Abraham Isaac Kook

According Kook, Jews can only reach their full spiritual potential in the Land of Israel.

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However, the people of Israel was inseparable in its very 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--thereby releasing the light trapped in exilic husks, 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 upon its holy soil. Atheism and rejection of the "yoke of the commandments" would gradually disappear.

Kook could therefore embrace the Zionist project even though he, no less than other rabbis, knew it to be essentially 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 halakhah [Jewish law], but at the same time asserted that "every labor and activity, spiritual or material, that con­tributes directly or indirectly to the ingathering of our exile and the return of our people to our Land is embraced by me with an affection of soul that knows no bounds."

Even more important, Kook could explain away the clear inapplicability of halakhah as it had taken shape over two millennia of exile to the actual conditions of the Land and society, which he wished that halakhah to govern. The law's insufficiencies were the result of exilic darkness, and needed correction. The profane indecencies of the Yishuv [the modern Jewish settlement in the Land] were a necessary stage to be endured and transcended. Thesis and antithesis would give way to synthesis; so worked the God of Spirit.

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Dr. Arnold M. Eisen

Arnold M. Eisen, Ph.D. is Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Prior to this appointment, he served as the Koshland Professor of Jewish Culture and Religion and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University. Prior to joining the Stanford faculty in 1986, he taught at Tel Aviv University and Columbia University.