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Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook - A Biographical Overview


Written by the rabbi

Dedicated to the memory of
Yaakov Ben Behora

1. Childhood
2. Abroad
3. The Torah of Eretz Yisrael
4. As Head of the Yeshiva
5. Foreseer of Salvation
6. Gush Emunim
7. The Final Days
8. After His Death
9. The Bet-El Yeshiva

Childhood
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, the only child of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, was born on Passover night, 5651 (1891), in the town of Zaumel, located in the Kovno region of Lithuania, where his father was then serving in the rabbinate.

A short time after his Bar Mitzva, Tzvi Yehuda emigrated to the land of Israel with his family. His father had been invited to serve as Rabbi of Jaffa and the surrounding settlements. He arrived in Israel on the 28th of Iyar, a date which later achieved fame as the day of the liberation of Jerusalem's Old City. R' Tzvi Yehuda would refer to this as "the Great Day."

In the year 5666 (1906), Tzvi Yehuda went to study Torah in Jerusalem at the Torat Chaim Yeshiva in the Old City. The Head of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Zerach Epstein, took a liking to the young Tzvi Yehuda; the youngster was permitted to enter lectures given by R' Epstein to older students, despite his young age.

Some time later, he returned to Jaffa and continued to learn Torah from his father. He was involved in the establishment of his father's new Yeshiva in Jaffa. This academy aimed at being in the spirit of the time: an Israeli Yeshiva the curriculum of which included, in addition Torah and Jewish Law, Jewish faith and thought. The Yeshiva was finally closed down because of a lack of students. The vision was great but the people were few. The idea of establishing an Israeli Yeshiva would finally find expression some seventeen years later, in 5683 (1923), in the form of a "Central Universal Yeshiva" in Jerusalem.

At that time R' Tzvi Yehuda began occupying himself with the arrangement and publication of his father's writings. He edited and published a book entitled "Shabbat HaAretz" dealing with the laws of the Sabbatical Year. He also published a Torah Journal named "HaTarbut HaYisraelit" (5673 [1913]) and edited a book by Yaakov Moshe Charlop entitled "Tzvi Tzaddik" dealing with the Tzaddik of Jerusalem, R' Tzvi Mikhal Shapira, zt"l.

While residing in Jaffa, R' Tzvi Yehuda dedicated much of his time to assisting his father. As a result, he sensed that he was not able to give necessary attention to his studies. He therefore returned to Jerusalem and "went into hiding," studying at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva. However, there too, it became known that he was "the Rabbi's son," and his studies were once again disturbed. As a result, he decided to exile himself to Europe in order to study Torah undisturbed.

Abroad

In 5674 (1914), R' Tzvi Yehuda reached Halberstadt, Germany, and there he began teaching Torah and Talmud to young students. In the summer of that same year, Rabbi Kook himself set out for Germany. The purpose of his trip was to participate in Agudat Yisrael's inaugural conference in an attempt to prevail upon that movement to take an active role in the Zionist enterprise. He also planned to encourage emigration of religious Jewry to the Land of Israel. However, with the rabbi's departure from Israel, the First World War erupted, and this made it impossible for him to participate in the conference. He was also unable to return to Israel.

Therefore, Rabbi Kook stayed in neutral Switzerland and his son joined him. There the two of them learned together with great diligence. R' Tzvi Yehuda would later describe this period, saying, "We learned the entire Torah twice." Rabbi Kook then moved to London and was temporarily appointed rabbi of the city. For a time R' Tzvi Yehuda remained in Europe, however, he eventually joined his father in London. Finally, they returned to the land of Israel together.

In 5681 (1921), at the age of thirty, R' Tzvi Yehuda was sent abroad as emissary of the Degel Yerushalayim Movement. Founded by Rabbi Kook, Degel Yerushalayim aimed at drawing religious Jewry to the Zionist cause, thus uniting the Zionist movement with its sacred source - Jerusalem. During the course of his mission, R' Tzvi Yehuda met with many of the period's leading Torah scholars in an attempt to convince them to support a movement for the return to Zion.

Based on his acquaintance with most of the Torah leaders of that generation, R' Tzvi Yehuda later testified by the holy ark in Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav that it was untrue that the majority of leading Torah scholars had opposed Zionism. He explained that it was a minority that opposed and a minority that supported. The vast majority took no position.

In 5682 (1922), at the age of thirty-one, R' Tzvi Yehuda married Chava Hutner, the daughter of Rabbi Yehuda Hutner of Warsaw. After the wedding he returned to the land of Israel.

The Torah of Eretz Yisrael
In 5683 (1923), the Central Universal Yeshiva was established in Jerusalem, which would later become known as "Merkaz HaRav." In this Yeshiva, a portion of the classes were given in Hebrew, in keeping with the spirit of the day. The curriculum at Merkaz HaRav went beyond the standard subjects of Talmud and Jewish law, including classes in Jewish thought and religious faith. R' Tzvi Yehuda gave classes in Tanakh (Bible).

Between the years 5689-93 (1929-33) R' Tzvi Yehuda devoted himself to the lofty mission of freeing Yeshiva students from Russia and bringing them to Israel; many of these students later went on to become great Torah scholars both in Israel and in the Diaspora.

On 3 Elul, 5695 (1935), the holy flame was extinguished. A generation's treasured leader, the foremost rabbi in the land of Israel, Rabbi Kook, passed away. The grief at his loss and the resulting sense of emptiness were immense. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda now poured all of energy into spreading the light of his father's teachings in the word.

He began by publishing his father's books, starting with works on Jewish law. R' Tzvi Yehuda chose this path in order to remind people of Rabbi Kook's classical beginnings in the Volozhin Yeshiva, and in order to emphasize that all of the Rabbi's novel insights were in fact firmly grounded in the Torah.

For approximately fifteen years R' Tzvi Yehuda closed himself off with his father's writings, studying them, analyzing them, and publishing large portions of them. These were years of reflection, building, and inward probing, which would later lead to a great bursting forth and revelation of Rabbi Kook's light to the masses.

In 5708 (1948), after thousands of years of Exile, the State of Israel was established. R' Tzvi Yehuda saw in the birth of the State of Israel the beginnings of the fulfillment of the vision of the Prophets and the inception of the redemption.

As Head of the Yeshiva
In 5712 (1952), Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlop passed away. R' Charlop had served as Head of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav since the death of Rabbi Kook. R' Tzvi Yehuda now became Head of the Yeshiva. At this point, the first students from the New Yishuv began to arrive at the Yeshiva. Bnei Akiva graduates, what was to become known as the "Kippa Sruga (knitted yarmulke) generation," these young men came face to face with the spiritually towering and well-aged personality of R' Tzvi Yehuda, and the Yeshiva changed its direction.

This new generation of students found what they had been looking for in the teachings of Rabbi Kook and his devoted disciple-proponent, R' Tzvi Yehuda. The Yeshiva underwent a transformation. It went from being an old-school Jerusalem Yeshiva to a modern Yeshiva that spoke to the young generation. Classes were now delivered in Hebrew, and greater emphasis was placed upon the study of Jewish thought and faith. The books of Rabbi Kook were taken down from the shelves and put to practice. Their teachings became a living lesson. The yeshiva was growing from year to year.

R' Tzvi Yehuda served as Head of the Yeshiva for thirty years. During these years an entire generation of students grew up in the spirit of the philosophy of his father, Rabbi Kook. It was a generation of Israeli Torah scholars nurtured upon a doctrine which combined the Torah of Israel, the nation of Israel, and the land of Israel; a generation of scholars valuing Torah study on the one hand and participation in national issues on the other, taking as their axiom the Torah of the Land of Israel, the Torah of redemption.

Foreseer of Salvation
On Independence Day, 5727 (1967), the State of Israel was at tension with neighboring countries. The danger of war was imminent. Independence Day had already become an occasion for great celebration at Merkaz HaRav. This year, R' Tzvi Yehuda gave his traditional speech, yet in its course he erupted with vibrating cries: "Have we forgotten those territories of Israel which are not in our hands? Where is our Jericho? And where is our Hebron? And where is our Shekhem (Nablus)? Could we possibly forget them?"

About three weeks later, the Six Day War erupted, and, with God's help, without anyone's planning it, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the Golan, and Sinai were all liberated. His students considered the words of R' Tzvi Yehuda a kind of prophetic betokening.

The Six Day War widened the borders of Israel after years of existing as a small and restricted state, prone to numerous dangers. Many considered this an additional step on the road to the redemption.

R' Tzvi Yehuda quickly announced that all territories of Israel liberated by the IDF in the war belonged to Israel eternally. We have returned to our land, he explained, and we are obligated to settle these areas. It is absolutely forbidden to relinquish them. Neither is there a single entity in the world which possesses the authority to relinquish them, for this soil was given to us by the Creator of the world in order that we settle and inherit it.

In response to the question of how Israel will attain peace with her neighbors, R' Tzvi Yehuda answered that by achieving peace amongst ourselves and possessing power and strength, we will arrive at peace with our neighbors. It is precisely the Jewish people's firm establishment in its land that allows them to be a light unto the nations.

Gush Emunim
In 1974, after the Yom Kippur War - the so-called great crisis of Israeli society - the Gush Emunim movement was established. This movement set as its goal the establishment of Jewish settlements in the empty territories of Judea and Samaria. Gush Emunim was led by R' Tzvi Yehuda's students and was accompanied from its inception and throughout its existence by the blessing and guidance of the Rabbi, now leader of the pioneering settlers. Thus, the ideology of Rabbi Kook was being practically implemented.

The Final Days
In his final years, R' Tzvi Yehuda was sick and underwent a number of difficult medical operations. However, he remained strong; even in his final days, sick and suffering, he did not cease to give classes to the Yeshiva students in his house on Ovadiah Street in Jerusalem. With great self-sacrifice, he continued to teach Torah, giving special attention to the wellsprings of the Torah of redemption.

On Purim 5742 (1982), just a number of months before the evacuation of Yamit, the verse "The righteous is taken away from the evil to come" (Isaiah 57:1) was fulfilled through R' Tzvi Yehuda, and his soul ascended to Heaven.

A very large community of builders-of-the-land were bereft of their rabbi and leader. The spiritual leader of Religious Zionism was no longer, the flag-bearer of the struggle for the land of Israel, the rabbi of the generation, the rabbi of the pioneering settlers of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.

After His Death
R' Tzvi Yehuda's tens of students in all parts of the land of Israel took upon themselves the task of continuing to spread the Rabbi's lights - lights of the Torah of the land Israel, an approach to Torah which combines the building of the nation of Israel with the settlement of the land of Israel, according to the light of the Torah; an approach that looks upon ours as the generation of the redemption and directs its steps in coordination with the course of the Almighty, the Redeemer of Israel.

The Bet-El Yeshiva
The Bet-El Yeshiva is one of tens of Yeshivot throughout the land of Israel which were established by graduates of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav with the blessing of R' Tzvi Yehuda. The Yeshiva educates according to the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook zt"l and R' Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt"l, raising yet another generation of Torah scholars in the spirit of the Torah of the land of Israel; scholars that not only possess great erudition, but also take an active role in the process of redemption and national rebirth; scholars that lend their hand in dealing with the many-fold tasks attendant upon our generation; scholars that raise up the Torah of the land of Israel to its fitting place so that it shine forth throughout the land of Israel and light up our way.


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