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Abraham Isaac Kook

1865 - 1935.


Rabbi Dr. Abraham I. Kook, 4/15/24. Source: Library of Congress.

Abraham Isaac Kook, known as Rav Kook, was an Orthodox rabbi, and the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel (in British Mandatory Palestine). He is considered one of the fathers of religious Zionism.


Harav Kook was considered a religious genius, a halachic authority, and one of the most prominent Torah scholars of his generation.


You can see in this YouTube video several events he was part of, such as the welcoming of Herbert Samuel, speeches for Jewish holidays, and the inauguration of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


Kook was born in Griva in the Russian Empire and is the oldest of eight children. His father was a student of the Volozhin yeshiva, one of the most prestigious Lithuanian yeshivas. Rav Kook entered there at age 18.


In 1887, at 23, Kook entered his first rabbinical position as rabbi of Zaumel (in Lithuania). Between 1901 and 1904, he published three articles that anticipated the philosophy he later developed in the Land of Israel.


Harav Kook immigrated to the Land of Israel in 1904, at 39, during the Second Aliya, and served as chief rabbi of Jaffa and its surroundings. The Jaffa period was his most prolific writing period, although these works were published later. Among them: Orot, Orot HaKodesh, and Olat Re’eyah. At the same time, he established the “Tachkemoni” school which combined religious and secular studies. He connected with the workers' movement leaders and supported agricultural settlements.


Due to World War 1, Harav Kook was retained in Switzerland and London. During his time in the United Kingdom, he influenced the Balfour Declaration publication.

After the war, he returned to the Land of Israel where he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem in 1919. He later established the Chief Rabbinate and in 1921, was elected as the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel.


From that time until his death, he focused on writing Halacha Berura on the Shas (aimed at renewing the connection between the Talmud and Halacha), as well as working for the community.


In 1924, he founded the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in his house in Jerusalem, with the main innovation being that the classes were in the Hebrew language. The goal was to bring in the best students from all over the world, who excelled in their abilities and manner … "to return the crown [to Israel] in her old age, complete the Torah of the Land of Israel and resurrect the holiness of the Holy Land."*


Today, more than 100 Yeshivas in Israel follow his path.


During his life, Kook supported the settlement of land by the Zionists of his time. And unlike many of his religious peers, he showed respect for secular Zionists. He willingly engaged in joint projects with them.

He also disagreed with the Mizrachi movement*, complaining that it was not strict enough on the Halacha and Hanhaga, nor comprehensive enough in its aspirations.


During his life, Kook maintained communication and political alliances with various Jewish sectors, including the secular Jewish Zionist leadership, the Religious Zionists, and more traditional non-Zionist Orthodox Jews.


His greatness is recognized both by the secular and the rabbinical worlds. Even the Hazon Ish, leader of the Orthodox world in the Land of Israel, considered him a Torah giant.


Kook opposed the secular spirit of the Hatikvah anthem and penned another anthem with a more religious theme entitled HaEmunah. You can listen to an interpretation of the song below on this YouTube video.


After his health deteriorated badly, Rav Kook died in Jerusalem in 1935. His funeral was attended by around 20,000 people.


*The Mizrahi Movement is a religious zionist organization created in 1902 in Vilnius, which later in the 20th century founded the Ministry of Religious Affairs, pushing for laws enforcing Kashrut and the observance of Shabbat in the workplace. Before the creation of the state of Israel, the organization developed a network of religious schools that still exist today. Mizrahi is an acronym for the words "Merkaz Ruhani" (Spiritual Center).


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