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Abraham Isaac Kook

(1865—1935) rabbi and Zionist


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Rabbi, Kabbalist, and religious thinker, first Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel (1865–1935). Kook was born in the small town of Greiva in Latvia. He studied at the famous Yeshivah of Volozhyn. In 1904 Kook was appointed Rabbi of Jaffa. A strong religious Zionist, Kook travelled to Europe in the hope of persuading the recently formed ultra-Orthodox Aggudat Israel organization to adopt a more positive Zionist stance. Caught in Europe by the outbreak of World War I in 1914 he stayed in Switzerland until 1916 when he was appointed Rabbi of the Machzikei Ha-Dat synagogue in London. Despite brushes with the Jewish establishment in England, Kook was widely respected by all circles in Anglo-Jewry for his great learning and piety. It is reported that he mastered the English language by reading Rodkinson's (very poor) English translation of the Babylonian Talmud. In 1917 Kook published in London the little work Rosh Milin (First Words) on the letters, vowels, and notes for cantillation of the Hebrew alphabet. Years later, Kook remarked in an aside that he believed he was gifted with the Holy Spirit when he compiled the work. In this and in his other works Kook's style is obscure, inevitably so since he was searching for new forms of expression to give to old ideas. Fascinated by the paintings of Rembrandt, in which he saw traces of the Kabbalistic idea of the ‘hidden light’, Kook would go frequently to the National Gallery to study the works of the great master. In 1919 Kook was appointed Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and in 1921 Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine as a whole.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.


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