Rav Kook and the Second Seder

The honor of Eretz Yisrael requires Jews who are visiting Israel for the holiday to observe the second day of Yom Tov in private. Rabbi Kook had a novel way of enforcing this!

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Rabbi Chanan Morrison,

Rabbi Chanan Morrison
Rabbi Chanan Morrison

In 1934, many tourists arrived in Eretz Yisrael for the Pesach holiday. Hundreds ascended to Jerusalem, excited to celebrate the festival in the holy city.

The Jewish National Fund, wishing to properly welcome these guests - and potential donors - decided to organize a Seder for them on the second day of Passover. In order to attract religious Jews, the JNF turned to the chief rabbi, requesting that he sponsor the event and supervise the kashrut of the festive meal.

Ordinarily, Rav Kook was happy to help the JNF and promote the redemption of land in Eretz Yisrael. On this occasion, however, he refused. He was not willing to take part in organizing a second Seder in Jerusalem. Observing the holiday for an additional day - that is a matter for Jews living in the Diaspora, he explained. We who live in the Land of Israel must guard the honor of Eretz Yisrael.

The Honor of the Land of Israel

Why did Rav Kook so oppose a public second Seder?

Like other Halakhic authorities in Jerusalem, he favored the opinion of the Chacham Zvi, who ruled that a tourist visiting in Eretz Yisrael should act like a local resident and observe only one day of Yom Tov.

In practice, he would tell visitors from outside of Israel that they should recite the regular weekday prayers and don tefillin on the second day of Yom Tov; they should observe the second day only by avoiding forbidden work, and not eating chametz on the eighth day of Passover.

Yet this ruling was difficult for many religious Jews to accept. They were accustomed to the holiday service on the second day of Yom Tov; and the second Passover Seder was particularly important to them. How could they skip one year, knowing that the following festival they would once again be observing two days of Yom Tov?

Once a rabbi, visiting from Pressburg, arrived in Jerusalem and sought Rav Kook's counsel as to what he should do on the second day of Yom Tov.

When Rav Kook heard the question, he gave a pained look. 'Most tourists don't even ask. And the few who do ask, do not abide by the ruling. So why should I give a ruling?'

It was only after the visitor persisted, promising to follow the chief rabbi's decision, did Rav Kook give his ruling, as described above.

Rav Kook added: Imagine if ten Jews from Israel entered a synagogue in the Diaspora on the second day of Yom Tov, and pubicly donned tefillin and prayed the weekday service. Would there not be a hot and vociferous reaction?

The Halakha in such a case is that one should pray the weekday prayers and don tefillin in private. But publicly, one should wear holiday clothes and outwardly observe the holiday,

Why then do the Jews of Diaspora fail to understand, even if they choose not to follow the ruling of the Chacham Zvi, that the honor of Eretz Yisrael requires them to observe the second day of Yom Tov in private? Yet they insist on organizing public festival prayers on the second day - even at the Kotel!

Rav Kook's Condition

The JNF representatives, who understood the importance of the chief rabbi's participation for their plan of a second Seder for the visitors, deliberated how to overcome his refusal.  In the end they approached one of the older students in his yeshivah with the proposal that, for a very respectable fee, he supervise the Seder.  But they stipulated that the young man secure Rav Kook's approval for the event.

The student, unaware of Rav Kook's previous refusal, happily accepted the proposition. (The amount offered, in terms of the economic conditions of the time, was sufficient to provide for his family's needs for several months.) He quickly went to the Rav to gain his approval.

Rav Kook was now confronted with a difficult dilemma. Always sensitive to the needs of others, he realized how important the offer was to the young scholar and his family. But what about the honor of Eretz Yisrael?

After considering the matter for a few moments, Rav Kook's face lit up. 'Please tell the JNF,' he replied, 'that I too have a condition. If they are willing to fulfill my condition, I will give my hechsher and authorize the event.'

The Rav continued. 'My condition is that they invite the band of the Jerusalem Institute for the Blind to play music at the Seder. And the publicity for the Seder must prominently advertise the band's participation.'

'After all,' he concluded, 'everyone knows that musical instruments are not played on a Jewish holiday. A Passover Seder with a band playing in the background -- that is no Seder!'

[Adapted from Mo'adei HaRe'iyah, pp. 143-145; 324-325] Rav Kook on the Net: RavKookTorah.org