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.

1 comment:

  1. Zionism is like a piece of pork. Drop it in your soup and the whole thing becomes traife.