I recently bought a wonder book entitled “The Essential Writings of Abraham Isaac Kook” by Ben Zion Bokser. It is an incredible book that translates many important essays, letters and quotations from R’Kook into simple to read English.
Here is a letter where R’Kook decries the sorry state of Judaism in the Holy Land, in his opinion due to curriculum of Yeshivot at his time. He saw a generation of disenchanted youth, who were not being revitalized by the pilpul of Talmudic dialectics. He wanted to renew the inner soul and life force of these youth, by providing a curriculum that focused on the inner aspects of Torah and would also allow them to gain a livelihood and a sense of self-respect. This is a common theme in R’Kook’s writings, ie that the inner soul of Talmud Torah has been lost and needs to be revitalized with a new curriculum (later posts will entail what R’Kook means by this) that will invigorate and bring out the natural talents of everyone, not just that Talmudic Genius.
One can sense R’Kooks frustration with what he feels is a sense of apathy and indifference to the plight of his generations youth by the leaders of his day. He fails to comprehend the stubborn refusal for a change when clearly one is necessary for the greater good of the nation.
Here is the letter, unabridged:
Peace and blessing my friend, the renowned rabbi, who is wise and learned, a treasure of Torah and fear of God, our master Rabbi Barukh Meirs, may he live to a long and good life, the head of hte rabbinic tribunal of the holy city of Haifa, may it be rebuilt and established.
Your precious letter reached me. Rabbi Joshua Burak has undoubtedly informed you of our conversation concerning the general condition, and that I wrote him an encouraging letter. May it be God’s will to prosper his efforts to strengthen the knowledge of God and his laws among hte people of Israel in the Holy land.
My dear friend, you called my attention to the station of religion at the present time. What can I say to you, my friend? My heart suffers grievously because of the general situation. There is no one left who represents with dignity the cause of God’s name and his Torah in the Holy Land. The more I brood on this though, the more troubled I feel in my heart and I cannot see an effective way to begin some corrective action. For it is very difficult for me to come to a meeting of minds with most of the leading religious figures of our time, may God watch over them they desire follow the old path solely, to keep themselves at a distance from every creative talent and from all current trends in life. In my opinion, this is the altogether against the way of God. By their attitude they strengthen the hands of the rebels and support the wrongdoers. Alas for the sins of these people, though they are well-intentioned.
I have no alternative but to support the educational efforts which room for the knowledge of the world and of life, and that trains the children to find joy in life, to be strong and brave, to cultivate hygiene and personal dignity. When this training will be combined with training in the Torah and the true fear of God, it will become their adornment and enhance their vitality. In the end even the nonreligious forces will have acknowledge the validity of our position.
Buy what can I do when this approach, which I have no doubt we must follow, has embroiled me in the entanglements of a war from the right and the left? However, I place my hope in God, may his name be praised, taht he will strengthen me to hold on high the banner of truth, that the holy cause be vindicated. And you know, my friend, that these important issues are all interrelated. Most of the scholars of our generation, even the greatest among them, pay no attention cultivating the principles of the fear of God, in a spirit of broadmindedness, as would befit the leaders of the generation. They cannot pursue new paths appropriate for the needs of the time, to direct them toward holiness. In their opinion, they must not veer from the old pattern, refusing to draw on any good element in the new ways, thereby to mend the condition of the generation.
They will not acknowledge, under any circumstances, that they have neglected a basic principle which embraces the whole Torah and all religion.
It is for this reason and the we stumble in the daytime as the blind man stumbles in the dark, and the multitude is astray, they are increasingly alienated from their faith. But they are in sense at fault. Since there is no one to show them the right course, to join the holiness of the Torah and religious faith with life, they are losing their faith. But there are many good elements in them and much sensitivity of spirit, and many among them desire with a full heart the salvation of the people of Israel and of this, their basic goal is rooted in holiness, for the salvation of Israel truly embraces all aspects of holiness. It is for us to judge charitably even the most offending among them, if only he is not willing to defect from our people and join our adversaries.
The more we add positive elements to our education program and teach our children the subject which help a person earn a livelihood and gain self-respect, together with the study of the Torah, the foundation of the Torah will be strengthened and gain in vitality.
But with whom shall I speak, who will agree with me, who is prepared to jeopardize his own honor for the honor of God, praised be he, and of his Torah, and for the holiness of his beloved land?
Let us hope that God will act for his own sake, and inspire the hearts of all the Torah scholars to comprehend the pure way of God and that Israel and Judah will soon find deliverance. And this will be my reward.
My greetings to you as so befits your precious self, and with much love, and in anticipation of God’s help.
Igrot I, Letter 274