The Spiritual Diary of Religious Zionism’s Chief Theologian

Aug. 15 2018

In the early 1890s, Abraham Isaac Kook—later the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Mandatory Palestine—served as the rabbi of the Russian shtetl of Žeimelis, where he kept a Hebrew-language spiritual diary. Although about half of this material made it into his published works, the rest did not, until the manuscript was edited and published in Israel earlier this year. The diary, as Yehudah Mirsky explains, reflects a crucial period in Kook’s intellectual development: all the elements of his unique mystical theology are present, but without his application of these ideas to the spiritual rebirth of the Jewish people through the return to Zion, which eventually became the hallmark of his thought:

The notebook Kook called M’tsiot Katan freely mixes halakhic, philosophical, [homiletic], and kabbalistic discussion and affords an indispensable window into Kook’s development in those crucial years of his first rabbinate. We can, for now, present an overview of this work, and in particular of the first appearances here of philosophical and theological themes which set the terms of many of Kook’s future [writings]. This in turn helps us better understand the roots of his thought and its trajectory over time.

Two questions predominate in this collection. The first is the relationship between the body, mind, and soul, and its corollary of the status of nature in God’s creation. The second is the relationship between Jewish and Gentile morality. . . .

Most interestingly, Kook relates [his] concern with the relationship between the body and the mind to a more social and political question—the meaning and significance of disagreement, and of heresy, an interest of his echoing the vivid ideological disagreements of the time and a question that would preoccupy him for the rest of his life.

Of course, the natural body’s potential to corrupt the mind was for centuries a staple of Jewish ethics and moral philosophy. What is striking here, though, is [Kook’s view of this] failing as the corruption of a fundamentally good, God-given nature, a nature that includes moral sentiments. This [view] in turn makes possible, for him, a recasting of principled debate and disagreement as the working-out of the various elements of that God-given sense of the good. Thus, he says, peace is the fundamental character of the world, and the multiplicity of contending views of the good all point toward the final end point—peace—which will emerge precisely from the cauldron of disagreement.

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 Tablet

More about: Abraham Isaac Kook, Jewish Thought, Kabbalah, Religion & Holidays, Religious Zionism


Iran Is Back on Israel’s Doorstep

Feb. 15 2019

On Monday, the IDF shelled Iranian-linked targets—most likely held by Hizballah—in the Quneitra province, which lies in the Syrian part of the Golan Heights. There can thus be little doubt that the Islamic Republic has positioned its proxies in deadly proximity to Israel’s borders. Yossi Yehoshua comments:

Hizballah is trying to entrench itself in Syria now that Bashar al-Assad has reclaimed the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, precisely as it did in 2014 and 2015, [before Syrian rebels retook the area]. This was when one of the terror organization’s more prominent members, Jihad Mughniyeh, was appointed by Hizballah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to be in charge of the Golan Heights area and of planning terror attacks against Israeli civilians. Mughniyeh was killed in a 2015 airstrike attributed to Israel. . . .

In addition, an increase in the number of incidents along the Syrian border was noted over the past two months, with the Israeli strikes in Syria . . . meant to signal to the enemy that it is best not cross any red lines. This is similar to the message Jerusalem conveyed to Iran when it [previously] attempted to entrench itself in [this part of] Syria and was pushed out of there after a series of Israeli airstrikes.

Unlike the situation of four years ago, Iran now has a real presence along the Syrian border, while Hizballah is working to resume its confrontations with Israel. And since the organization is up to its neck in domestic problems and thus cannot allow itself to face Israel on the Lebanese front, it finds Syria to be a more comfortable staging ground from which to take on the Jewish state.

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 Ynet

More about: Golan Heights, Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Syria