The Kosher Bookworm: The shared legacy of Rav Amital and Rav Kook

by Alan Jay Gerber

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook and Rav Yehudah Amital were destined to serve their people in two successive generations and witnessed some of the greatest moments in Jewish history. They shared the legacy of Religious Zionism and defined a movement that shaped both a nation and its religious commitment for most of the 20th century. Each, in his own way, earned both the admiration and the enmity of those who viewed their leadership roles as decisive to the fate of the Jewish people.

According to biographer Rabbi Simcha Raz, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook “embraced seemingly contradictory viewpoints and principles, reconciling and blending them all into one comprehensive, harmonious whole.” This blend of religious ideology was laced with a distinct form of Ahavat Yisrael (Love of Jews). This love operated within the framework of modern Religious Zionism and traditional Judaism. Rav Kook, as the first chief Rabbi of Israel, helped unite Jews in the creation of the Jewish state. After Rav Kook’s death in 1935, his legacy carried into the next generation through the teachings and example of Rav Yehuda Amital.

Rav Yehuda Amital, born in 1924, survived the Holocaust and arrived in Israel in 1944. He became a disciple of Rav Kook’s and this ideology formed the core of Rav Amital’s own legacy.

As he said, “When I made Aliya, at the end of World War Two, I was looking for a yeshiva where I could study. I went into Mercaz Ha-Rav for just a few days, and then to Yeshivat Chevron, where I spent almost two weeks, without introducing myself, just to get a taste of the place. Having been impressed by the atmosphere, I decided to remain there, and I went to present myself to the Mashgiach, z”l. He asked me: ‘What kept you going during the Holocaust, such that you remained a yeshiva bochur?’ To prevent any misunderstanding as to where I belonged, I told him: ‘I had a booklet by Rav Kook; that’s what sustained me.’” (Commitment and Complexity, edited by Aviad Hacohen, Yeshivat Har Etzion, 2008).

In Moshe Maya’s biography of Rav Amital, “A World Built, Destroyed and Rebuilt,” (Yaacov Herzog College, Ktav 2004) the link between Rav Kook and Rav Amital was elaborated. As Rav Amital is quoted as saying:

“ I became aware of the writings of Rav Kook at quite an early age, while still in Hungary, where I was born. As a young yeshiva student, I was studying a book about legends of our Sages, by a modern author, and I came upon a quote, an excerpt from Rav Kook’s “Orot.” It was night, and I saw that there was a great light. It seized my imagination. I began to search for the writings by the Rav…”

“I was seventeen when the Germans came, and I was summoned to be transported to a labor camp in an unknown location – the Carpathian mountains… I took a few small books in a bag: a Pentateuch, Prophets, Mishnah, and I thought there would be a need for something else, that would perhaps maintain the necessary morale in hard times. And so I took “Mishnat HaRav” [a collection of the Rav Kook’s ideas compiled by Rav Moshe Neriah] as well. Indeed, I received encouragement and strength from that book. The ideas and words influenced me to such a degree that I attributed to them my steadfast endurance in the labor camp, not contaminating myself with forbidden foods even when this involved great hunger…”

This sacred link between these two great rabbinical luminaries, spanning two generations and two eras, helps me better understand the mission of Religious Zionism in the liberation of our people.

This past Monday, Aug. 9, was the Sheloshim of Rav Yehuda Amital, who died at the age of 85.

The 75th yahrtzeit of Rav Kook took place on Aug. 13, the 3rd day of Elul. Both rabbis of blessed memory spent their lives in the service of their people. In their respective passing they serve as an everlasting legacy for us to learn from and emulate.

From The Jewish Star

The original article may be found here.

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