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Shabbat Parashat Tazria Metzora 5781

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: The Limits of Free Thought

#20, p. 19-21 part I

Date and Place: 10 Sivan 5665, the holy city of Yafo


Recipient: R. Dr. Moshe Zeidel (a close disciple of Rav Kook, from their time in Boisk. Dr. Zeidel was a philologist and philosopher, who asked Rav Kook many philosophical questions.)


Opening: About that which you asked regarding my language in my open letter (see letter #18) that I do not demand any control on philosophical matters, if that is because that situation is forced upon me or that is the way the laws of the Torah have it.


Body: My language leaves no room for question, as I said: “… because in our days it is something that is not accepted.” We can learn from the root of the wording that if it were accepted, there would be room for such a demand. However, the matter depends on great mountains of philosophical inquiry, and its delineation needs explanation. Since I am not able to write at length, I will write down some short notes, which I hope suffices for someone as wise as you.

Realize that straight logic is always a great foundation in Torah rulings, and this is so both in operative and in philosophical matters. Therefore, we always need to arrive at the center of straight thought. If it appears to us that there is a contradiction between various truths, then by necessity there must be a means to choose between them, and this is the place to learn something new. Therefore, it seems that in the “laws” of searching for philosophical ideas, which is now the realm of most of the world’s thinkers, one must look for boundaries of how far one’s intellect can reach.

Maybe you will say that there is no boundary? You cannot say so. First, there is no characteristic in the world regarding which extremism is not dangerous. Furthermore, by the matter’s nature, there must be some boundary to freedom of thought, for if not, everyone would remove the yoke of accepted morality. Then people would use their personal intellect to the furthest degree of what each stands for, and the world would be full of abominations. You cannot make a total break between philosophies and actions because actions follow ideas, whether a lot or a little.

For example, it is certainly a sin for one to decide internally that there is nothing wrong with murder, for if this outlook were to flourish, it would destroy civilization’s stability. There are other examples.

Therefore, there must be some boundary to the freedom of thought, although it is difficult to know exactly where to draw the line. Apparently, the line cannot be drawn at the same place in each society. For example, if one would fully decide in his heart that there is no damage to publicly walk around naked, if someone were to actually do this, it would be a sin for us, as it is fitting to be. However, there are indigenous people in the Guinean islands who do not consider it a sin. Since there must be differences between societies, the limits of free thought must be different in different places, and they are affected by many factors.

Regarding beliefs, there is a big difference between Israel and the other nations. If any nation in the world’s whole existence depended on a certain philosophy, then there would be full permission and even an obligation to disallow freedom of thought regarding that idea. In fact, a tendency to ignore the troubles caused by individual people would not be freedom, but laziness to protect itself. Sometimes individuals rebel against their nation when they find that the idea that unites and sustains it is damaging to the world. Then they abandon the nation because of the truth. However, when the nation’s unifying idea is not at all destructive and certainly if it is even helpful in other surroundings, then there is no room for tolerance of rebellion, and one who is “tolerant” should be disgraced by his nation and even by every person.

We continue from here next time.


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