Tag Archives: Rav Kook

Rav Kook on religion and other religions- from the new book

Time to actually start reading the new work of Rav Kook.- for details on the new work, see here. This is a first draft and it will go through many revisions to translation and explanation in the upcoming days. Help me think through the implications of chapter eight.

Rabbi Kook in his recently published work LeNevuchei HaZeman seeks to answers the philosophic question of his era, specifically the problems created by his reading of the Hebrew summaries of the thought of Spinoza, Schopenhauer, and Hegel. His Hebrew is forced to find words to express the ideas of German idealism and many of his transliterations and linguistic coinages are no longer used.

In dealing with the thought of the Hegel, Kook is forced to deal with the status of other religions. For Hegel, Christianity is the world historical religion and other religions like Roman religion or Judaism have already passed their time to contribute to the civilization of the world. Hegel also assumes that Christianity is best for mediating of the finite and the infinite, the past and the future, and the ethical in society. Rav Kook solves the problem for his reader in the simple apologetic manner by stating that Judaism is the world historic religion and is best for mediating the logic of the unfolding of the Divine idea.

Rabbi Kook, however, is most innovative in creating a positive role for the other monotheistic faiths. He states in unequivocal terms that God cares about the people of the world and Christianity and Islam are needed to bring perfection to the world. Centuries before Maimonides had offered an inclusive model in which God in His inscrutable designs which we cannot understand used the other religions to bring knowledge of God to the world. Here the plan is not inscrutable but makes perfect sense since every nation needs its God as part of God’s concern for humanity.

In chapter eight of the new book, we have a desire to offer an understanding (verstehen) of the phenomena of religion. The value of religion is to be judged based on the rise of consciousness, which Rav Kook identifies with prophecy. He deems prophecy the peak of the sciences and the path to human perfection. He also accepts Hegel’s glorification of death as the transcending of the self, in Rav Kook’s language as part of attaining the world-to-come. “Eternal life also is dependent on the perfection of man in the powers of body and mind.” The goal of society is to transcend Enlightenment brotherhood and reach a restoration of the unity of infinite and finite, man and animal as portrayed in the Biblical story of the garden of Eden.

It is fit to elucidate an understanding of religion in general.

Which religion is identified as Divine, in which there is a complete obligation to all those who follow it as part of the nation(s) whose ancestors accepted that religion to practice and keep it? And which [religion] is it possible to pronounce upon it an value of error to the point where it is impossible to obligate anyone of pure knowledge to maintain it .

The principle of prophecy is the most complete science in its clarification and necessity that is possible in the necessity of history.
As long as humanity still needs guidance, as long as the world is not filled with knowledge until every individual finds complete clarification the entirety of consciousness from his own self-understanding. Then he is elevated from the universal faith to clarified unified knowledge…. As long as death still rules a person to embitter his life and to steal his tranquility….However, an era will surely come of the perfection of man in which it wont be sufficient that every person will recognize all humanity all brothers and friend. But will also recognize the sublime consciousness of which the Torah describes at the start of the creation of man. (29)

The matter is understood that the obligation of religion is from a special reception and warrant from prophecy, which passed from Moses. Today, we are no longer able to attain this form of consciousness except by means of an inner desire and self-consciousness in love. Even then, [the prophecy or religion] is uncertain if consciousness can find a place for mizvot to use them for a sublime purpose or not.

Rav Kook’s use of prophecy as a translation of self-consciousness does indeed allow one to create a Hegelian Judaism. Most Jewish Hegelians were into the History and here we have an interest in the Phenomenology. Kook’s understanding of consciousness as prophecy would has the potential to mediate mediate and modern thought. If followed it would have been similar to the Islamic scholars Corbin or Nasr who do not relinquish prophecy. Rav Kook holds that in the world to come after the resurrection of dead-then everyone will be a prophet. Yet he questions the role of Mizvot at that time. At this point, his position seems closer the position which he rejects in his letter to Alexandrov. The weak point in his theory is that rather than giving us a phenomenology of prophecy, he says that we lost most of the details and criteria. It is kinda hard claiming prophecy as the epitome of the sciences if one does not give the details.

To return to his original question, he answers that any religion that helps in the evolution of humanity is needed and one should respect them. Since he already acknowledged that they can have prophecy, he extends his thought and states that other religions can even have sensory wonders and signs based on Divine influence in order to lead humanity forward.

Consider, the religion which gives the possibility to arrange the sublime evolution of mankind to be absolute truth. But with every religion that serves idolatry – there is no certain hope to arrive at this level. Behold only the knowledge of unity of God can perfect humanity to congregate in a single spiritual center to create a representational central place, a place of peace and love. But in the mistake of idolatry this hope of perfection is lost. [This hope is] only in the Torah of Israel and the Torah that draws from it. 29-30

Consider, that the religions that draw from their own, it is not fit to looking upon them in an ungenerous manner. It is possible to be that from their foundations a divine influx is given in order that they should be engaged in incorporating a significant part of humanity in what is fitting to them. From this perspective of purpose it is possible that certain matters of sensory wonders if needed to strengthen them since the matter concerns all of humanity because God’s hand is outstretched from the beginning of creation until its end. However, the side of error mixed into them is nothing except what is impossible to be grounded in them as their principle nature of their guidance to the final perfection to find a single spirituality in the world.

The matter is understood that except for Israel there is no nation in the world that has absolute merit over another from the perspective of spiritual acquisitions of ethics and Divine religion.
The opinions rooted in the books of Christians and Muslims that state that the value of Israel is transcended, forefend, needs to be nullified in order for humanity to arrive at its rationale and eternal purpose.
But the status of the inner ethic there is in every religion to enlighten and to benefit it is fitting to respect… they are engaged in the worship of God according to their arrangement.

He grants Christians and Muslims an independent status. Whereas Franz Rosenzweig starting from the same Hegelian premises gave the task of perfection of the world and space to Christians and left Jews in the eternal unity, Rav Kook sees everyone working toward the perfection of humanity. Until the eschaton, the other religions play a role in the divine plan for the world. And in his reading of the Jewish sources defective forms of Biblical monotheism or prophecy are still valuable as base for those religions. Their understanding of the principles of religion are sufficient for them even if we differ in the details. The Trinity is not a false god but the God of Israel “Even if they mix in imagination” or “weaker understanding.’

Every nation has its own religion, and weakening a nations religion weakens the state. We should support those that are organized based on their national history and national concepts. Conversion weakens a nation but shows the inner striving of people to find the best inner moral qualities. Other religions are only good for those born into them since because the concepts are rotted in the soul, But they are not for Jews whose souls contain pure ideas of God.

In chapter thirty, he returns to some of these them and states that religions are not to be judged on the practical details, rather on their power for the future, their ability to aid in the evolution of mankind.

In chapter fifty two, he states that our concept of tolerance is based on the need for everything playing a part in perfection. Therefore, a gentile that learns Torah, in the sense of the idea of God, is like a high priest. Rav Kook connects this idea to prophecy and revelation and says that Torah from Heaven is the pillar of religious freedom and freedom of the spirit because true faith transcends any one finite category. Finally, he gives us a few cryptic lines that he thinks disproves the radicals among the Biblical critics because it is a historic fact that the knowledge of God destroyed the ancient idolatry. And this activity of negating idolatry and bringing knowledge of God was “mit-ha-beret im sefer Torah.”

What is he refuting, considering the Bible as primitive? What does “mit-ha-beret im sefer Torah.” mean?
Folks, help me unpack the meaning and value of these new writings

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

New unpublished Rav Kook

My reader Paul Shaviv showed up earlier this week and left the blogging equivalent of a baby in a basket in a comment on my About page. He posted a link to a pdf of one of the new Rav Kook works that have been recently transcribed. I had assumed that this was already discussed and linked elsewhere.

Rav Kook left behind scores of notebooks of his thoughts. Many of those notebooks were used by the Nazir to create Orot Hakodesh as an editor’s synthesis. Others were used by R Zvi Yehudah to produce a different voice for Rav Kook. Recently, some of these notebooks have been published as Shemonah Kevatzim. In the last few years, even more material has come forth from the archives creating a serious academic and Merkaz haRav world debate on why were they hidden until now? what was edited out? Does it change our view of Rav Kook?

For those of us in the field, none of this is new. It is the bread and butter of academic conferences. Back in summer 2009 at the World Congress for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem when others were heading home already, I attended session 352 held in the evening in the Senate room located away from the other sessions . The session was dedicated to the editorial changes and changes over time in rav Kook’s thought. The speakers were Neriah Gutel, Yehudah Mrsky, Udi Avramovitch and Bitty Yehudah. And the audience was the entire cabal of Rav Kook experts (minus a few for specific personal reasons.) Their papers and the discussion afterwards discussed all the debated issues of what do we learn from these new volumes? How was Rav Kook’s vision different at the beginning? And what was consciously changed and censored?

Everyone had already read Avinoam Rozenak’s Hidden Diaries and New Discoveries: The Life and Thought of Rabbi A. I. Kook Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies – Volume 25, Number 3, Spring 2007, pp. 111-147, which first appeared in Hebrew. Rozenak showed that some of these writing had a more antinomian element to them and that the editors were more conservative.

So here is the 250 page pdf of one new books, Harav Kook- leNevuchai Hazeman The work starts off following the Guide of the Perplexed for content but then veers off course. Very little of it is new, we have seen almost all of the paragraphs or at least the ideas before in his other works. What we gain is a turn a phrase here, a named interlocutor there, and an alternative organization illuminating Rav Kook’s thought pattern.

We also have two recent articles in Kipa [in Hebrew]. One used the aforementioned Udi Avramovitch as its expert source. Udi finds the volume more radical than the printed version and he finds a greater identity of God’s will and the will of the people. He also claims that in this work Rav Kook claims a value for other religions and that they worship the one true God. The second article quotes the army and settlement Rabbi Yosef Kellner that the book is essential to read but they are confining distribution, and here is a letter by Rav Kellner about the book.

Rav Kook started the volume while still in Europe and finished it in Jaffa. The book starts off discussing the image of God as volition- will. Human have a will to make manifest as creativity in the world. Yes, Schopenhauer’s definition of man as the guide for our generation. (Along the way Spinoza is deftly defeated by the volition of R. Moses Hayyim Luzatto)The second chapter tells me that Saadayah and Maimonides saw that books of sectarians (minim) multiplied so they were compelled to write philosophic works. That does not inspire me in its understanding of the medieval but tells me more about Rav Kook. In a later chapter, he tells me that “all revolutions are good for clearing away the small minded people and narrow visions” with a later in the paragraph phrase that “they all follow the pure knowledge of God” Holy Hegelian Marxist! What do I do with these grapplings with the sectarian writings of German Idealists for a Torah for the 21st century?

Can we use this as a guide for social revolution now? Well, let look at what he said about the problem of favoritism, corruption and cronyism in rabbinic courts. Rav Kook was against any change to the institutional fabric and rejected secular oversight or higher courts to oversee lower batai din, threatening to return to the R. Hayyim Sonnenfeld camp. What of women in modern world? He did not think women should vote or study Torah. What of secular studies? The new diaries show that he encouraged his inner circle to avoid the wisdom of the gentiles and stick to the prophetic Torah.

Furthermore, we tend to read Rav Kook as if he is the one pushing the envelope on the potential diffusion of God’s light in a new age. Rather than responding to forgotten correspondents who were more radical than he was like R Shmuel Alexandrov or R. Moshe Seidel. These newly released versions, at first reading, will make it easier to find the original dialogue partner. As you read through it, let me know if you find any especially unique passages or if you can detect changes from the beginning to the end of the writing process.

For the meaning of these writings, I await the series of new scholarly articles that will be written in the next few years. The one thing these writings do show is his concern with making a new passionate Jew beyond cognitive focus of the Eastern European beit midrash. A new Jew concerned with volition, inner voice, volkgeist, a new age, love, and seeking a new knowledge of God.

Immediate Update– both the article in Kipa and the file of Rav Kook have been take down, the link wont work. I can understand the removal of the unpublished book, but what benign or nefarious power took down a current news article. If anyone knows then please let me know. The article in Kipah is cached and one can still get to the Headline but not the article. Friends in Israel, what’s the story?
Next Update– I just posted the pdf from my saved copy and the articles reappeared with minor changes.

Aleksandrov, Rav Kook, Buddhism, and Gentile Religion

I subscribe to the VBM shiur by Tamir Granot on the letters of Rav Kook. Currently, the discussion is a letter of Rav Kook to Shmuel Aleksandrov on the topic of modern philosophy and the wisdom of other religions. The shiur is entirely from Rav Kook’s perspective, I want to add a little background on Alexandrov and the give Alexandrov’s perspective.

The initial letter from him is in Samuel Alexandrov, Mikhteve meḥḳar u-viḳoret: al devar ha-Yahadut ṿeha-rabanut ba-zeman ha-aḥaron (Yerushalaim: M. ṿe-G. Aleksandrov 1931). The first volume of Mikhteve Mehkar from 1906 is readily available, but the 1931 second volume is missing from JTSA and YU, rumored by a catalog to be at Penn and seems to only really exist in the US at Harvard. However, it is available in several copies at JNUL. Most of the following is from Alexandrov’s letter.

Rabbi Shmuel Aleksandrov (d. 1941) had been a close friend of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook in Volozhin, where they both studied. Unlike Kook, Aleksandrov never left Russia, and became a rabbi in Bobruisk. Until his death at the hands of the Germans in 1941, Aleksandrov was a spiritual leader to many rabbis, particularly during the severe religious persecutions of the 1920s and ’30s in the USSR.

Aleksandrov propounded a grand theory of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, containing deep roots in the Kabbalah and Maharal. According to Aleksandrov, of the two trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, the former is an exclusively Jewish possession, i.e. Torah, while the Tree of Knowledge belongs to the Gentiles. Among its fruits are scientific-technical progress, philosophy, and art. Nevertheless, there exists a mystical exchange of the fruits of both trees. By giving to the world the fruits of the Tree of Life, Jews consecrate the Gentile world, while simultaneously Jews receive from the Gentiles the fruits of vital knowledge and ideas.

Among these ideas of the nations, Alexandrov especially seeks to find a place for the wisdom learned from other religions, specifically the idea of Buddhist nothingness. Aleksandrov claimed that one universal truth forms the basis of all religions; hence, the Buddhist concept of nirvana and Hasidic concept of ayin point to the same concept in different words. He made this assertion based not on the study of texts nor from encountering Buddhists, but rather from the conceptualizations of religion found in the writings of Schelling and Schopenhauer.

Alexandrov postulates a universal religion given by Moses and reiterated by Plato,that overcomes the abstract intellect knowledge of contemporary knowledge by incorporating emotional and psychological knowledge, and offering individual salvation.

Aleksandrov reinterprets the thought of his forefather the Maharal to suggest a complementary movement between Israel and the nations, rather than an antagonistic struggle. For Alexandrov, the dialectic of Israel and the nations, presented by Maharal, will be overcome at the end of days when all national differences will be abolished by the coming of the Messiah.

Rabbi Kook found this approach to concede too much to universalism. Rav Kook responded to Aleksandrov’s universal claims with a inclusivist claim that all truth is from Judaism, and in other places states that Jews can elevate the light in other faiths. Here, Rav Kook presents his view of God as not the monotheism of the philosophers, rather the light, the spectrum of colors, and Edenic watering of the Zohar. Rav Kook accentuates the Schopenhauer pessimism of Buddhism and states that even Buddhists want to get beyond the pessimism of this world. (Google Schopenhauer and Buddhism for more details). I don’t have a scan of Alexandrov in my computer but I will cite Rav Kook as in the VBM shuir and another paragraph from latter in the same letter. He writes:

Monotheism is a fabrication of gentiles, an imprecise translation, a sort of self-contradictory comprehensible infinity, and therefore can lead to nothing. This is not the source of the name of the God of Israel, the infinite, incomprehensible root of all existence, because He is the existence of the world who can be comprehended and spoken of only through the nuances of colors through many deeds and abundant peace, his profusion of love and courage. Israel proclaims, “This is my God and I will adore Him,” and can see these [colors], not the barren wilderness of Islamic monotheism, nor Buddhism’s negation, only the highest existence which brings joy to all and gives life to everything, revealed through the subjective revelation of all hearts who seek and comprehend him.

As for the reality of nothingness in the statements of those of Buddhist leanings, it seems that they mean the reality of the force which aspires to negate and nullify absolutely…Jewish consciousness, however, in the goodness of God’s knowledge, brings about a recognition of the absolute reality. …Thus we find that even this contradiction between Buddhism and Judaism is not absolute opposites, because reality as viewed without God is everywhere evil and bitter, and in its midst lies the longing for absolute negation, which will in the end be fulfilled.

Aleksandrov had observed that Jews throughout history acquired knowledge from the wisdom all of nations during the exile, and claimed that contemporary Jews can continue this process through study of Buddhism and other religions. Rav Kook, on the other hand, found all of religion in Judaism, minimizing any need to study other religions.

This debate played itself out in their differing concepts of religion. For Aleksandrov, an infinite inner core of the Divine resides behind the particular Jewish commandments; the current versions express the infinite by limiting it to concrete forms. In contrast, for Rav Kook, the commandments in their concrete particular forms contain an infinite essence that needs to be brought into daily life.
For Aleksandrov, Judaism and its commandments are themselves limits on the infinite Divine, while for Rav Kook the commandments are the very conduits of the infinite.

Once we move beyond the 19th century German idealism of the debate – what value does this debate hold for today? Any Thoughts?
On the subject of Buddhism and Judaism, here was one of my very first posts on this blog – The first Jewish reference to the Dalai Lama.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Tu bShevat Seder -with Text

One year on tu b’shevat someone (a second career retiree) brought Rav Soloveitchik some bokser before shiur. After chuckling, Rav Soloveitchik told a story about how Rabbi DZ Hoffman would ask on his oral semikha exams – where is Tu bshevat in the shulkan arukh? (ANS-tahanun). Then someone (I don’t remember who) mentioned that Rav Kook on is exams would ask: what to do when you fnd a mistake in the Torah during Torah-reading?

Tu bshevat generated a piyyut for the amidah – found in the Cairo Genizah and is mentioned already by the Maharil in the 15th century. But by the end of the 17th century, in grand baroque age, the holiday generated a detailed seder of collecting 30 fruits. (There is a ton of painfully incorrect history about Tu bShevat on the web)

Twenty years ago, it was still hard to collect 30 fruits. But with the revolution in eating habits and the opening of new markets (Fairway, Whole Foods) one can now collect 30 fruits with ease. In 19th century Russia, even mid-summer one could with great difficulty only collect half the number.

It has made a come-back in certain circles. The seder will probably remain limited in its practitioners for a variety of reasons.

1] To collect 30 fruits based a set typology is a very tactile, crunchy, foody, techie activity. Most American Orthodox Jews don’t regularly shop for papaya, fresh lychees, gooseberries, dragon fruit,  guavas, tamarind fruit, hickory nuts, and kumquats.

2] The seder assumes that one is comfortable with Zohar as one’s table talk. In America, this limits it to academics, Renewal Jews, Neo-Hasidim, and Moroccans.

3] The seder is a performance ritual. Most modern orthodox Jews have a difficult time with ritual. performance. Watch them struggle to get into hoshanot.

4] One has to have a visionary and narrative religion.

5] One has to have a meaningful understanding, beyond rationalism and irrationalism, of tikkunim, theurgy, magic, and religious cause and effect.

6] When you are told that Rav Kook avoided onions because they are all kelipot – it must resonate with you. .

Once, when Rav Abraham Kook was walking in the fields, lost deep in thought, the young student with him inadvertently plucked a leaf off a branch. Rav Kook was visibly shaken by this act, and turning to his companion he said gently, “Believe me when I tell you I never simply pluck a leaf or a blade of grass or any living thing, unless I have to.” He explained further, “Every part of the vegetable world is singing a song and breathing forth a secret of the divine mystery of the Creation.” For the first time the young student understood what it means to show compassion to all creatures. (Wisdom of the Mystics)

For those emailing me requesting sources:

Here is the traditional Pri Etz Hadar in English. This is the entire Seder- go for this.

Hillel Collegiate shortened version

A Chabad crib sheet

A nice article- with footnotes Tu Bishvat in Contemporary Rabbinical Literature

Reb Shlomo on Tu Bshevat

Excursus on Hemdat Yamim.The printed edition of the seder comes from the beautiful work Hemdat Yamim, which teaches the “customs of Safed” in a first person narrative, pretending to be a 16th century person from Safed. .According to current research, the work includes quotes of various Kabbalist customs from 1550 to 1715 from a variety of kabbalistic groups in Jerusalem, Safed, Italy, Turkey, Greece, and Amsterdam. Much of this material was attributed to the Ari, since anything based on Safed must be Ari. In this 150 period, there are over 300 little minhag books of Safed custom. Hemdat Yamin has many of them and collates them for us. To do any serious work on these customs one has to really be prepared to look at a large number of these books.

Isaiah Tishby places the editor in the circle of Kabbalists from Smyrna, and Benayahu attributed it to one member of the group, Israel Yaakov Al Ghazi, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem.

The book mixes customs based on Cordovero, Luria, Azikiri, ibn Makir, the Peri Hadash of Amsterdam, Nathan of Gaza and others. A recent article by Moshe Fogel in JSJT, shows that even if it has Sabbatian hymns written by Nathan of Gaza (such as the Atkinah Seudata for Yom Tov), it has no explicit Sabbatian theology or belief in Shabbati Zevi. And for those following Lithuanian tradition,  both the Gra and Haayim of Volozhin accepted Hemdat Yamim.

(Think of using a potential Sabbatian custom as similar to the tune to Birkat Hamazon sung today in every Day School, which was commissioned by Mordechai Kaplan. It does not make those schools into Reconstructionist ideologically. It only shows that there are cultural overlaps and that one is part of a larger set of concerns called American Jewry. )

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved