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Abraham Isaac Kook arrived in British Mandatory Palestine on this date in 1919 to become Jerusalem’s chief rabbi and, two years later, the chief rabbi of Palestine. Kook (1865-1935) was a Lithuanian child prodigy who became a prominent rabbi, a father of religious Zionism (which he saw as a necessary and vital alternative to Zionism’s secular orientation), and a prolific and mystical theologian whose openness to new ideas was striking for a khasidic leader. “[A] man who lived a life of the strictest Orthodox observance,” writes Yehudah Mirsky in Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution, “he welcomed heresy as a cleansing bonfire whose embers would yield a new revelation.” Kook had been a rabbi in Jaffa but was marooned in London and Switzerland throughout World War I. For him, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was a divinely-inspired document that gave redemptive meaning to that devastating war and laid the groundwork for a messianic era. “To a disciple who asked for a summation of his philosophy,” writes Mirsky, “he replied that everything — humanity, the world, the divine itself — is rising.” Yet the institutions that Rav Kook founded in Palestine have become, in modern Israel, key centers of reactionary Orthodox politics and sources of the rabbinical stranglehold on Israeli domestic culture.
“The pure righteous do not complain of the dark, but increase the light; they do not complain of evil, but increase justice; they do not complain of heresy, but increase faith; they do not complain of ignorance, but increase wisdom.” —Abraham Isaac Kook