Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) was appointed as the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine in 1921. A few years later, he founded the World Central Yeshiva, now known as Merkaz HaRav, in Jerusalem. As a prominent communal leader during the British Mandate, Rav Kook excelled at creating relationships and alliances with the secular Zionists, the religious Zionists and the religious anti-Zionists (who opposed the formation of a secular state). With the exception of those who evinced outright disrespect for Torah, Rav Kook’s ability to relate to different approaches to Jewish life and his belief that the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel was the beginning of the final redemption, were at the heart of his success.
Rav Kook’s family background was unique–the son of a Chassidic woman and a mitnaged (non-Chassidic) scholar. He was born in Griva, Russia (now Latvia) and, early in his life, was marked as a genius. In 1904, after serving in several European Rabbinic posts, Rav Kook and his second wife (his first died after only 2 years of marriage), moved to Jaffa in Ottoman Palestine. Rav Kook was greatly respected by both the religious community he served as Chief Rabbi, and by the nearby secular Zionist communities. Although he was criticized by those who opposed the secularists, Rav Kook’s opinion was that there were enough rejecters, and chose instead to take the role of embracer.
During World War I, Rav Kook and his family were in England (having been out of Palestine at the start of the war and unable to return). While there, he accepted the post of Rabbi at the Spitalfields Great Synagogue in Whitechapel. In 1921, he returned to Palestine, now under the control of Britain, and was appointed the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and then of all Palestine.
Today, 3 Elul, is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook.
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