“Koren Rav Kook Siddur” by Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook— Speaking to the Soul

Kook, Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook. “Koren Rav Kook Siddur”, Koren, 2017

Speaking to the Soul

Amos Lassen

Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) was the first Ashkenazic chief rabbi in pre-state Israel and is considered one of the fathers of religious Zionism. 

Kook wrote that the land of Israel was the spatial center of holiness in the world. It sent out holiness vertically to the Jews who lived upon the Land as well as horizontally to other portions and peoples of the earth. Harav Kook felt that the spirit of the land was entirely pure and clean, while spirit elsewhere was impure.

Kook argued that the Jewish imagination outside the Land had become stunted and it was not merely that assimilation to Gentile cultures had much less light and holiness than Israel. Since the entire world was poor in holiness and filled with wickedness, the Jews were expected to bring about light and spirit. Israel’s return to the Land would thus be the end of a worldwide era of darkness and initiate the redemption of all humanity.

The Jewish spirit that was meant to guide the rest of creation had fallen and at the same time, Jews were in exile and to a degree were impoverished. Because of oppression, there was little expression and for Harav Kook, this explained a phenomenon, which was a contradiction in terms: Jewish atheism. Many Jews of thoughtful and moral character had cast off their inherited faith, only because that Jewish faith had degenerated to the point where superstition passed for true belief, and Jewish practice had become frozen in old forms. Now this may sound like a very long introduction to get to the prayer book that is receiving a review but I feel that this background information is necessary.

The people of Israel are inseparable in the essence from God. Many Jewish souls had expressed their rebellion, therefore, precisely by returning to the Land of Israel, where God’s spirit most reposed and thereby releasing the light trapped in exile, and facilitating the renewal of Jewish religion. Both thought and practice would return to their original purity once the nation had returned to full life in the land of Israel. Atheism and rejection of the commandments would gradually disappear.

Kook could therefore embrace the Zionist project even though he knew it was secular. Qualms about the legitimacy of a movement led by professed atheists and characterized by public disregard of the commandments were silenced by the confidence that in God’s good time, soon to be upon us, such deviance would be seen as the “arrogance” that tradition had said would accompany the first footsteps of the Messiah. Kook criticized departures from Jewish law. Kook explained the law’s insufficiencies as the result of exilic darkness, and needed correction.

The Koren Rav Kook Siddur is a wonderful new prayer book that offers a dimension of spirituality sorely lacking in our world today. Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook (1865-1935) was the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel. He was renowned for his blending of both the body and the soul of the Torah, as represented in Jewish law and legend.

The notes we read in the siddur are from Kook’s own commentary to the Siddur, “Olat Re’iyah” and from other writings. We also have anecdotes from Rav Kook’s son and major disciples; The Koren Rav Kook Siddur speaks to the soul, while it connects us all to the sacred soil of the Holy Land. This is a prayer book that not only speaks to the soul but also look at other writings so that we a have a better understanding

The Siddur includes Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ immensely popular English translation, while it features a digest of Rav Kook’s commentary, never before seen in English. The work includes an introduction about Rav Kook’s overall philosophy of prayer, adapted by Rabbi Bezalel Naor, acknowledged interpreter of Rav Kook’s thought.

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