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Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar 5783

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: Not Copying Western Seminaries #149 part III

Date and Place: 4 Menachem Av 5668 (1908), Rechovot


Recipient: Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi. As mentioned, we have featured many letters between the two. The ideological negotiations between them, around the question of Rav Halevi’s help with Rav Kook’s proposed yeshiva, focus this time on the importance that new styles of Torah learning not negatively impact Torah tradition.


Body: It would be degrading to us to compare the lofty house (i.e. the planned yeshiva), which is based on a sacred, pure spirit, to Western seminaries. Even the best of these seminaries made their secular studies and Western culture the main element and their Torah and fear of Hashem secondary. Not that all seminaries’ founders were guilty in the matter; some were righteous and great experts in Torah. The problem was that German/Western Jewry was already ruined by the wayward Jews who preceded us by a couple of generations. Due to this, even the well-intentioned did not find the ability to build their most basic studies of Torah and general Judaism on firm foundations. We remember favorably that they saved their communities from total destruction. Even though their work was far from “returning the crown to its old position,” the way the Men of the Great Assembly did when they blessed Hashem’s Great Name (see Yoma 69b), they did what they could.

In our case, if we will take the existing opportunity to diligently do our work in the Holy Land, and use the good human resources, we will act successfully. There are tens of thousands of people, possessing healthy, fresh Judaism, who love Torah and are dedicated with all their hearts to Judaism and to Hashem’s covenant with His nation. We do not need to adorn the Torah scholars who will stand at the forefront of Judaism with all the adornments that existed in the German model (broad secular studies). These generally caused those involved to lose their Torah and fear of Hashem. Rather, we strive to train the highest-level Torah scholars, for whom the main part of their Judaism is greatness in Torah and fear of Heaven. Along with that, we want them to be part of what transpires in the communities, men who are full of life and vigor, capable of speaking fluently, with a basic awareness of culture and manners. We do not want to produce overly formalistic people who try to sanctify meaningless details, but rather those who act with a dignity that befits Torah scholars. This was always a hallmark of the Jewish People, until darkness covered the land, in events like the horrible latest decrees that befell the nation and the tremendous spiritual confusion, such as the periods of the Khmelnytsky uprising and the cursed Shabtai Tzvi, and the afflictions that followed them.

The main thing in the yeshiva should be a complete spirit, full of sanctity and vigor. Some subjects cannot be taught in the yeshiva building, because for some people they are inappropriate, and those people may copy those for whom it is appropriate. This is up to the headmaster who understands the hearts of “the flock.” However, as long as the goal is to strengthen Jewish adherence to trustworthy Judaism, creating complete individuals who are full of the light of Torah and life, such carefulness is critically necessary.

 The correct study of the Torah’s spiritual side should be instituted even if it had not been studied in previous generations because the spiritual malady was not severe then. In truth, though, such study was done regularly from way back in history. This is the case regarding all of the homiletic passages and midrashim, which contain the Torah’s storehouses of life, including incredible spiritual wisdom that is “hidden in envelopes” for various reasons. These were studied by those who were fit for them, with all their internal grandeur. In recent generations, some of the greatest rabbis learned these spiritual matters regularly, whether it be in the style of Kabbala, investigation, or ethics. They were certainly studied in a manner that gives off fruit, and fruit of fruit. In the past, it was not necessary to broaden the matter fully, just as it was not necessary to remove the pitfalls in the field of history, because matters were not as contentious as they now are, since those who defile our belief system came and polluted matters.

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