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To dedicate this lesson
Igrot Hare’aya – Letters of Rav Kook #146 part 5

Lessons from Europe?


Beit Din Eretz Hemda - Gazit

Nissan 5783
Date and Place : 17 Sivan 5668 (1908), Yafo

Recipient : We continue the letter to Rav Yitzchak Isaac Halevi, whose letters we have featured several times.

Body : In no way must we learn from the ways of Europe, although this is not an absolute rule, as we should learn "from the most refined of them." However, nowadays, with such problematic ideas, it is difficult to identify these refined ones. Therefore, we must dig ever deeper into the Torah’s light.
The Torah cannot forever be limited to in-depth study of practical Halacha. The Torah’s spiritual part, in all its breadth and depth must make its way into the yeshiva. This includes homiletics, midrashim (revealed and sublime), books of inquiry, in-depth Kabbala, ethics, philosophy, grammar, and poetry. Certainly I refer to the poetry of the "scholars of truth" and the early pious; these are also part of the essential Torah. We cannot give them too much time and regularity, like the study of Halacha, Talmud, and early and late halachists, but we cannot prevent them from receiving a prominent place. This is particularly true in our times, especially in Eretz Yisrael, which requires spiritual engagement from its sons due to its natural sanctity. This is especially true in our generation, and in the New Yishuv, which requires spiritual medicine. This is not a European idea; it is fully ours.
You wrote: "The yeshivot in Yerushalayim need major fixing, and we should fix them so that they meet the generation’s needs and way of life, but we should not make them cease and build new yeshivot in Yafo." [My response is that] only by founding a new yeshiva, which can, without opposition, incorporate a life of sanctity and boldness, and thereby instill a wonderful, holy spirit of purity, will it be able to spread to the yeshivot in Yerushalayim. Not only will those yeshivot survive; they will add grandeur. The center of the New Yishuv is so connected to a profound desire for the nation’s development with the spirit of Hashem within. Considering that and the central rabbinate of Yafo and the moshavot, if it is still unable to found a new yeshiva, then the yeshivot of Yerushalayim will be diminished. This is not due to competition with another yeshiva but by competition with the spirit of spiritual destruction, which has sparks of the flash of life, which every day drags hearts from the study halls due to the latter’s weakness and subdued spirit.
You suspect that I know only about Russian Jewry. If I had seen the floundering of German Jewry, who were not careful to fix the yeshivot but keep them otherwise as they were, then I would say differently. But I must point out that I am fully aware about life in the German Jewish community. While I have not seen it with my eyes, I have thought about it greatly based on reports I have received. It is this familiarity that compels me to want to start the type of yeshiva I am talking about.
My idea is like yours: "to fix the yeshivot but keep them otherwise as they were." This means to bring a spirit of life into the Torah’s logic, so that the Torah can weather the present-day storm and increase the quantity and quality of Torah study, and study Torah with disciplines with which the old system did not become involved. This includes noting historical context and critical analysis, which have been forcefully snatched by the destroyers of the Torah. You are a pioneer in incorporating historical elements and thereby saving matters by using an intellectual approach that is faithful to Torah. The more people adopt this style, which is new to true Torah scholars, the more it becomes possible for others to increase knowledge in this manner.
Such a new approach will not, Heaven forbid, cause the Torah to be forgotten, remove knowledge of it from the rabbis, or make those who fear Hashem more like non-Jews than Jews. Rather it will broaden the intellect, increasing sharpness and knowledge and make the Torah more beloved, while elevating souls and banishing the foreign spirit, which erodes the House of Yaakov. When the spirit is elevated by knowing the greatness of the value of the Torah and of Hashem, by seeing its broadness, we will be able to properly sing Hashem’s praises.

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