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Rav Kook’s Secret Writings: A Drama In Several Parts

Rav Abraham Isaac Kook

Rav Abraham Isaac Kook

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Asked to explain the source of his daring, Ofan told Neta’el Bandel of Olam Katan, “Mostly from the enthusiasm of the many who were thirsty to learn Rav Kook exactly as he wrote his thoughts. The books were grabbed up immediately upon being printed.”

This was not particularly good news for everyone. The students and rabbis represented by the Rav Tzvi Yehuda Institute felt the proper way to understand Rav Kook was by learning passages in the proper context, not free-style. Some say the order was given to buy out the entire printing so that it would not be widely disseminated.

Ofan and his colleagues at Yeshivat Ramat Gan did not hesitate. It took them four years to get it together, but in 2003 they re-published the work – in two volumes instead of three, with the same size and look. The new edition became known as the Ramat Gan Eight Collections.

The ball was now in RTYI’s court, and it published the heretofore unknown “Notebook 13.” However, several important passages – such as those on Spinoza, secular learning, the Divinity of Torah – had been omitted.

Meanwhile, Ofan and a friend, Matanya Shai, had discovered yet another collection of Rav Kook’s writings; what it was doing in the National Library is a mystery in itself. Shai made his way to the library archives, where a librarian stood guard to make sure he wouldn’t photocopy them.

“When the librarian finally left,” Shai related, “I quickly texted my brother entire passages, one after another, and asked him to check if they appeared in any of the books, including the Eight Collections. Each time he said no, it wasn’t there. We had discovered a real treasure, larger than the previous one – and never before published!”

Much of what had been understood of Rav Kook’s philosophical and Kabbalistic thought was based on what he had written during a seven-year period (1912-1919) and which became Orot HaKodesh and other works – but it turns out he wrote in this style well before and after that, for more than three decades. The lion’s share of these spiritual riches had never before been available to scholars or students.

Without transgressing any laws – it is doubtful the National Library has the legal right to prevent photocopying – Shai prepared look-alike documents to keep in the archives while he photocopied one original after the other. Even with the help of friends, it took months.

They again proposed that RTYI publish the new material instead of them but were turned down, and once again a “pirate” version of Rav Kook’s writings was published. Titled Ktavim Mikhatv Yad Kadsho – Writings from His Holy Hand – it too has ignited the interest of Torah scholars and students of Rav Kook around the world.

The end of the story? There is none. Ofan says there are still more writings, but not enough to publish; some argue that the personal musings of even a great sage are not public property; and meanwhile the study of Torah continues, from generation to generation.

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