May 17, 2010 – Targum Shlishi has awarded funding for a new biography of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, a major figure in early twentieth century Jewish life whose teachings resonate today. It will be the first comprehensive biography of Rabbi Kook to appear in English in sixty years. The author, Yehudah Mirsky, is a respected scholar of Rabbi Kook’s life and work. The book is scheduled to be published by Yale University Press in partnership with the Leon D. Black Foundation as part of a series of biographies of major figures in Jewish history, aimed at both a general and scholarly audience.
Rabbi Kook (1865–1935) immigrated to Palestine from Eastern Europe in 1904 to become Chief Rabbi of Jaffa, and, in effect, of the new Palestine of settlements and secular Zionists. He eventually became the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi for Palestine. He was the first major figure to endorse Zionism as not only a political movement but as a vehicle for Jewish spiritual renaissance and redemption. His writings explored the relationship between secular nationalism and religion and between Jewish identity and universal identity. Drawing on both traditional Jewish texts and modern philosophers and writing in a uniquely poetic style, he emphasized self-expression and the importance of art and literature as vehicles of spirituality.
“Rabbi Kook is a major figure in shaping Israel as we know it today, and this book will introduce his unique perspective to a whole new audience. In part, his influence lies in his openness to other ways of thinking and being, his respect for people’s religious and ideological differences, and his commitment to Jewish unity despite those differences,” says Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi. “On a personal note, I am very pleased to play a part in supporting this important book because of my educational background, which includes exposure to Rabbi Kook’s ideas. I studied for a year at an institution founded by Rabbi Kook, Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav in Jerusalem, when it was headed by Rabbi Kook’s son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook.”
Rabbi Kook remains a major inspiration in Israel today, through his writings and his influence on different political trends. Until now, Rabbi Kook’s writings have been largely inaccessible to an English-speaking audience—the last full-length study of him in English was written in 1946.
Mirsky hopes his book will introduce Rabbi Kook to a new audience who will find his life and teachings relevant, saying, “his very rich conception of Jewish peoplehood was not limited to Zionism and the land of Israel, though there is no doubting their importance to him. His attempt to unite spirituality and intellect, and universal and particular, is deeply resonant across borders, and across traditions as well.”
About Yehudah Mirsky
Yehudah Mirsky received his B.A. in English Literature from Yeshiva University, studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion and received rabbinic ordination in Jerusalem. He received his J.D. from Yale Law School and his Ph.D. in Religion at Harvard, where he wrote his dissertation on Rabbi Kook. He served in the Clinton Administration as special advisor in the State Department’s human rights bureau. He now lives in Jerusalem, where he is a Fellow at the Van Leer Institute and the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute and a senior editor of Jewish Ideas Daily.
About Targum Shlishi
Targum Shlishi, a Raquel and Aryeh Rubin Foundation, is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website at www.targumshlishi.org.
Contact: Targum Shlishi