My reader Paul Shaviv showed up earlier this week and left the blogging equivalent of a baby in a basket in a comment on my About page. He posted a link to a pdf of one of the new Rav Kook works that have been recently transcribed. I had assumed that this was already discussed and linked elsewhere.
Rav Kook left behind scores of notebooks of his thoughts. Many of those notebooks were used by the Nazir to create Orot Hakodesh as an editor’s synthesis. Others were used by R Zvi Yehudah to produce a different voice for Rav Kook. Recently, some of these notebooks have been published as Shemonah Kevatzim. In the last few years, even more material has come forth from the archives creating a serious academic and Merkaz haRav world debate on why were they hidden until now? what was edited out? Does it change our view of Rav Kook?
For those of us in the field, none of this is new. It is the bread and butter of academic conferences. Back in summer 2009 at the World Congress for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem when others were heading home already, I attended session 352 held in the evening in the Senate room located away from the other sessions . The session was dedicated to the editorial changes and changes over time in rav Kook’s thought. The speakers were Neriah Gutel, Yehudah Mrsky, Udi Avramovitch and Bitty Yehudah. And the audience was the entire cabal of Rav Kook experts (minus a few for specific personal reasons.) Their papers and the discussion afterwards discussed all the debated issues of what do we learn from these new volumes? How was Rav Kook’s vision different at the beginning? And what was consciously changed and censored?
Everyone had already read Avinoam Rozenak’s Hidden Diaries and New Discoveries: The Life and Thought of Rabbi A. I. Kook Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies – Volume 25, Number 3, Spring 2007, pp. 111-147, which first appeared in Hebrew. Rozenak showed that some of these writing had a more antinomian element to them and that the editors were more conservative.
So here is the 250 page pdf of one new books, Harav Kook- leNevuchai Hazeman The work starts off following the Guide of the Perplexed for content but then veers off course. Very little of it is new, we have seen almost all of the paragraphs or at least the ideas before in his other works. What we gain is a turn a phrase here, a named interlocutor there, and an alternative organization illuminating Rav Kook’s thought pattern.
We also have two recent articles in Kipa [in Hebrew]. One used the aforementioned Udi Avramovitch as its expert source. Udi finds the volume more radical than the printed version and he finds a greater identity of God’s will and the will of the people. He also claims that in this work Rav Kook claims a value for other religions and that they worship the one true God. The second article quotes the army and settlement Rabbi Yosef Kellner that the book is essential to read but they are confining distribution, and here is a letter by Rav Kellner about the book.
Rav Kook started the volume while still in Europe and finished it in Jaffa. The book starts off discussing the image of God as volition- will. Human have a will to make manifest as creativity in the world. Yes, Schopenhauer’s definition of man as the guide for our generation. (Along the way Spinoza is deftly defeated by the volition of R. Moses Hayyim Luzatto)The second chapter tells me that Saadayah and Maimonides saw that books of sectarians (minim) multiplied so they were compelled to write philosophic works. That does not inspire me in its understanding of the medieval but tells me more about Rav Kook. In a later chapter, he tells me that “all revolutions are good for clearing away the small minded people and narrow visions” with a later in the paragraph phrase that “they all follow the pure knowledge of God” Holy Hegelian Marxist! What do I do with these grapplings with the sectarian writings of German Idealists for a Torah for the 21st century?
Can we use this as a guide for social revolution now? Well, let look at what he said about the problem of favoritism, corruption and cronyism in rabbinic courts. Rav Kook was against any change to the institutional fabric and rejected secular oversight or higher courts to oversee lower batai din, threatening to return to the R. Hayyim Sonnenfeld camp. What of women in modern world? He did not think women should vote or study Torah. What of secular studies? The new diaries show that he encouraged his inner circle to avoid the wisdom of the gentiles and stick to the prophetic Torah.
Furthermore, we tend to read Rav Kook as if he is the one pushing the envelope on the potential diffusion of God’s light in a new age. Rather than responding to forgotten correspondents who were more radical than he was like R Shmuel Alexandrov or R. Moshe Seidel. These newly released versions, at first reading, will make it easier to find the original dialogue partner. As you read through it, let me know if you find any especially unique passages or if you can detect changes from the beginning to the end of the writing process.
For the meaning of these writings, I await the series of new scholarly articles that will be written in the next few years. The one thing these writings do show is his concern with making a new passionate Jew beyond cognitive focus of the Eastern European beit midrash. A new Jew concerned with volition, inner voice, volkgeist, a new age, love, and seeking a new knowledge of God.
Immediate Update– both the article in Kipa and the file of Rav Kook have been take down, the link wont work. I can understand the removal of the unpublished book, but what benign or nefarious power took down a current news article. If anyone knows then please let me know. The article in Kipah is cached and one can still get to the Headline but not the article. Friends in Israel, what’s the story?
Next Update– I just posted the pdf from my saved copy and the articles reappeared with minor changes.