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Shabbat Parashat Masei 5782

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: Questions about Religious Services in Eretz Yisrael #111 part II

Date and Place: 2 Adar I 5668 (1908), Yafo


Recipient: Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi, author of Dorot Harishonim. We have featured various letters to him in the past few months.


Body: I will do my best to answer your questions. First I will quote your question, and then I will answer. 


Question #2: “The avreichim (older, full-time Torah students) are presumed [by the wider public] to be idle people, for they have never seen any place other than Yerushalayim. Therefore, we need to know whether it is crucial to bring in avreichim of a truly exceptional level of Torah scholarship and fear of Hashem from Russia, but those who know how to interact with people with active lives, for maybe they will be able to attract the hearts of the settlers of the Land. On the other hand, is it possible to find the resources in Yerushalayim, as perhaps the welfare of Torah study of the masses in Yerushalayim demands that we take the avreichim from there?”


My answer: The “idleness” of Yerushalayim’s avreichim is only external idleness. Truthfully, among them there are people of exceeding talents and those who are clever in the ways of the world, in addition to their esteemed stature in Torah and fear of Heaven. The problem is that the “Eastern” mode of dress, which is strange in the eyes of the Europeans, who make up the New Yishuv, is what makes them considered idle people. I am confident that our religious brethren in Germany can rectify the situation by creating a fund with which to establish a serious financial incentive that will enable people to support their family nicely, for the future position of rabbis of the moshavot (agricultural settlements). What they then need to do is to express their opinion that the attire of the rabbi should be a mixture [between traditional rabbinic garb and modern attire], in a manner that the rabbi would be acceptable to the populace, who are used to European culture. Then there would be nothing preventing [success], and as a result, the presumption of the avreichim of Yerushalayim being idle people will be removed, and we will find from among them rabbis who can act effectively to improve the religious situation in the moshavot.


A comment of Rabbi Halevy: How can we fix the way Torah is studied in Yerushalayim? I am astounded that not only has the community not produced one of the greatest scholars of the generation, but it has not even produced any exceptional scholars. Certainly, the avreichim who are in the tent of Torah focus on simple inferences and do not follow the approach to scholarship that such giants as the Shach, Mishneh Lamelech, Pri Chadash, … taught.


My answer: The approach to Torah study in Yerushalayim does not need to be fixed. The scholars have all of the analytical skills that the most exceptional minds in the Diaspora have. They know the thought process of the great recent minds, and they are involved deeply in new ideas and analysis, in the same manner that has been learned from the works of the last centuries.

The reason that Yerushalayim has not produced some of the generation’s leading scholars, from the perspective of reputation, has to do with the situation. Someone can become known as a leading scholar if he becomes the rabbi of an important city or by publishing scholarly books. Neither of these is feasible in Eretz Yisrael and all the more so in Yerushalayim. There is no room for multiple "crowns" in one city, and in all of Eretz Yisrael there are only four known cities. Regarding books, the poverty is so great that there is no thought of publishing. Where will one get the money for it, and who will buy it if it is published? Several of the giants of scholarship in Yerushalayim do not even write down their novel ideas, and this is the way it has always been.

Next time we will continue with the state of scholarship in Yerushalayim and move on to the next question.

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