widespread misunderstandings of Kook's ideas and provides fresh insights into his personality and worldview. Mirsky demonstrates how Kook's richly erudite, dazzlingly poetic writings convey a breathtaking vision in which "the old will become new, and the new will become holy."

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16555-5
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Though he died in 1935, Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook (Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook) still towers in contemporary Israeli politics and Jewish spirituality; neither can properly be understood without him. His controversial life and the colossal body of writing he left behind offer powerful lessons and pose difficult questions. The contradictions of his life and thought are in many ways the defining contradictions of modern Jewish history. The dream of synthesis on which he staked his life—today as elusive as in his time—still, for many, endures.

    Rav Kook is today best known in the West—if at all—as...

  5. 1 “No Ordinary Rabbi”: Grieva, Volozhin, Zeimel, Boisk
    (pp. 7-42)

    Lithuania,Litehin Yiddish, was, from the late eighteenth century onward, an intellectual nerve center of Jewish life, an empire of the mind whose sway ran through the Russian Empire and touched the whole of European Jewry. In the streets of its cities—Vilna (Vilnius), Kovno (Kaunas), Dvinsk (Daugavpils)—and in its small towns and shtetls, the multiple currents of tradition and change met, fought, coupled, and remade themselves in a peculiarly passionate kind of intellectualism, an icy rationalism ringed with fire.

    That cerebral ardor coursed through rabbinic circles where high Talmudism exerted a powerful pull, not least through the...

  6. 2 The New Will Be Holy: Jaffa
    (pp. 43-91)

    The Kook family was met at the Jaffa pier by local notables, representatives of the agricultural settlements and the religious establishment in Jerusalem. Carriages brought the Kooks to their new home on Alroy Street in Neve Zedek, the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the Old City of Jaffa. On the Sabbath, Rav Kook spoke in a local synagogue—not in Yiddish, but in fluid Hebrew—on the theme of loving truth and peace. Early on, he made the rounds of the groups and communities whose needs he would be expected to accommodate— merchants, agricultural pioneers, Chabad Hasidim, Lithuanian ascetics, traditional...

  7. 3 The Mists of Purity
    (pp. 92-120)

    As time went on, Rav Kook’s journals began to take on a life of their own. Beginning around 1910, he took a long hiatus from writing essays, engulfed as he was by the torrent of his thoughts. The private notebooks became his own house of learning, and the text he was studying was his own increasingly complicated soul. He recorded his theological explorations, his religious experiences and attempts to understand them, and the traces of experiences too great for words. He kept journals throughout his life, but eight notebooks written from 1910 to 1919 stand out for their length, passion,...

  8. 4 The Gruesome Rites of Spring: St. Gallen, London, and the Great War
    (pp. 121-156)

    The Kooks arrived in Germany exhausted from their journey. In Berlin, physicians suggested that Rivka stay for some medical treatment and that her husband take the waters at Willingen before proceeding to the Agudat Yisrael conference in Frankfurt. Upon learning of the outbreak of World War I while in Willingen, he returned to Berlin.

    They were among many stranded by the war. On a tram in Berlin, the Kooks met and befriended a younger, and very impressive, Talmudist from Lithuania, Yechiel Ya’akov Weinberg. On hearing of the younger man’s difficult financial straits, Rav Kook turned to his wife, who held...

  9. 5 Dear, Wounded Brothers: Jerusalem
    (pp. 157-217)

    The Kooks returned to a Palestine different from the one they had left. The Turks were gone, replaced by the British—a colonial power pledged, at least in theory, to Jewish aspirations. And in Jewish Palestine, the Zionists were now firmly in charge.

    Two large structural changes, one internal the other external, were fundamentally reshaping the nature of the Yishuv and more. Internally, the energies of the Yishuv were turning from ideology to nation building. The prewar decade of emigration to Palestine, the Second Aliyah, emerged in retrospect as the heroic period of spiritual and philosophical Zionist debate. The chief...

  10. Conclusion: Afterlight
    (pp. 218-240)

    How can we understand and perhaps assess those great religious thinkers who elide normal categories and reshape our intellectual and spiritual worlds? By their lives, their writings, and their teachings—and by the disciples and the institutions they leave behind. But there the slippage begins. The disciples are their own people, and time inevitably shifts the ground under all our feet. Spiritual giants are made great by their complexity, their ineffable and deeply personal mix of audacity and faithfulness. The translation of that nearly untranslatable synthesis into concrete realities is as essential as it is nearly impossible. The results can...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 241-252)
    (pp. 253-256)

    The library of volumes by and about Kook is large and constantly growing. This brief essay offers the merest sampling. The standard edition of Rav Kook’s works, published by Mossad Ha-Rav Kook (the Rabbi Kook Foundation) in Jerusalem, runs to nineteen volumes of essays, letters, halakhic responsa and treatises, Talmudic commentaries, and other writings—this in addition to other collections of essays and teachings that have long been in print. These have in recent years been supplemented by the publication of many works that had remained in manuscript, most significantly a number of his spiritual diaries in their original forms,...

    (pp. 257-260)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 261-273)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 274-276)