Monday, August 17, 2015

Required reading- On the importance of Rav Kook and his sefer LeNevuchei HaDor for our generation

In the 80 years since Rav Kook passed away, much has changed in the world. One wonders how he might have responded to the holocaust, the death of nationalism, and so much that has changed during that time. Even now, we are quite possibly watching the demise of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, an institution for which Rav Kook had such high hopes. Still, there is much that he wrote and taught that continues to feel relevant, and even essential. Perhaps none of his works are more in need of study in our time than LeNevuchei HaDor.

LeNevuchei HaDor was written in Europe over 110 years ago, before Rav Kook made aliyah. For reasons that need not concern us here, this important work did not see the light of day until very recently. There were those who even questioned the existence of this work, less than 10 years ago. While Merkaz Rav Tzvi Yehuda published a censored version of this work, Yediot Achronot published a full annotated version of the text, along with an important introduction, and essay at the back. While LeNevuchei HaDor is not yet available in English, it is written in a Hebrew much more comprehensible than the one Rav Kook adopted after his arrival in Israel.

Rav Kook wrote LeNevuchei HaDor as the Moreh Nevuchim, the Guide for the Perplexed, for his generation. The Rambam had written the Moreh to help  a generation that was perplexed over issues of Greek philosophy. Rav Kook saw a generation that was struggling with the issues of biblical criticism, the philosophy of Kant and Hegel, evolution, socialism, Zionism, and more. When he saw that nobody else was dealing with these issues in a way that spoke to the young people of his generation, he decided that he had to be the one to do so.

While some of what he wrote is dated (in fact, he himself would change his thoughts on some of these ideas after moving to Israel) a lot of the ideas continue to resonate today. He took bold positions such as allowing for the possibility that some of the ideas of the bible scholars of his time need not be rejected. Perhaps the most important lesson that he taught, a lesson that sometimes seems lost on many of today’s leaders, is the importance of teaching the ideas of Judaism in a way that is relevant, and that responds to the pressing issues of the day. Rather than attack those who believed in ideas that many rabbis felt were incompatible with Jewish thought, he reached out to them, and suggested a way of inculcating these ideas into Torah. In doing so, he showed that Judaism’s timeless message could continue to resonate, as long as its teachers were knowledgeable enough and bold enough to be creative.

As a new generation calls out to its leaders and teachers for guidance and relevance, LeNevuchei HaDor should be required reading for those want to help.

[For those who are looking for English works by or on Rav Kook, I would highly recommend Rav Betzalel Naor’s masterful translation of Orot, and Rav Yehuda Mirsky’s excellent intellectual biography Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution.]


  1. ““All our endeavors must be directed toward disclosing the ‘or hashalom haclali’ – the light of universal harmony.” -Rav Kook TZ’L
    In Honor of Rav Kook TZL's 80 Yaartzeit- Elul 3, 5775-

  2. Where in NY can I buy his seforim and books,.

    1. I'm guessing Biegeleisen might be a good place to check.