Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who served as the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine, is generally regarded as the intellectual progenitor of religious Zionism. Born in Russia in 1865, Kook developed a theosophy that combined various strands of Jewish mysticism with ideas plucked from modern and secular currents, most importantly from secular Zionism. While strictly Orthodox, he rejected Orthodoxy’s view of Judaism as unchanging and called for a religious renewal made possible by Zionism; this, as Yehudah Mirsky points out in his recent biography, would lead to reconciliation between religious and secular Jews and hasten the coming of the messiah. Samuel Thrope writes:
In his own way, Kook was no less radical than the young [secular Zionist] pioneers. Unlike other representatives of traditional Judaism in Palestine, he did not dismiss the anti-religious Zionists as heretics and sinners. His Kook’s response to Zionism’s revolutionary, secular challenge to tradition—its claim to have wrested the mantle of Jewishness from Judaism—was to transform it into theology. Even as the pioneers sought to sacralize their secular undertaking, Kook intended to re-appropriate Jewish nationalism as a religious movement springing from the deepest wells of the faith. The pioneers might have seen themselves as socialists and enlightened rebels; in Kook’s admiring eyes, they were unwitting saints.