Sunday 29 April 2018


R. Pinchas Hirschprung 1912-1998.

In the cold Canadian winter of 1982, I was ordained by R. Pinchas Hirschprung (1912-1998), Chief Rabbi of Montreal.

I ascended the short flight of stairs to his brown faced apartment with great trepidation because I had heard that he knew the entire Talmud by heart. I left with a feeling of elation that wouldn’t go away for days. And the time I spent alone with him has been indelibly ingrained upon my memory.

I remember vividly sitting on the couch on the left while R. Hirschprung sat opposite me and tested me, surrounded by hundreds of books. 

I showed him a summary I had worked on for over a year of the relevant sections I was tested on, and he was visibly intrigued by my method of colour-coding the Mechaber, Shach and Taz in black, blue and red respectively.

He tested me on four separate occasions, in a mixture of Yiddish and Hebrew - and I was so nervous yet enthralled to be in the presence of a man who never put a book on his shelf until he had studied it from cover to cover - that when I left I forgot to even ask for my certificate. He had to inquire as to whether or not I wanted ‘a piece of paper?’

Although I never knew it at the time, this was his story:


R. Pinchas Hirschprung was born in Dukla, Poland in 1912.

His first teacher was his own grandfather, R. Dovid Tzvi Zehman, who was also the teacher of the Klausenberger Rebbe[1].


This picture shows a young Pinchas (on the left) with two fellow students at Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin.

Later, R. Hirschprung’s teacher was the renowned R. Meir Shapiro[2] who was the head of Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva, and also the founder of the Daf Yomi programme.

R. Meir Shapiro had a special relationship with his young student Pinchas and said that although still a teenager, he knew all the 2,200[3] folios (or 4,400 pages) of the Talmud by heart.

[Years later, in 1985 at a siyum at the conclusion of the study of all the Tractates of the Talmud, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren spoke and said that R. Hirschprung was the only person alive who knew the entire Talmud by heart.]

R. Meir Shapiro said of his young student: “It would have been worth opening the Yeshivah (of Chachmei Lublin) just for Pinchas from Dukla.

When the young Pinchas was just thirteen years old he wrote his first sefer, entitled Pri Pinchas and soon thereafter, at the age of 16, he edited the prestigious Cracow Torah Journal known as Ohel Torah.

After R. Meir Shapiro passed away in 1933, R. Hirschprung was charged with the task of testing the applicants to Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin, who had to know 400 pages of Talmud by heart.

R. Hirschprung would later tell that on one occasion, when his teacher, R. Meir Shapiro applied for a job as a community rabbi after the previous rabbi had passed away, he first went to the rabbi’s grave to seek ‘permission’ to take his position. Someone observed this strange conduct and asked teasingly, “What did the rabbi tell you?” To which R. Shapiro replied, “He didn’t say no!”

Many decades later, yeshiva students would frequently use R. Hirschprung as a living encyclopaedia. His number was freely displayed on the board and they would call him up - without wasting time on formalities – and ask him where certain Talmudic sources could be found. He would provide the information right down to where on the page the source was situated and then hang up.


During World War II, R. Hirschprung managed to escape to Kobe, Japan, and then he went on to Shanghai. In 1941 he arrived in Canada on the last boat to leave before the attack on Pearl Harbour.
Although a very private person, he soon thereafter published his memoirs[4], later known as The Vale Tears, which became one of the first examples of Holocaust memoirs written during the actual time of the annihilation of European Jewry.

He wrote his memoirs despite being advised not to write such an honest emotional account as this was ‘demeaning to a Talmid Chacham’. He disagreed and said: “I told myself that it was in no way demeaning for a Torah student to fulfill the commandment to ‘remember what Amalek did to you’ by describing at least a bit of what I’d seen with my own eyes.

It has been said that it was fortunate that his memoirs were not translated by ArtScroll or some other Chareidi publication as they would most likely have omitted some of R. Hirschprung’s profoundly honest and personal accounts:

On p. 156 of his book, he writes that he once woke up late, past noon, and “recited the morning prayers far too late.”   On p. 222 he writes that due to his emotional fatigue while running from the Nazis, he once even considered suicide.

On p. 221 he tells how the renowned R. Chaim Grodzinski was not concerned about Lithuania losing its independence. This was soon to be proven incorrect.

Furthermore, on p. 246 he writes how R. Chaim Grodzinski told him that he and his Yeshiva should remain in Vilna and not take visas which had just become available in order to leave. R. Hirschprung records that had they taken that advice they would most certainly have all been killed.

He described how a Christian woman who, when watching the Jewish exodus from his hometown, Dukla, shouted to the Nazis, “The Jews’ G-d is here. He who took revenge on Pharaoh, Haman, Titus, and Sancheriv… will also take revenge on you.”

Years later, he told his wife that there wasn't a day that went by that he didn't think about the war. But what was most surprising for all was that R. Hirschprung never spoke about the memoirs he had written[5]
Most people didn’t even know it existed until a close friend brought a copy of his writing to the shivah house after R. Hirschprung has passed away. Only then did his book become known and it was soon thereafter translated into English.


There was a side to R. Hirschprung that not too many people are aware of.  It is true that he is remembered as a scholar who rarely left the study hall, but, according to A. M. Kline he was also: Proficient in the Polish language, with a knowledge of German and as much Latin as Shakespeare had. The culture of Europe had not been foreign to him… The Rabbi had occasion to refer to the writings and doings of such varied worthies as Diogenes, Plato, Spinoza, Heine, Shakespeare, Lessing, and Kant.  Of the writings of Freud he has made a special study…”[8]
This came as a great surprise to me because I would never have imagined that he was grounded in such disciplines. But it makes sense now because he had a unique way of relating to ideas and people that was rather exceptional. I couldn’t put a finger on it but he somehow always seemed to be even wiser than he let on to be.

While on the run from the Nazis he once said: “If I survive this war, I’ll dedicate my whole life to Torah.” Perhaps this is why he was not known to have pursued his interest in secular studies.


According to Professor Ira Robinson[9], as a young man, R. Hirschprung read books on socialism and had always believed in a more just political and economic system. He recalled his early brush with communism when, while journeying across Soviet-Occupied Eastern Poland, he received a lift by a group of Red Army soldiers and obviously got involved in deep political and philosophical discussions.

This must be understood in a historical context, where in 1944, prior to the Cold War, there was an alliance between Western democracies and the then Soviet Union. And at that time many Jews (including Canadian Jews) had sympathy for the Soviet Union.


A student of R. Hirschprung asked him if he could name his newborn son, Shalom after his deceased father who called Shalom. The problem was that he had already named his daughter, who was born some years earlier, Shulamit also after his father.

R. Hirschprung immediately referred his student to Rashi’s commentary on the Talmud[6] where it tells of Rav Chisda who had two sons who both went by the same name.[7]

From this, he ruled that it is quite permissible to give the same name to two children.

Whilst in Kobe, Japan, during his escape from the Nazis, R. Hirschprung wrote a letter asking for help for him and his friends to be saved and brought to America. He writes about the terrible suffering they were undergoing and points out his displeasure about his previous pleas which had been ignored.
The plea for rescue from Kobe, Japan.

For me it is quite emotional to see how little his handwriting had changed when forty years later he wrote out a Smicha certificate for me:

R. Pinchas Hirschprung would often remark: “You never have to ask me to do a favour. Just tell me what to do for you.


I meet the most wonderful people through Kotzkblog.  The following are excerpts of some of the memories that Edward Trapunski has kindly shared with me. He grew up in a secular family on the same street at R. Hirschprung during the 1950s. Edward is a professional writer and has written columns in Jewish newspapers. He is the director of the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards.

"The Hirschprung family lived on Edward Charles Street in Montreal and so did my family. I was born in 1947 and we moved away from Edward Charles in 1956. So I was 9 years old. 

I vaguely remember playing with the children on the street. We lived at 407 Edward Charles near Hutchinson and the Hirschprung family lived further up the street closer to Querbes in a bigger house. Down the street at the corner of Park Avenue and Edward Charles (Avenue du Parc and Edouard Charles) was the yeshiva which was the first yeshiva in Montreal. The Chasidim hadn’t started to settle in Montreal yet. R. Hirschprung would walk down Edward Charles to the yeshiva.

If my father was alive he could tell you more. R. Hirschprung was the head of the Vaad Ha’ir or the Vaad Harabonnim. He was in effect the chief rabbi of Montreal. The Vaad has evolved into being the governing body for kashrut, but back then it was involved in all aspects of Jewish life, not just kashrut but also education, mutual aid – everything.

The Vaad merged the Orthodox and the secular. My father was secular and very involved in the Jewish community so they interacted. He had so much respect for R. Hirschprung that when my father referred to him it was like the scene in the movie To Kill A Mockingbird. “Stand up your father is passing.” 

I don’t remember R. Hirschprung with a white beard. I remember a big black beard. 

Years later I was involved in producing a television documentary for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called A Coat of Many Colours. I had to arrange to film a Shabbos dinner. I got in touch with Zale Newman who was then starting Aish HaTorah. It turned out his wife was one of R. Hirschsprung daughters and she remembered me. (We filmed the Shabbos dinner on a Thursday.)

My friend Vivian Felson translated Vale of Tears into English. You might want to talk to her and also to Pierre Anctil who is the scholar who is most conversant with the history of the Jewish community in Montreal. Vivian translated his book from French to English.

I know that the archives at the Jewish Public Library in Montreal has a collection on R. Hirschprung."

Edward Trapunski.

[1] R. Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam.
[2] Also known as the Lubliner Rav. He was the first Orthodox rabbi to become a member of the Polish Parliament.
[3] Some put the number at 2,711 pages.
[4] The memoirs were entitled Zichronos fun a Palit (Memoirs of a refugee). This was later translated into English under the title Vale of Tears.
[5] Some of these appeared as a 100-part series in a Canadian Yiddish newspaper.
[6] Ketuvot 89b.
[7] They called the older one Mar Kashishah and the younger one Mar Yanukah, in order to differentiate between the two.
[8] A.M. Klein’s 1942 review of R. Hirschprung’s book Vale of Tears.
[9] Ira Robinson is a professor of religion and director of the Concordia Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies.

Sunday 22 April 2018


Mishna Berurah by R. Yisrael Meir haCohen of Radin, also known as the Chafetz Chaim (1838-1933).


R. Yisrael Meir (haCohen)  Kagan of Radin (1838-1933) also known as the Chafetz Chaim, wrote a commentary on the Orach Chaim (daily conduct) section of the Shulchan Aruch of R. Yosef Karo. He called his commentary the ‘Mishna Berura’.

Since then, the Mishna Berura has been hailed, in many circles, as the ‘final word’ on Halachic practices for the modern era.


Professor Benjamin Brown, in his post-doctoral studies at Harvard University, has done extensive research into the Mishna Berura, and I have drawn from much of his vast knowledge on the subject[1]:

While the Mishna Berura is often regarded as one of the stricter of the more recent Halachic works, he points out that this characterization may not be not entirely correct.

The Mishna Berurah generally gives various interpretations of a law, often progressing from relatively lenient to stricter readings of a ruling. Although it is true that the Mishna Berura does frequently say that the ‘stricter ruling is preferable’, it is important to note that the student is not necessarily expected to always follow the stricter ruling.


Professor Brown coined the phrase ‘soft stringency’ to emphasize that the author was only encouraging the student to follow the stricter approach but was not prescribing it. He also calls it the ‘democratization of Halacha’ because the student is free to choose where in the spectrum between extreme stringency and moderate leniency he wants to place himself.


His research analysed and compared the number of times the Mishna Berura used expressions of encouragement towards ‘soft stringency’ as opposed to the number of times the other codifiers used similar expressions (all within the same Orach Chaim section):

Table showing how frequently the different codifiers used expressions encouraging stringencies.

As can be seen from the Table, the use of expressions such as ‘it is appropriate to adopt the stringent opinion’ is far greater in the Mishna Berura than in any of the earlier Halachic codifiers. He uses these expressions up to 21 times more frequently than the other writers.

While on the surface, this may seem to imply that the Chafetz Chaim was, therefore, stricter than all his predecessors - however, on a deeper level it shows how open he was for the individual to choose his position from within the ‘leniency-stringency spectrum’.


Thus, the rather unique pedagogical style of the Mishna Berura was to enumerate the views of the main Halachic authorities from the most lenient to the strictest – and then to suggest the student follow the stricter view. However, because the ruling was not conclusively decided, it is clear that the student was still free to ‘choose’ another ruling more appropriate to his circumstances and personality if he so wished and he would not be considered to have broken the law.

Professor Brown writes that the Mishna Berura: “...actually offers the reader an array of conduct options from which he may pick the one that seems right for him. 

This choice is not altogether free, since the Hafetz Hayim shows a clear indication to one side of the spectrum - the stringent – and encourages the reader to follow it, but still, the soft language of the ruling suggests that if one follows the other side of the spectrum, the lenient, he will not sin, since there are trustworthy authorities that may back his choice...

It breaks the normal dichotomy’t do, and establishes a norm of desirable behaviour – ‘one should do...’ The that there are preferred behaviours that are not complete duties and therefore cannot be imposed on an entire community...Those who do not aspire to this level or cannot achieve it can opt to reject the soft stringency. 

Thus the soft stringency...ironically often creates an opening for leniency.


The abovementioned thesis is actually supported by the Mishna Berura’s son, R. Arye Leib, who wrote:

Many good people might think that my father of blessed memory ruled stringently in every matter in order to comply with all opinions...In reality, this was not the case. My father was stringent only for himself, but for others he was not stringent. He thoroughly researched every law, brought a variety of opinions...all in order to be lenient.”[2]

This makes the Mishna Berura rather unique compared to the other codes because instead of focusing on arriving at a definitive conclusion, it was often prepared to give the student some degree of autonomy.


While the earlier codifiers were generally writing their law for judges and scholars, the Mishna Berura was a bold attempt to present Halacha to the student. This is borne out by the Introduction to the Mishna Berura which clearly states that this work was written for “a common Jew who needs to know a particular law...”.  

Compare that, by way of contradistinction, to R. Yosef Karo who wrote in his Introduction to his Beit Yosef that “the value of the work for scholars is clear.[3]

In fact, the Mishna Berura’s son, R. Arye Leib wrote: “The Orach Chaim section of the Shulchan Aruch is not addressed to the legal authorities...this section of the Shulchan Aruch belongs to the common people.”[4]

It must be pointed out the Mishna Berura was not side-stepping the scholars who obviously would always have to be consulted in difficult cases.


Although scholars would obviously have to be consulted in difficult cases, the Chafetz Chaim was, nevertheless, very in tune with the common people and the realities of his day. He wrote other works also specifically aimed at ordinary Jews who found themselves in changing circumstances. These included Machanei Yisrael for Jews who found themselves drafted into the Russian army – and Nidachei Yisrael for Jews who were emigrating to America. 

Originally, he did not want to publish the latter book in Europe because “the leniencies that we permit for the wanderers are not appropriate for those who dwell in the security of their locations (in Europe).”[5]

All the above indicates quite strongly that the Mishna Berura was conscious of the need for leniencies in various circumstances and that he did not intend a ‘one size fits all’ approach towards Halacha.


It is important to note, however, that this is not the way much of the Chareidi or ultra-Orthodox community view the Mishna Berura

(Note: Reference to Chareidim is here intended to refer to the more extreme adherents of the movement.)

Most people are unaware that today, the Chareidim represent the largest segment of the religious population and are growing rapidly. Recently, for the first time, the numbers of ultra-Orthodox have exceeded the numbers of the more centrist Orthodox community. Those familiar with this community will know that they clearly lean to the side of stringencies in all areas of Jewish law.

The irony, though, is that as a general rule, they claim their adherence to stringencies as a direct result of the influence from the Mishna Berura.

Anecdotally, some months ago I was giving a Halacha class to my congregants and was using, as a source text, the Peninei Halacha of R. Eliezer Melamed. A young (as it happens moderately) Chareidi teenager, who was visiting from abroad, got up, walked to the bookshelf and took out a Mishna Berura and dramatically placed it in front of me in the middle of the shiur and informed me, in no uncertain terms, that: “This is the only proper Halacha!

Incidentally, a common Chareidi response for not celebrating Israel’s Independence Day is that they follow the Mishna Berura (d. 1933!) and he did not mandate its commemoration!


The Chareidi movement, relies heavily on the notion of Da’at Torah: - where the autonomy of the individual and his thinking have no inherent value in and of themselves; – where the Rebbe or Gadol makes decisions on all areas of life even and sometimes particularly outside of Torah matters such as relationships, finances, health matters and work (often prohibiting the latter). See Contemporary Daas Torah.

Within the more extreme segments of the Chareidi movement, there is absolutely no room for an individual to exercise his choice on Halachic matters - in the way the Mishna Berura appears to have intended it - particularly if they want to still be considered part of the group.

Professor Brown, who grew up in Bnei Brak, writes that the bookstores of Bnei Brak and Jerusalem are teeming with thick books expounding on the minutia of Halacha. Not just details but unprecedented details within details.

He writes: “While one might think that such works are designed to empower the individual to make decisions without posing halachic questions to rabbis, the books themselves prove the opposite. Almost every introduction to these works includes a conventional warning that one should never use the book to decide practical halachic questions by himself, but rather should ask a halachic authority about any question that arises.”

Obviously, difficult questions do need consultation but not every minutia does. In the more extreme ultra-Orthodox circles, the individual, who may sometimes even be a scholar, is rendered totally powerless.

How then can the same movement largely define itself as adhering to the ethos of the Chafetz Chaim and his Mishna Berura, who clearly empowered the student to choose from within an acceptable Halachic Spectrum?

The answer may be that the Chareidi movement has opted to re-interpret the writing style of the Mishna Berura - and that they read the phrase “it is best to follow the stricter opinion” as meaning that “there is only the stricter opinion”.

In other words, they have taken the gentle encouragement of the ‘soft stringency’ and turned it into an imperative and a ‘hard stringency’. In this way, the original multifacetedness of the Mishna Berura may have been lost by the very people who hold him up as one of their founding fathers.


One very fascinating point needs to be made:

Although the writer of the Mishna Berura enjoys almost universal acclaim as the ‘Posek Acharon’ or final decisor of Halacha for our generation – surprisingly, it appears that he did not author the entire work as we know it today!

According to the Kol Kitvei Chafetz Chaim haShalem[6] collated by the Chafetz Chaim’s son, R. Aryeh Leib, he writes that his father did not write the entire Mishna Berura. Instead, many sections of the book were written by his son!

He writes, for example, that most of Hilchot Shabbat was written by his father – implying that his father was particularly active regarding the section of Hilchot Shabbat but not necessarily regarding all the other sections of Mishna Berura. And R. Arye Leib clearly states that he wrote many of the other sections himself. 

To what extent is unknown, but it may have been quite considerable. This shows that the common perception that Mishna Berura was authored exclusively by the Chafetz Chaim is untrue.

Furthermore (in vol. 3 p. 43) R. Arye Leib points out what appears to be a contradiction between Chapter 318 and Chapter 328. He then explains that the explanation is simple: - Chapter 318 was written by his father while Chapter 328 was written by him.

This shows that father and son - even though they worked together - were not always in concert with each other regarding their Halachic positions. And that it is not always clear who exactly wrote what. This again undermines the notion that all of Mishna Berura was written by one man - the Chafetz Chaim - the Posek Acharon!


This fascinating biographical account of the sometimes conflicting dual authorship of Mishna Berura was pointed out by R. David Bar-Hayim who also recalls hearing from R. Benzion Wosner (son of R. Shmuel Wosner) who said in the name of his father that we cannot always rely on the perception that the Chafetz Chaim wrote everything recorded in the Mishna Berura. And that the difficulty is that we do not always know who wrote what!


If what we have said is correct: 

- If it is true that the Chafetz Chaim wrote a ‘peoples book’ in which he gave a degree autonomy to the students who would consult his Halachic texts;

– And if it is true that he never authored the entire work by himself; 

– And if it is true that many misread his text  only as a ‘strict’ text;

– Then would it not be refreshing to re-adjust our paradigm and study the Mishna Berura in the way he evidently intended it to be understood?

[1] See: ‘Soft Stringency in the Mishna Berura’: Jurisprudential, Social and Ideological Aspects of a Halachic Formulation, by Benjamin Brown.
[2] Kitzur Toldot Hayav, p.75.
[3] Introduction to Beit Yosef on the Tur.  (R. Yosef Karo’s Shulchan Aruch was later based on his earlier Beit Yosef commentary on the Tur.)
[4] Kitzur Toldot Hayav, p. 15.
[5] Kitzur Toldot hayav, p. 49.
[6] Volume 3, Michtavei heChafetz Chaim, p. 42,43.

Sunday 15 April 2018


A rare edition of Arpilei Tohar – a book cancelled in the middle of its printing!
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak haCohen Kook (1865-1935) was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine. He is often described as one of the founders and ideologues of religious Zionism. But he was so much more than that.

Although part of his legacy is indeed religious Zionism, according to R. David Bar-Hayim of Machon Shilo, his teachings on Zionism only account for about 10 to 15% of his general writings. Most of his other teachings are relevant to all the other areas of life such as psychology, human relationships, art, history, the association between Torah and Science, as well as to a particularly sophisticated understanding of mysticism.

One the reasons why we generally only see Rav Kook through the prism of religious Zionism, is because his son R. Tzvi Yehudah - who in many ways became a conduit for his teachings - was far more conservative than his father. 
He was wary of his father’s radical universalist writings and apparently wanted to present a particular brand of his father’s teachings and through it, create a populist (and political) movement of religious Zionism in the new state.


Rav Kook’s son, R. Tzvi Yehudah was an interesting man and very accomplished in his own right. Although the Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz haRav Yeshiva, he very rarely gave lectures on Halacha and Gemara. A student of his once asked him to give a Gemara lesson and he replied that he would not because he believed that his main mission was to teach Emunah (theology).

While he wrote that the first Rebbe of Chabad, known as the Baal haTanya, was a ‘great man’, he added that the Vilna Gaon ‘even greater’.[1]

Although staunchly Zionistic, he had a measured approach towards Arabs. In 1947 he wrote a letter to the principal of a Jewish school in Jerusalem after he witnessed a group of students physically and verbally harassing two Arab street vendors.

He wrote:
 "I was deeply pained and ashamed at what I saw. This incident, which pained and embarrassed me, requires me to inform you of the need for particular attention to educate against such actions. Students must be taught that such behaviour is prohibited - both due to the essential teachings of Torah, Judaism, and morality, and also due to the practical value for the Jewish community and maintaining peaceful relations with neighbours."[2]

Originally, R. Tzvi Yehudah had been a staunch supporter of the National Religious Party (Mafdal - Miflaga Datit Leumit - established in 1956) but he was later to break with them in 1974 after they joined the Rabin government. 

He also served as leader of the Gush Emunim, or Settler Movement.
It is against this largely political background, that we must view R. Tvi Yehuda as the custodian of his father Rav Kook’s teachings:

In 1924, Rav Kook handed eight journals, known as the Shemona Kevatzim, to his student R. David Cohen haNazir, for editing and publication. Tellingly, he did not give them to his own son, R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook, because he knew that his son did not want them to be published.

For years, R. David Cohen haNazir, worked on various sections of the manuscripts of these Journals and eventually, on Rav Kook’s deathbed, his student presented him with the first pages of what was to become four volumes of the work which was later published under the title Orot haKodesh.

Later on, Rav Kook’s son R. Tzvi Yehudah - in keeping with his vision to build a strong religious Zionist ideology, collated those writings of his father which dealt particularly with the return to the Land of Israel and the building of a nation – and these were published under the simple title Orot.

The son then encouraged all his followers to specifically read the Orot. A framed letter from R. Tzvi Yehudah was placed on the door of the study hall of the Merkaz haRav Yeshivah, encouraging all the students to read Orot (implying that they should not read the broader Orot haKodesh which, as mentioned, was published by Rav Kook’s student, R. David Cohen haNazir.) 

As early as 1914, Rav Kook himself had decided to publish the second of the Eight Journals, known as Arpilei Tohar (Mists of Purity) as a separate book.
In that same year, Rabbi Kook, in a letter to his son concerning the printing of this book and its contents, wrote:

"…I was overtaken by a yearning to print some of my writings, as they are, and I have begun to print ...Arpilei Tohar…I hope that the thoughts will be blessed as they are without arrangement (i.e. unedited[3]), perhaps their success will stand out precisely because of the lack of arrangement…".[4]

Rav Kook was known to prefer to publish his ‘first drafts’ as he felt they were more sincere and true than the more ‘edited’ versions[5].

However, his son was opposed to the publication of Arpilei Tohar, as it was deemed by him to be too radical. He continued to voice his opposition until his father got so fatigued that in desperation he told his son to do as he saw fit. Immediately R. Tzvi Yehudah went to the printers, who had already started working on the printing process and were up to page 80 - and he physically turned off the electricity running the presses.

Interestingly, R. Bar-Hayim describes how he still has a set of those first eighty pages in his personal library.

Years later, in 1983 (a year after R. Tzvi Yehudah had passed away), Arpilei Tohar was finally published - but with six missing sections!

Then some years later, the original manuscripts of Arpilei Tohar were ‘obtained by interesting manners’ (as is often the case when Rav Kook’s previously censored writings begin to slowly appear) - and the Shemona Kevatzim was eventually published.

(Sadly, even R. David Cohen haNazir had censored some of his teacher’s writings on a number of occasions, although not nearly to the extent of R. Tzvi Yehudah.)

According to a letter from former Chief Rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz haRav, R. Avraham Shapira, altogether 100 000 pages of unpublished manuscripts have been kept from us!

R. Bar-Hayim makes the point that these hidden texts would be particularly pertinent to people today - even more so than to the generation in which they were first written. He says that many young religious nationalists are today joining other movements such as Breslov and Chabad because they feel that their own Dati Leumi ideology has nothing deep or meaningful to offer them anymore.

To this day, people are still withholding and trying to prevent many of the teachings of Rav Kook from being disseminated, and some of his original writing is beginning to fade away due to age.

He makes the point that:  “We must demand from those who have control over the manuscripts of Rav Kook, that these writings be released for the benefit of Klal Yisrael...One can only wonder what treasures of Torah thought remain for the Jewish People to discover.”


What was written in Arpilei Tohar that made it so contentious? I cannot say with any degree of authority exactly what it was that made R. Tzvi Yehudah so uncomfortable - to the extent that he turned off the power to the printing presses - but the following extracts from the book may give some indication of the issues that were covered in the work:


Rav Kook was daring enough to criticise Rambam for attempting to provide reasons for some of the commandments.[6]


Rav Kook said that all of mankind derived from one source. This may have been seen as somewhat contradicting the notion of only the Jewish people being a ‘chelek Eloka mima’al (mamash)’ – (Truly) a part of G-d Himself.

He wrote:

Messiah will interpret the Torah of Moses, by revealing in the world how all the peoples and divisions of mankind derive their spiritual nourishment from the one fundamental source, while the content conforms to the spirit of each nation according to its history and all its distinctive features...Nevertheless, all will bond together and derive nourishment from one source, with a supernal friendship and a strong inner assurance.”[7]

While some systems within Judaism were emphasizing the idea of Emunah Peshuta – a simple (non-intellectually based) belief in G-d, Rav Kook was writing:

אמונה שאין השכל מסכים להמעוררת היא קצף ואכזריותמפני שהצד היותר עליון שבאדםשהוא השכלנעשה עלוב מחמתה.

Faith with which the mind does not agree arouses anger and cruelty because the human being's higher aspect, the mind, becomes frustrated with it.”[8]


Rav Kook seems to go against the popular teaching that there is always a righteous man in every generation who is there to lead the way:

"Sometimes, when there is a need to go beyond the words of the Torah, and there is no one in the generation who can show the way, the matter comes about by a sudden bursting forth..."


It is surprising to see that Rav Kook makes open reference to previous false Messiahs and writes that their ‘sparks’ will ultimately be incorporated, after undergoing a ‘rectification’, within Mashiach ben David:

“... the foetuses who stood to be Messiahs but fell, were trapped and broken. Their sparks were scattered and seek a living, enduring correction (tikkun) in the foundation of David, King of Israel, “... the anointed (Mashiach) of God.”[9]

Commenting on this passage, R. Betzalel Naor writes that, remarkably, according to Rav Kook; “There is a poetic justice here. None of the unsuccessful Messiahs’ attempts at redemption were in vain; all contribute in some way to the final Redemption.”[10]

Now that’s rather controversial. But that was Rav Kook! Imagine how many more surprises may be waiting for us to discover?


Let us conclude with one of the most well-known extracts from Arpilei Tohar - one which no one can really take any umbrage to:

The purest tzaddikim do not complain about evil;
Rather they increase justice. 

They do not complain about godlessness,
But increase faith. 

They do not complain about ignorance, 
But increase wisdom


[1] Mitoch Hatorah HaGo’elet.
[2] Miskin, Maayana (March 7, 2013).
[3] Parenthesis mine.
[4] Igrot HaRa'ayah, Vol. 2, Jerusalem 1946, pp. 292-293, Siman 687.

[5] From a lecture on Rav Kook, by Dr. Henry Abramsom.
[6] Arpilei Tohar, 22.
[7] Arpilei Tohar, 62-63.
[8] Arpilei Tohar, 105.
[9] Arpilei Tohar, 18.
[10] Post Sabbatian Sabbatianism, by Betzalel Naor.

[11] Arpilei Tohar, 39.