Sunday 12 May 2019


Newly acquired manuscript of Rav Kook

This is about the tenth article focusing on the censored writings of Rav Kook (1865-1935).
[For more background see: The Censored Writings of Rav Kook and here and here.]
This article is based extensively on research by Avinoam Rosenak.[1]


Rav Kook passed away in 1935 yet it was only in 1999 that his Shemonah Kevatzim, or Eight Files, were eventually published. However, even after these writings were withheld for so long, this late publication was still censored and redacted.

Rosenak writes:

“We can only hope that it someday will be possible to examine the [original][2] manuscript itself...”

And regarding the actual publishing of the Shemona Kevatzim:

“ Indeed, that is why the dissemination of these volumes was halted following the printing of the first thousand copies, in an attempt to turn back the clock and return the secrets to their clandestine archives. 
And if that were not sufficient, the texts were again published and again immediately re-secreted; only after the third effort to print them are they now available.”

The Shemonah Kevatzim represent parts of Rav Kook’s writings from between 1904 and 1921. Sadly, the writings between 1921 and Rav Kook’s passing in 1935, remained hidden and those privy to them have been unwilling to allow them to be published.[3]


The sections of Rav Kook’s writings that were published, underwent an ‘editorial’ process by mainly two people: Rav Kook’s student, R. David haCohen known as the Nazir – and his own son, R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook.

Rosenak informs us that:

“Each of them in his own way dulled the spiritual intensity of the original files.”

And it was the son, R. Tzi Yehudah Kook, who particularly:

“...intruded into the construction of individual sentences. He interwove passages from different places, and he crafted extended new paragraphs to the point that the reader of Orot  cannot discern the presence of collage or rewriting.”


Not surprisingly, of the sections censored were Rav Kook’s disparaging remarks concerning the founder of Modern Orthodoxy, R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, as well as his attack against the ultra-Orthodox leader, R. Sonnenfeld.

The Hareidi or ultra-Orthodox Movement was founded in the same year as Rav Kook’s birth, 1865 [see A Short History of Hareidim] and he was raised within it. Yet he severely criticised them for being locked in the past as members of haYishuv haYashan or Old Settlement.

His criticism was biting as he accused the Hareidm of espousing “a morbidly fearful form of piety” as well as its adherents “darkening of the concept of the Deity.

Rosenak continues:

“[H]is diaries convey a deep loathing for components of the religious world in which he was raised...
His journals suggest that he considered himself to have transcended the humdrum concerns preoccupying the Old Settlement...such matters—reflecting the confining world of those around him—had become repulsive to him. 

R. Kook portrays his ultra-orthodox counterparts as spiritually base persons characterized by a merely external reverence, filled with malignant fear and melancholy that endanger the soul of the pious lover of God...

By contrast, the pious or righteous person inclines within the depths of his heart toward transcending the boundaries of the social and religious order. His spirit is ‘beyond all fixed logic...or any practical established halakhah, and his heart aspires to ascend on high.’ Life within the framework of fixed boundaries constricts his soul.”

The ultra-Orthodox Movement cursed and threatened Rav Kook to such an extent that his life was endangered, and the Brittish Police - charged with keeping the peace in Jerusalem during the Mandatory period – were forced to intervene to preserve his life.

Rosenak quotes R. Shalom Natan Ra’anan, whose family had published the Shemona Kevatzim:

“... Rabbi [Kook][4] was very grieved that members of Agudat Israel do not understand him. When he saw their unruly behavior he sometimes called them ‘wicked.’

With regard to Rabbi Sonnenfeld [a leader of the ultra-Orthodox faction and the chief judge of Jerusalem][5] he would say: ‘Even when he says something good, he says it out of wickedness, for evil, too, has good as its source.’ 

Nor was he satisfied with the members of the Mizrahi [religious Zionism][6], because he didn’t think they ever took a [firm?] stand.”

In 1914, Rav Kook and R. Sonnenfeld went on a tour of the Zionist settlements in the Galilee. R. Sonnenfeld used the tour as an opportunity to try and get the secular Zionists to repent of their ways – while Rav Kook took it as an opportunity for the religious world to repent of the way they viewed and treated the secular Jews.

After the tour, Rav Kook said that the workers were the ones who really “repair the world.”

He wrote:
“Every act that rescues some portion of existence from the dominion of chaos is something great.”[7]


Rav Kook was often criticised for being lax in his attitude towards Torah study. [See What if I Don’t like Studying Gemara?] This was because of statements like this:

“Sometimes there is a kind of diligence [in study] that destroys all the spiritual capital of the diligent one and [then there is also][8] a kind of idleness that fills a person’s entire world with holiness and valor, the secret of silence.”[9]

Here is a similar text expressing the same sentiment:

“Sometimes a person is overcome by inspired ideals, which transcend all fixed logic, and certainly any practical established halakha, and his heart yearns to take flight.
On no account is he capable of confining his soul to prescribed studies. He must therefore set loose his spirit to wander in accordance with its inclination. Let him seek the Lord wherever his soul, hovering above the many waters, leads him…It is impossible for such a spirit to order and limit itself. It is impossible to burden it with a measured meticulousness...”[10]

Again Rav Kook writes:

“Here I am, imprisoned in tight straits, within various limitations; but my spirit yearns for exalted expanses...
 Anything that is limited is profane in comparison to the supernal holiness I seek... 
How difficult it is for me to study; how difficult to accommodate to details.”[11]

Rav Kook writes in his diary:

 “[M]y neglect of Torah study does not result from laziness but from inner longings for the divine goodness of the Torah’s secrets.”[12]


As mentioned, the Nazir was one of the editors of his teacher’s writings. He was particularly concerned with editing out any references to Rav Kook’s views on prophecy. Here is one example of his editing process:

In Rav Kook’s original writing, this is how one sentence was structured:

“Prophecy and the holy spirit come from a person’s inwardness, and from within him he overflows to...the world as a whole.”

In the Nazir’s redacted version, the same sentence takes on a different meaning:

“Prophecy and the holy spirit come (by the word of God to) a person’s inwardness, and from within him (they) overflow to...the world as a whole.”

However, Rav Kook never made any reference to the ‘word of G-d’ coming to a person. Instead, he said that prophecy springs from within the individual’s “inwardness” which innately exudes spirituality from itself.


Another example of how the Nazir changed the meaning of some of Rav Kook’s writings can be seen in the following extract:

Rav Kook himself originally wrote:

“One suffers great torment in going from the broad expanses...into halachic confines, black as a raven...This soulful person, splendid in holiness, feels his awful torment, the chains that bind him, when he goes forth from Talmud to Talmud.”[13]

But the Nazir reconstructed the second section to read:

“...a soulful person, splendid in holiness, feels his awful torment, (all) the chains that bind him, when he goes from Talmud to Talmud.”[14]

Rav Kook wrote that the soulful person feels torment when he ‘downgrades’ to the confines of Halacha and similarly feels the chains that bind him when he goes from one section of Talmud to the other – but the Nazir changed the words to mean that a soulful person feels his own torment and the chains that bind him when he goes from one section of the Talmud to the other because the Talmud’s inherent holiness highlights his forlorn state (and is not the cause of it, as Rav Kook actually meant).


Another section that was censored but recently found its way to publication was a possible reference to Rav Kook himself. His attack against Hareidim and Mizrachi left little option other than what some consider to be a reference to himself as one of those who are “worthy of being mighty kings,”  and  sense the grandeur of their spirit within, who brim with courage and humility...” and these persons, he says, are already present in the congregation of Israel. 

Rosenak writes that Rav Kook seemed to believe that he was “assigned to reconcile all of the cultural differences and conflicts of the generation.” 

Another similarly censored section shown Rav Kook’s consternation and alarm concerning his own spiritual experiences. Rav Kook questioned himself, and perhaps even his own sanity, when he wrote:

“...I was intensely fearful...
Have I stooped so low as to become a false prophet, saying that the Holy One sent me, though the word of my Master was not revealed to me? I heard the sound of my soul roaring...
Prophetic sprouts are springing up, and the sons of prophets are awakening...”[15]

Other censored sections similarly highlight some of his emotions which Rosenak describes as “difficulties growing out of his lack of public recognition.”

Rav Kook held nothing back and perhaps his honesty was sometimes his own worst enemy. In one place he refers to his perception of seeing lightning flashes before his eyes.

Reading these formerly censored sections now, seems to cast a shadow over the glorified image many have of the man. It is, therefore, perhaps understandable that these redactions took place in order to protect his image. But, it can be argued, that it still does not justify the practice of withholding any teachings offered by any teacher.


Fascinatingly, controversially, and counter-intuitively, Rosenak shows how Rav Kook believed that the holy leaders of the Jewish people had to:

“...observe the commandments in great distress[16], not for the sake of their inherent vitality but for the sake of the world and of society and for educational purposes...

[H]e describes how he suffers on account of his communal responsibility to a society preoccupied with halakhic details and legalistic arguments that afflict his spirit. Submission to social norms, he argues, produces ‘immeasurable pain to the soul’[17] and ultimately harms the entire community, for it keeps the zaddiq from fulfilling himself, thereby limiting his unique contribution to society. 

Rabbi Kook acknowledged that ‘it is very difficult to tolerate society, the encounter with people whose entire beings are immersed in a different world.’[18]


Reading these extracts of Rav Kook’s radical writings shows just what an antinomian and disruptive thinker he was.

Rav Kook has been variously interpreted and defined in so many different ways. Some have portrayed him as a Kabbalist or mystic, others as a philosopher, and many as a religious Zionist (although less than ten percent of his writings concerned Zionism). Some even portrayed him as a Chassidic Rebbe [see Did Rav Kook Want to Start a New Chassidic Movement?].

As more and more of Rav Kook’s censored writings come out into the open, we begin to see the great depth and complexity of the man. Every time someone leaks a section of his formally classified writings, we realize just how difficult it is to define him. And we catch another glimpse of a Torah personality who either resonates more with our previous perception of him, or possibly even less.

This is what makes his authentic and original writings so disturbing and repulsive to some - yet so intensely compelling to others.

[1] Hidden Diaries and New Discoveries: The Life and Thought of Rabbi A.I. Kook, by Avinoam Rosenak.
[2] Parenthesis mine.
[3] As of 2007, when Rosenak’s article was published.
[4] Parenthesis mine.
[5] Parenthesis mine.
[6] Parenthesis mine.
[7] SK File 1, 219, section 887.
[8] Parenthesis mine.
[9] File 8, section 24.
[10] SK 59, section 151.
[11] SF File 3, 86, section 222.
[12] SK 56, 5-6, section 6.
[13] SK File 3, 94, section 250.
[14] Orot haKodesh 1, 28.
[15] Orot haKodesh 1, 157.
[16] SK 137, section 410.
[17] SK File 1, 212, section 665.
[18] SK File 3, 112, section 315.


  1. Moshe, please post your comment again (I somehow lost it)!

  2. אוד עמוק הזעזוע בנפש האדם הגורם לו להשתיק את האמת במקום לקבל אותה. המקבל את האמת כמו שהיא, מקבל זעזוע נפשי עמוק יותר, שמרפא אותו. מֵעֲמַל נַפְשׁוֹ, יִרְאֶה יִשְׂבָּע. יַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים; וְחֵפֶץ יְהוָה, בְּיָדוֹ יִצְלָח.

    Very profound is the shock in the soul of man, which causes him to silence the truth, instead of accepting it. The one who accepts the truth as it is, gets a spiritual shock that is more profound, which heals him. "From the travail of his soul he will see, and he will enjoy it." "He will lengthen his days, and through him God's purpose will prosper." (Yeshaya 53:10,11)

  3. Thank you. That is profoundly deep.