Dialectical Spirit

Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution
by Yehudah Mirsky
Yale University Press, 288 pp., $25


efore his burial, while his body was still lying in state on the grounds of the Knesset—before his family even had the chance to begin mourning—the late Ariel Sharon was being vilified, not only in the Arab street, as a butcher and war criminal, but by some Israeli rabbis and parliamentarians, as a treacherous turncoat. Rabbi Baruch Marzel wrote that Sharon “will be inscribed for eternal damnation in the Book of Traitors to the Jewish people.” Orit Struk, a Knesset member from the Religious Zionist party, Ha-Bayit Ha-Yehudi(Jewish Home), went so far as to proclaim that Sharon’s 2006 stroke had been a “blessing,” Religious Zionist yeshiva students in Yad Binyamin mounted posters that read “Heartfelt Mazal Tov to Ariel Sharon on the Occasion of His Death,” and so forth.

One of the sickening ironies of this is that such sentiments came from ultra-nationalist Orthodox Zionists, commonly referred to in Israel as “chardalim” (an acronym for haredim dati’im leumi’im and a play on the Hebrew word for mustard), who claim discipleship of the saintly Rabbi Abraham Isaac ha-Cohen Kook. Kook was born in the Russian Pale of Settlement in what is now modern-day Latvia in 1865 and died in Jerusalem in 1935. He was the first chief rabbi of modern Israel and an irenic mystic who never once spoke ill of his religious and political adversaries, of which he had many who publicly defamed him for decades.

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About the Author

Allan Nadler is professor of comparative religion at Drew University. Currently on leave from Drew, he is teaching Jewish studies at McGill University and is rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Montreal.


gwhepner on April 1, 2014 at 9:49 pm

The father Kook essentialized the nation,
as his great son, Zvi Yehudah, did the state,
the former led by his imagination,
the latter born down by reality’s great weight.
What fathers only can imagine sons
may, trying to make it reality, be forced
to use distasteful measures such as guns
which some say that their father would not have endorsed.
The journey from imagination to
reality may take place on a highway where
the traveler must radically review,
because of dangers of which he was unaware,
the steps that must be taken to survive,
original intention not enough when faced
with new realities, to stay alive
the one priority that must not be displaced.

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