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Igrot Hare’aya – Letters of Rav Kook #149

The Study of Machshevet Yisrael in Yeshiva - part I


Beit Din Eretz Hemda - Gazit

Iyar 5783
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 the two, around the question of Rav Halevi’s help with Rav Kook’s proposed yeshiva, focus this time on the study of Machshevet Yisrael (Jewish Philosophy).
Body : I want that the upper echelon of the institution, the full-time yeshiva, will learn Torah in the broadest sense, consisting of all its parts, both from a practical perspective and a more theoretical, spiritual perspective. You apparently do not agree, and what I desire to include in the set Torah study, you apparently call "old investigations, which do not make a difference in our days." I must clarify matters, so that hopefully we can agree on this fundamental point.
When I say that we need to learn the Torah’s spiritual side on a regular basis, as it is the generation’s salvation, I do not at all mean to limit my aspirations to studying a set list of books, classic or more recent ones. I do not intend to promote study of Rav Saadia Gaon’s Emunot V’de’ot, the Moreh Nevuhim, the Kuzari, or the like, so students will know what they say and use their ideas in our philosophical battles. I agree that much of what they wrote is outdated because the world no longer accepts the old philosophical foundations. We still have interest in studying these works, because they contain eternal ideas that cannot be nullified by the time’s prevalent scientific assumptions.
The world has moved on from the whole approach, because they have left the realm of spiritual ideas and have embraced the study of life and activity instead. In truth, [the world] is very negatively affected by the absence in its thoughts of the "oil of spirituality." It robs them of all the grace and gentleness of the circle of life. Therefore, clearly, they will eventually return to search with candles for the spiritual treasure the world abandoned in favor of briskly adopting life’s material side.
In any case, this applies only to special individuals, and therefore these are not elements [I look to teach students because of its practical value], but rather because it is included in the obligation of Torah study in its most complete degree, and the value will eventually be reached. Therefore, I do not remove any element of such study, which are part of the Torah’s spiritual treasure house, whether in the Written Law or Oral Law, from the medieval or more recent thinkers, whether those with a philosophical approach or those who research, Kabbalists, experts in aggadic literature and homiletics or those who focus on ethics and lessons in service of Hashem. They all represent a major area of Torah, and therefore there is a major obligation to know the works.
Included in [topics for the yeshiva curriculum] is inquiry into all elements of history, of which your books are the main contemporary resource. We know that the richness of Halacha is enhanced by knowing all the opinions on a topic, even those that are rejected in terms of practice. Greater knowledge and recognition of the multitude of shades make the learner more creative and versatile and capable of new ideas and wise decisions. This is also true regarding the richness of homiletics, not in its superficial perspective, as the German scholars and the members of the seminaries practice, but rather in its deep, internal perspective. This is acquired only by hard work and study on a regular basis, when one is connected to the sanctity and pure fear of Heaven of those who study Torah for its intrinsic value. This prepares a person to live a spiritual, holy life, enabling him to think of new, powerful approaches to spread the light of Torah in all the ways the present generation needs, just as previous generations of great thinkers did for their times.

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