An Essay from the Online Library of Shelomo Alfassa
Rav Kook, First Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of [British] Palestine

His Frustration Over the Hassidim

by Shelomo Alfassa
"...The pure righteous do not complain of the dark, but increase the light..."(3) --R' Kook

[October 3, 2014] Hassidic haredi Jews initially arrived in Ottoman Palestine from Europe and Russia in the late 19th century. Ever since their arrival, they have been criticized by their fellow Jews for always being on the margin and not working together toward intra-religious harmony.

For hundreds and of hundeds of years, Jews have had a presence in the Holy Land, and there, they were represented by one rabbi, which by tradition (and Ottoman Islamic mandate) was always a Sephardi rabbi. The last single-rabbinical representative was Chief Rabbi Jacob Meir (1856-1939), a rabbi with Spanish roots. Over the decades, many many Ashkenazim were arring into the Port of Jaffa; when the British came, and the State of Israel was starting to be put together, it was suggested that an Ashkenazi rabbi be brought in, and R' Meir agreed, and thus was born the 'co-management' of both a Sephardic and Ashkenazic "chief rabbi."

Rabbi Abraham Itzhak Kook (1865-1935) was brought in from Europe to be the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, thus the co-chief rabbi of British Mandate Palestine. Upon taking office, Rabbi Kook asked the Hasidic haredi Jews to work together with him, after all, he too was a Hasidic Ashkenazi Jew!--but they outright rejected his notion of being part of a central chief rabbinate nor working in any fashion with the secular Zionist leadership. The haredim of yesteryear marginalized themselves; they blindly followed their leaders known as 'rebbes,' as they continue to do so today. Rabbi Kook, expressed his deep anger about this when he wrote a scathing commentary of the haredim, a commentary that for many decades (whether intentional or by accident), had been hidden away. These are his damning words toward the haredi Jews--his fellow hassidim, that were coming from Europe to Palestine:

The enslavement of the intelligence [of the Hassidism] and its stupefaction result from certain influences, and the more 'holy' the influences, the greater the damage done, amounting to the corruption of prophecy in God's name, actions of wickedness and impurity, idol worship and abomination. Thus when the attempt to stupefy the intelligence is presented in the name of faith, of fear of Heaven, or diligence in Torah and fulfilling of mitzvos, it becomes a terrible lie and a filthy impurity. Then the holy ones of the Most High, God's pure servants, must go forth to redeem the world and Israel, the Torah, and all that is holy to the Lord from these destroyers. (1)

Fur-cloaked deceivers [the Hassidim], weak of spirit and small of mind, whose own intellectual light has been obstructed, their feelings dulled, and their imagination coarsened, who purposefully and thoroughly trample down the reality before them, their own faith enrooted in mere fables of faith... And thus souls stumble and fall, and human beings live the lives of beasts, degradation without knowledge or understanding, without human honor, that most basic element in recognizing the honour of Heaven that fills the world, that gives life to all, and animates spirit and soul. (2)


(1 / 2) Abraham Itzhak Kook: Rav Kook Manuscript, Collection D, 18b. Published in Orot ha-Emunah, pp.67-68. And in Ish-Shalom. Rav Avraham Itzhak HaCohen Kook: Between Rationalism and Mysticism. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press: 1993. p.17; 3) Arpilei Tohar 27–28; Alternate spellings: Chassidic Chassidim Charedi Charidim Eretz


Rav Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn of Lubavitch said Rav Kook was:
"The Gaon who is renowned with splendor among the
Geonim of Ya’akov, Amud HaYemini, Patish HaChazak..."