What was Rabbi Kook's relationship with the media?

A new study by Avraham Weiss explores Rabbi Kook's relationship to the media in general, and to newspaper writers in particular.

Yair Dan ,

Rabbi Kook
Rabbi Kook
Rabbi Kook house

Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook (1865-1935) served as the first Chief Rabbi of Israel. He was the founder of Religious Zionism, a Torah luminary, prolific halakhist, poet and philosopher, who established the Merkaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem which serves to this day as a center of Torah and Religious Zionism.

Rabbi Kook's journalistic activity took many forms, with newspapers being the main form of media in his period. He initiated the establishment of journals and newspapers, followed the activities of newspapers and used them as tools to publish his philosophic writings and for promoting his intensive public work.

Among other projects, Rabbi Kook was involved in establishing and editing the Torah journal Ittur Sofrim while serving as the rabbi of Zeimel (at the age of 23!). Later he tried to establish a journal named Shalom La'am,('Peace to the Nation'), established the Hanir newspaper in 1909, serving as a member of the editorial board and tried to establish a rabbinical journal in 1910. He also established the periodical Hatarbut Hayisraelit (Israeli culture) in 1913. After World War I, he was involved in the intensive efforts to establish the Degel Yerushalayim newspaper, an attempt to establish a Jerusalem Federation as a spiritual counterpart to the Zionist Federation.

Rabbi Kook wrote of this newspaper that "for our political goals we need to establish newspapers in Hebrew, Yiddish and foreign languages in order that people will revere the Jerusalem movement in all walks of life in Israel and in the Diaspora." In many letters Rabbi Kook referred to plans to establish the newspaper and attempted to raise funds for a Swiss edition.

The newspapers which Rabbi Kook led, encouraged and criticized can be divided into those issued by Torah observers and the secular newspapers. The former included the Moriah newspaper, in which the Rabbi wrote letters of criticism and guidance during 1910-1911. Later he was involved in efforts to revive the newspaper and wrote that " I find it to be a holy duty to strengthen the Moriah newspaper and to provide spiritual enrichment through articles full of life, feeling and wisdom from the dew of the Torah of Israel."

The secular newspapers which Rabbi Kook contributed to included HaHashkafa published by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the founder of the modern Hebrew language and the heretical newspaper Atid Hayahadut (Future of Jewry) which asked him for an article. The Rabbi refused, and published a critical letter about his refusal to publish in the HaIvri newspaper. He also criticized an article published in the Doar Hayom (Mail Today) newspaper, published by Ben-Yehuda's son Itamar Ben-Avi, blaming the Jews for anti-Semitism,He registered his sharp protest against the self-hatred evinced by Ben-Avi and ending angrily with the words "enough of you, be quiet!"

Rabbi Kook published many letters in this newspaper including a short halakhic response explaining the prohibition against playing soccer on Shabbat.

The media held a central place in the publication of Rabbi Kook's philosophic work. Various articles were published in the Hapeles newspaper when he served as a Rabbi in Latvia. When he arrived in the land of Israel, his writings were published in numerous newspapers, including HaIvri, Havatzelet and Tachkemoni. Rabbi Kook used newspapers to promote the distribution of his books and even asked some newspapers to write literary criticism of his books.

Rabbi Kook also discussed the laws pertaining to the media, including the laws of slander, which he maintained were more stringent with regard to newspapers than with regard to private life, laws of warning against Shabbat desecration in a newspaper, distribution and reading of newspapers on Shabbat and the publishing of matters relating to modesty issues.

In summary, Rabbi Kook, the iconic leader of Religious Zionism in the days leading to the establishment of the Jewish State, saw the media as an important and even crucial factor in many facets of life and dealt extensively with different aspects of the media.