Abraham Isaac Kook’s Enduring Insights into the Paradoxes of Modernity

March 28 2017

Reviewing a recent translation of the writings of Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935)—the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine and the leading ideologue of religious Zionism—Zach Truboff reflects on how the writings of this original thinker have withstood the test of time:

The philosophy of history offered by Kook has long had its opponents. A central reason for such opposition is that this approach to history has the tendency to deny the autonomy and agency of human actors. . . . [But] perhaps . . . the most damning critique of Kook’s philosophy of history is that it has not yet been fulfilled. The messianic era, which [he claimed was] just beyond the horizon, now appears more distant than ever.

When all is said and done, the most enduring aspect of Kook’s philosophy of history may be its deep grasp of the human condition. Kook’s dialectical thinking allowed him to identify modernity’s radical possibilities along with the dark underside that is all too often ignored. Living at the end of the 19th century, Kook was a witness to the birth of incredible freedoms that facilitated great spiritual possibilities. At the same time, he also saw the terrible disruptions brought about by the forces of modernization. . . .

In [his essay] “The Way of the Renascence,” Kook points out that modernity’s emphasis on intellectual rationalization fails to appreciate the power of irrationality from which spirituality is often drawn. Spirituality, though, cannot be ignored, and any attempt to cordon it off will eventually lead to its reemergence in unpredictable and even uncontrollable ways. In [another essay], Kook identifies the enduring nature of national community. Human beings have an instinctual need for a sense of home, finding great meaning in their identification with a larger collective. Liberal cosmopolitanism, in its attempt to erase national borders and create a universal human identity, often runs against the grain of human nature.

Finally, the most dangerous aspect of modernity is the way in which secularism eliminates the divine idea from human life. Kook noted that all human culture, whether in the realm of economics, science, art, or philosophy, is a manifestation of humanity’s search for transcendent meaning. Secularism, however, limits human endeavor to the pursuit of self-fulfillment. Without transcendent meaning to guide their lives, human beings will descend into anger, frustration, and societal decay.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Abraham Isaac Kook, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Religious Zionism, Secularism

The Reasons for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Staying Power

Nov. 20 2018

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have narrowly avoided the collapse of his governing coalition despite the fact that one party, Yisrael Beiteinu, withdrew and another, the Jewish Home, threatened to follow suit. Moreover, he kept the latter from defecting without conceding its leader’s demand to be appointed minister of defense. Even if the government were to collapse, resulting in early elections, Netanyahu would almost certainly win, writes Elliot Jager:

[Netanyahu’s] detractors think him Machiavellian, duplicitous, and smug—willing to do anything to stay in power. His supporters would not automatically disagree. Over 60 percent of Israelis tell pollsters that they will be voting for a party other than Likud—some supposing their favored party will join a Netanyahu-led coalition while others hoping against the odds that Likud can be ousted.

Opponents would [also] like to think the prime minister’s core voters are by definition illiberal, hawkish, and religiously inclined. However, the 30 percent of voters who plan to vote Likud reflect a broad segment of the population. . . .

Journalists who have observed Netanyahu over the years admire his fitness for office even if they disagree with his actions. A strategic thinker, Netanyahu’s scope of knowledge is both broad and deep. He is a voracious reader and a quick study. . . . Foreign leaders may not like what he says but cannot deny that he speaks with panache and authority. . . .

The prime minister or those around him are under multiple police investigations for possible fraud and moral turpitude. Under Israel’s system, the police investigate and can recommend that the attorney general issue an indictment. . . . Separately, Mrs. Netanyahu is in court for allegedly using public monies to pay for restaurant meals. . . . The veteran Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman maintains that Israelis do not mind if Netanyahu appears a tad corrupt because they admire a politician who is nobody’s fool. Better to have a political figure who cannot be taken advantage of than one who is incorruptible but naïve.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Jager File

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics