This article is an excerpt from the book Rav Kook, the Man and his Teaching by Pinchas Polonsky, published in 2006 by Machanaim.

The article is translated by Lise Brody.

Rabbi Kook and Modernization of Judaism

1. A Step in the Development of Judaism: a General Outline.
2. Note: the teaching of Rabbi Kook as a Torat ha-Klal – the Teaching that relates to the nation as a whole.
3. Analysis of the diagram: flaws in Judaism as it exists and the process of their correction; the activation of the sparks.
4. Example #1: The Evolution of Judaism By Means of the Integration of Sparks from Zionism.
5. Example #2:  The Development of Judaism by Means of the Integration of Sparks from Atheism
6. Note:  What Is to be Doubted?
7. Example 3:  Extracting the Divine spark from Reformed Judaism
8. Note:  The Essential difference between Reformed Judaism and Modern Orthodoxy
9. Example 4:  The Divine Spark in “Americanism”
10. Example 5:  the advancement of Judaism by means of a spark from pluralism and religious tolerance

A Direction for the Further Development of Judaism

11. Religious anti-fundamentalism.
12. Religious Anti-fundamentalism and the concept of the Continuing Revelation
13. The Embedded Implication that Judaism Must Lag Behind Culture in its Development
14. The Integration of Three Groups within the Jewish People, and a Program for the Development of Judaism over the Coming Decades

Abraham-Yitzhak ha-Cohen Kook is, without doubt, one of the most celebrated Rabbis of the 20th century. He is known to most people, however, only as the creator of the philosophy of religious Zionism, and we frequently overlook the fact that his teachings underlay a deep modernization of Jewish faith itself and of its approach to an array of contemporary problems. 

Rabbi Kook was a poet by nature, not a university professor. Thus, he believed that mysteries are explained only by other mysteries. This approach makes a systematic study of Rabbi Kook’s philosophy difficult for the beginner. In this article we attempt to fill this gap.

The diagram presented in the article is, of course, a simplification, but we hope that it can serve as a first level of understanding and as a base for further study of Rabbi Kook’s ideas.

1. A Step in the Development of Judaism: a General Outline.

We will now examine a general outline for one “step in the evolution of Judaism”: the revival of those sparks of Divine light which have hitherto been lost, or which were insufficiently realized in the process of historical development.

It must be noted that the outline presented below represents a simplification of Rabbi Kook’s views.  In our opinion, this is necessary in order to create a first step in understanding, from which to advance.1

(See diagram below)

On the diagram, (A) represents historically formed Judaism as it exists today; (B) is some alien non-religious or even anti-religious ideology or movement, some other “ism”.  In reality, of course, there are many such movements, but we will use a single prototype to construct our model, keeping in mind that the same process takes place with each.  Finally, the center of the problem (1) is the wave of “Jewish souls” leaving Judaism for this alien “ism.”  This wave was particularly strong in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when many deserted Yeshivas closed their doors and Jewish youth turned en-mass to Zionism, socialism, Americanism, etc.  According to the mainstream view, these departing youth were “lost and mistaken”; the problem was thought to lie in them—they were not taught right, they did not fully understand, etc.  Thus, the task of the religious was to influence them through explanation and teaching so that they would return to Judaism.  This is how the religious establishment viewed the issue.

It was at this moment that Rabbi Kook proposed an entirely different approach to the question.  According to him, the reason Jews were rejecting the Torah lay not only in the error of their ways, but also in ours, in the flaws of the modern religious world—in Judaism as it existed at the time.  In order to bring about the return to Judaism of those who had fled, it was necessary not to drag them back to the Judaism which they had rejected, but to correct the defects within it.  Then those Jewish souls would gradually return of their own accord to the renewed Judaism of tomorrow.  In other words, Rabbi Kook regarded the exodus of Jews from Judaism as an indicator of the presence of flaws in Judaism; furthermore, he saw it as a sign that the time was ripe for correcting these defects and believed that social / historical circumstances required that we do so without delay.

Basing his approach on the Kabbalah, Rabbi Kook maintained that if a large number of Jews rushed to an ideology under the banner of morality and virtue, this meant that despite its apparent distance from Judaism, or even hostility to it, that ideology must contain a spark of Divine light (on the outline this is represented by the star inside (B)), and the antireligious appearance of this alien ideology would merely be its shell, which fed off the energy of the spark inside.  It is that spark, not the shell, that attracts the souls of those who cross over from Judaism to this alien movement, as Jewish souls, on the whole, are drawn to good and reach for it innately.  Furthermore, the “breach”– the spontaneous, morally grounded mass movement of the Jewish people – is itself an indicator of the ripeness of the spark, a sign that it is time for its activation.

2. Note: the teaching of Rabbi Kook as a Torat ha-Klal – the Teaching that relates to the nation as a whole.

Of course, Rabbi Kook did not believe that every Jew is an entirely upright person, who strives for good in every deed.  We know perfectly well that among Jews there are plenty of fools and criminals.  However, in the “ism,” we see not the rejection of the Torah by an individual Jew, but a socially significant movement.  Such a movement is always accompanied by a sense of moral righteousness declared and subjectively felt by its participants.  Without this sense a social movement cannot develop.

Rabbi Kook believed that a human sense of morality, which is the manifestation of God in the individual, is the world’s driving force. Therefore, he viewed a spontaneous, morally grounded social movement by the Jewish people as a definitive manifestation of the role of the Jews as the chosen people—even though the form that this manifestation takes might directly contradict the directives of the Torah—and held that we must, in the end, view the situation as “hitgalut Elohim”, the revelation of the Divine.

Thus, Rabbi Kook’s teaching is a Torat ha-Klal, a teaching of national unity, viewing the Jewish people as an integral whole, capable only as a single entity of bringing the Torah to the world, and seeing disparate groups within the Jewish people as essential parts of the whole.

3. Analysis of the diagram: flaws in Judaism as it exists and the process of their correction; the activation of the sparks.

Continuing our analysis of the outline for Judaism’s development, it is important to note that the ideas presented so far—that inside every shell are concealed sparks of holiness and Divine light, that the shell feeds off the energy of this spark, and that Jewish souls carry within themselves the role of the chosen and the attraction to good—do not constitute the unique and truly revolutionary teaching of Rabbi Kook, as all of these ideas have been stated and discussed many times in the Kabbalah and in Hassidism.

The true revolution in thinking put forth by Rabbi Kook lies in the proposition that this situation arises due not only to the attraction of the sparks, but, above all, to a defect in Judaism as it exists, evidenced in the lack or insufficient activity of a given spark within it.  (This is represented on the diagram by the empty circle within (A))

The process of activating the spark involves several stages.  The first step (process 2 on the diagram) is to extract the sparks from the shell2.  Guided by our Divine moral intuition, we must explore and determine the precise nature of the Divine spark that is drawing masses of Jewish souls to this alien “ism.”  To do this, it is necessary not only to approach the views of those who have joined the “ism” with extreme respect and deep attention, but also to demonstrate genuine sympathy for the “ism” itself.

In the language of the Kabbalah, we must feel the Divine spark locked within the “ism.”  Clearly, in order to extract the spark from any specific “ism,” it is necessary, while staying within the framework of Judaism, to show sympathy to the external “ism,” as sympathy and empathy are the first steps towards understanding.  But any individual religious person may not sympathize with every “ism.”  Some may simply be too deeply repulsive to him.  This merely shows that he personally is not equipped to extract the spark of Divine light from those particular “isms” – they are not his task, but the task of others who are able to sympathize with them to some degree or other.  That person must work with those “isms” that he finds himself naturally in accord with, as only in them will he be able to find the spark of Divine light.  It is impossible for any one person to sense the sparks in all “isms,” and it is wrong to attempt to spread oneself so thin.  Every person must focus on what is genuinely close to his Divine soul.

At this stage, those who, in the course of their lives, have spent time near to or even within the “ism” being examined may play an especially important role.  (In particular, when Western values are integrated into Judaism – or, to put it more precisely and formally, when those sparks of Divine light which nourish the values of contemporary Western culture are revived within Judaism – an important role must be played both by Jews from Western countries and by us, Jews from Russia, who have been educated in the crucible of totalitarianism and communism.)

The process of identifying the sparks in the “ism” is only the beginning of our work since, as stated above; we cannot integrate that spark into Judaism directly.  Such a heavy-handed transplant would lead to a rejection of the tissue, which could even result in the death of the entire organism. Therefore, unlike Reformed Judaism, which swallows the spark whole from the other teaching and so takes in with it elements of shell which radically contradict the Jewish approach and tradition, the Modern Orthodoxy of Rabbi Kook strives before all else to find this spark’s native, authentic manifestation in Judaism.  It must seek out the spark and its true Jewish form (process 3) in the fundamental tenets of Judaism ( С ) -- that is, in the complete and ideal Judaism, encompassing all the ideas contained in all of its texts and oral traditions.  To do this work, one must not only be an expert in Torah, Halakha, and Hagaddah, one must have the particular wisdom to sense behind the traditionally expressed formulations the deep contemporary content that accurately reflects their Divine light while resonating in today’s world.

Next, the given spark must be cultivated (process 4) within a renewed Judaism (D).  The process of the cultivation of sparks is carried out in our model through modern Judaism (A), as it does not alter the existing, historically formed Judaism, but supplements and corrects it (the arrows at 4A emphasize the point that D receives everything that is already contained in Judaism (A).) The concept presented here is not Reformism, which is always associated with the abolition of a part of the commandment, but Modern Orthodoxy, in which, in addition to ordinary Orthodoxy (preservation), a process of development is continually taking place; Judaism loses nothing, but only increases.

This final stage of work, the realization of a new religious and social life, will require organizational, outreach and pedagogical skills, and, simply, a full and complete religious life under new circumstances, so there is plenty of work for all.

As a result of the activation of the spark from © in (D), the defect is corrected and Judaism takes a step in its development; in place of the existing Judaism of today (A) comes the existing Judaism of tomorrow (D).  A new branch appears on the tree of Judaism, growing from its original roots (C).  And because the spark whose light had been attracting the souls who left in process 1 is now restored and active within Judaism, these souls begin to return (process 5)3.

Because the connections between this spark and other elements in Judaism were already revealed in process 3, the spark will shine more brightly in the renewed Judaism (D) than it did in the outside “ism”(B), where the shell fed off it, dimming its energy.  This will not occur in (D), as there the spark is an integral part of a living system, continually nourished by the system as a whole.  It is this is that gives rise to process 5, in which souls who have fled Judaism now return to it.

Of course, we do not in any way mean to say that those who will return to Judaism are the very same people who earlier left it.  The step in development described here occurs over the course of several decades, and those who have left have left.  At the individual level, a return to Judaism is possible at any moment; but the return of a whole generation is impossible without the restoration of that spark which gives life to (B) and which triggered the exodus from Judaism – a process which must ripen over many decades.  In process 5, people with “kindred souls” to those who left earlier now return, as they are the souls attracted to this particular spark—but this takes place 2 – 4 generations later.  In other words, it is their spiritual grandchildren and great grandchildren.  

4. Example #1: The Evolution of Judaism By Means of the Integration of Sparks from Zionism.

We will now use examples to illustrate how this model functions in practice.

For our first example, we will examine a fairly simple outside “ism,” with regard to which the above model has been fully carried out from beginning to end, so that we today are witness to a true return of souls (process 5).  Specifically, we will look at the integration into Judaism of sparks from secular Zionism, which took place in the 20th century.

At the beginning of the 20th century, “Judaism” and “Zionism” were not only contradictory, but in many ways hostile to one another.  At that time, the slogan of secular Zionism was “we will become a nation like all others”.   This entailed, in particular, the abandonment of religious principles as a basis for Jewish self-identification in favor of a civil-national identity (process 1).  Because of this, many Rabbis condemned secular Zionism as an attempt to destroy the Torah and all true Jewry.

Under these circumstances, Rabbi Kook took an entirely different position.  He maintained that rather than berating secular Zionism for being outwardly wrong, that is, for straying from the Jewish heritage, the Torah, and God (which was superficially true but trivial and, in the long run, an unproductive approach), we must take an entirely different route.  Specifically, his method was not to focus on the outward defects of Zionism, but to seek out its inner truth, to find its Divine spark (process 2) and further, to correct existing Judaism accordingly by integrating into it the spark that had attracted Jewish souls to secular Zionism4.

The situation was somewhat simplified by the fact that this spark consisted of the desire to resurrect a full and true Jewish national life in the land of Israel.  This not only does not contradict Judaism, as many mistakenly believed (both supporters and opponents of Zionism) at the beginning of the 20th century, but also, on the contrary, is an essential condition for its further existence and development.  Therefore, Rabbi Kook focused on the study of those sources in Judaism that address the religious significance of claiming the Land of Israel.  In his articles and books, he conducted a thorough and deep analysis of these sources (process 3), and he made this analysis the central component of his educational program at the Zionist “world-wide Yeshiva” (Merkaz ha-Rav ) that he founded. After his death, Rabbi Kook’s students, and especially his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, brought up a new generation of rabbis and religious activists at that Yeshiva, for whom Zionism—the claiming of the Land of Israel and active participation in its government—was an integral part of the living Judaism that they studied, taught, and abided by.  Graduates of the Yeshiva Merkaz ha-Rav passed on the same active contemporary-Zionist spirit to their students and to the religious circles that they influenced.

As this teaching was in keeping with the times, it began to spread far and wide.  All of this took place as an undercurrent over the course of nearly half a century, from the 1920s to the 1970s (process 4).  And when, after the Six Day War (1967) and especially after the Yom Kippur War (1973), the question of creating Jewish settlements in the territories of Judea, Samaria and Gaza became came up, the tens of thousands of students of Rabbi Kook’s school, united in the movement Gush Emunim, were the driving force behind the new wave of Zionism.

At that moment, a transformation occurred in the Israeli view of the religious world.  One well-known leftist Israeli leader, Amos Oz, expressed his distress this way: “Zionism was our train.  We, [the -secular “original” Zionists], owned and drove it; and we put the religious Zionists in the dining car, in charge of kashrut.  And for some strange reason, those kashrut servers have gone mad and seized the train, and are driving it in a different direction entirely.  They have stolen our Zionism!”

In other words, in the 1970s and 1980s, the religious Zionists—that is, the adherents of Modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Kook’s school—became the leading Zionist group in the country.  And the perceptions of society were transformed:  people’s ideas of “Zionism” and “Judaism” ceased to contradict one another and drew closer.  The struggle for the settlement of the Land of Israel by Jews took on a religious character far different from the anti-religious character it had had at the beginning of the 20th century.  As a result, those who had a Zionist soul, who cared about Jewish settlement in Israel, began to draw closer to Judaism, rather than to distance themselves from it (process 5).  Among the Aliyah from Russia, for example, there are many people (I myself fall into this category) who were initially motivated by Zionism, but who were gradually drawn to religion, seeing in it the path toward a deepening of Zionism.  One could say that in the late 20th century, Zionism “returned” to Judaism the souls that it had “borrowed” at the beginning of the century.

As a result of all of these processes, the right wing of Israeli society (that is, people who seek to settle and claim all of the territory of the Land of Israel) is today significantly closer to religious values than the left wing.  This distinction is so strong that the expression “religious right” has become a stock phrase in the Israeli political lexicon.  In the 1920s, it was the opposite – those concerned with the settlement of Israel were significantly farther from religion than those who were indifferent to the issue.  In this way, processes 1 – 5 were carried out, and Judaism has completed a step in its development, having extracted a spark from secular Zionism.

A side-effect of drawing “Zionist souls” to religion was, in particular, that hardly any such souls remained on the atheist side; this has led to the fact that today secularism is most often associated with a rejection of Zionism, or “post-Zionism.”

5. Example #2:  The Development of Judaism by Means of the Integration of Sparks from Atheism

We will now examine a different example, one which may appear shocking at first, but which nevertheless fits within Rabbi Kook’s overall model for approaching “outside ideologies.”  Specifically, we will apply the system described above to atheism.  We will attempt to carry out the process of extracting a spark of Divine Light and furthering the development of Judaism by means of atheism.5

Atheism, according to our model, fully qualifies as an outside “ism.”  It stands in opposition to Judaism, it displays the banner of rejection of religion, yet Jews join its ranks in significant numbers, proclaiming its morality and worth.

Because in Rabbi Kook’s time atheism was actively growing and attracting supporters, the Rabbi devoted a significant amount of attention to its analysis in his works, thanks to which we are able today to formulate in detail the process of extracting from Atheism a spark of Divine light.  As always in his approach to an alien ideology, Rabbi Kook did not focus on a critique of Atheism’s mistakes, its rejection of God and tradition, etc.  This would have been trivial, and it was attended to at the time by much of the religious establishment.  Rather, he attempted to understand where the deep attraction of Atheism lay, what was in it that drew Jewish souls and how, in relation to this, Judaism needed to evolve so that, instead of leaving, souls of this type would find their rightful place in it.

What is the “spiritual core” of atheism, its Divine spark?  In order to find this, we can ask the question: what is the point of pride for members of this group in this case?  For pride reveals the correlation between our achievements and our Divine spirit.  We take pride in those achievements that gladden our Divine spirit, seeing them as truly worthy.  In other words, the point of pride of any ideology signals what must be culled from it, as it is the root of the attraction of the Divine soul to the given “ism.”  This, therefore, is where we must seek out the concealed spark.

In what, then, do atheists take pride, specifically as atheists?  Of course, I am not speaking here of those atheists who have never given either religion or atheism a serious thought, and who were simply taught in school to be atheists.  Any movement has fools in plenty; we must not focus on these, but on those who think for themselves. We speak here of real atheists, intelligent, thinking, and active.  In what do they take pride?  We are not speaking here of “liberty” or “self reliance,” etc, as these are not specifically atheistic ideas; we must discover what atheists value as atheists.  Based on my own acquaintance with atheists and their books, I believe that the atheist prides himself on being a doubting, critically thinking person.  He says:  “You, the religious, merely believe.  But I doubt.  I cannot unquestioningly accept in all of this.  I am a skeptic.”  It is not for nothing that a conversion to atheism in Israel is called “hazarah be-sheela”, literally, a “return to the question” (as opposed to coming to religion, which is traditionally known as “hazarah be-tshuva “, or “return to the return,” which can also be read as “return to the answer.  With this formulation, atheists establish themselves in opposition:  “You, the religious, have the answer (tshuva) – but we have the question (sheela).  You have ‘returned to the answer,’ and we have ‘returned to the question.’”  This is their source of pride:  that they “have the question.”  We are not discussing simple questions, of course, such as what is or is not kosher, but the fundamental and eternal questions of existence.  The atheist stresses:  “You are attracted to answers, we to questions.”

Thus the true atheist has skepticism as his core conviction.  He declares himself a critical thinker who has unanswered questions to which neither you nor anyone else can have ready answers.  Is this core of atheism attractive?  Picture two teachers, one who says, “Come to me.  I have answers for everything,” and one who says, “Come to me.  I have questions and doubts for every problem.”  Which of them seems more spiritually advanced?  Whose lectures would you wish to attend?  The skeptic’s, of course.  We’ve been through all this:  we know that there are no ready answers to the truly complicated questions.   We also know that answers are very often superficial and questions much deeper.  Therefore, if one says that he has answers, and the other that he has questions, we will, of course, go to the one who has questions.

By means of this analysis, with the help of our own religious intuition, we have found the spark of Divine light in atheism.  Our intuition clearly confirms that questions and doubts are a great thing, and that in them there lies the source of atheism’s spiritual attraction.

Does this component – unanswerable questions – exist within Judaism?  Clearly, in Judaism as it existed 100 – 200 years ago, the emphasis was primarily on the “answers.”  Today, unfortunately, within the popular, rather primitive Judaism with which certain demagogues try to “capture” the masses, the stress is also frequently placed on the answers.  But if we are deeply convinced of the religious importance of unanswerable questions, then let us look to ideal Judaism and try to find out where within it the central questions and doubts lie.

The first thing that comes to mind is the book of Job. Job is a righteous and good man, yet he is showered with misfortunes: the destruction of his possessions, the death of his loved ones. And so, three of his friends come to him, and after the period of silent mourning, they begin to ask: where is justice in the world? Why does the righteous man suffer?  Job’s friends offer highly reasonable explanations, but Job rejects them all, telling his friends that they are wrong, that they understand nothing. The discussion continues for the length of the book – about 40 chapters.  At the end of the book a Voice rings out from the Heavens, saying to the three men, “ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right, as My servant Job hath.”

In other words, the Book of Job concludes by telling us that there is in principle no answer to these essential questions.  The question of justice remains open.  It is necessary to seek an answer, but one must never assume one has found it.

Thus, we have an example from the book from Tanakh which clearly states that there can be no answer to this and, apparently, to many other fundamental questions.  Another such book is Kohelet, Ecclesiastes.  And although this book ends with the words “fear God… for this is the whole man,” which can be seen as an “answer,” the entire book in essence tells us that answers to real existential questions do not exist.   This is one more typical instance in Judaism of the “unanswerable question.”   One must admit ‘that if, instead of questions, the books of Job and Ecclesiastes consisted of a collection of answers about the meaning of life, Tanakh would be greatly impoverished.

However, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this aspect of doubt was not a developed area within existing Judaism ((A) on the diagram).  Its spiritual leaders considered doubt to be a flaw and discouraged their followers from discussing questions that sowed it.  They were to stay inside (A) and never venture out.  The leaders feared that one of their flocks might leave—yet many did flee Judaism because those spiritual leaders were unable to reveal its inner potential to adequately address the problems of the times.  The leaders discouraged the reading of certain books, but people read them and turned away from Judaism and its lack of tolerance for doubt.

We have carried out processes 3 and 4 in relation to Atheism:  we found its Divine spark in ideal Judaism, and we determined that that spark was not realized in existing Judaism, which feared doubt to the point that the thirst for it became a force for the spread of Atheism.  Our next steps are to develop within Judaism the spark of doubt that we have discovered in its roots, so strongly that it will shine more brightly there than it does in Atheism.

The following conception formulated by Rabbi Kook provides us with a roadmap for revealing the spark of doubt in Judaism.  Kook tells us that any faith that lacks doubt is not an ideal faith.  On the contrary, belief without doubt is primitive:  doubts are an integral part of true faith.  As the Divine is by its very essence eternal, and all things human are, by their essence, temporal and finite, including all of our thoughts, ideas, and reasoning about God, our understanding of God cannot, in principle, be correct. 

But what are we to do, if we are finite and temporal?  How can we at least draw closer to the eternal Divine, come to even partially understand?  The answer:  at the very least, we must always doubt everything we think about the Divine, for when the finite being feels his limitations and doubts himself, he becomes “less finite,” some potential of the infinite appears within him.  If we are sure of ourselves and do not doubt, then our finite and temporal conceptions of the Divine become “even more finite,” moving further from the eternal Divine.  If what is finite wishes to become less finite and to move closer to the infinite, it must be dynamic.  That is, we cannot become actually infinite, but we must at least be potentially infinite, if only through doubting the certainty of our understanding and wishing to move forward.  Therefore, doubts are an integral, necessary part of true faith, aiding, not impeding, its progress.

When students in a Yeshiva or school are taught this concept of faith, an entirely new generation of religious people rises up (process 4), whose views can be characterized as “religious post-atheism,” which uses the religious achievements of Atheism for the development of religion.  Unless it activates within it the aspect of doubt, religion will be primitive.  Doubt is necessary for its existence.  Because the aspect of doubt was not adequately developed in religion over the last centuries, atheism came along, smashed everything, and advanced among people the concept of the value of doubt – and for this, religion owes it a debt of gratitude.

Atheism comes, says Rabbi Kook, to ridicule the primitive form of religion and destroy it, clearing the ground for the construction of a more exalted religious system.  From the point of view of the development of religion, Atheism was a historical necessity, as we ourselves—even the religious community and leaders who recognize the importance modernization—would never have decided to destroy that primitive aspect of religion:  we simply would not have had the strength and nerve.  Therefore, Atheism enters and does all of that work for us. 

The observant religious person who has grasped the ideas of post-atheism holds a different sort of religious consciousness.  He combines orthodox religiosity with a willingness to doubt his own religious tenets.  Such a person emanates this new type of faith, changing the ideas of those around him, opening the way to religion for doubting people.  These doubting souls begin to approach Judaism (process 5), seeing that post-atheist Judaism contains the spark of doubt, and that the spiritual necessity of doubt is even more developed here than it was in Atheism.

The difference between the post-atheist religious consciousness and the classical one is easy to see. The Israeli essayist and philosopher Dr. Daniel Shalit says that one need converse with a religious man for no more than 10 minutes to determine whether he is post-Atheist or pre-Atheist. Approached this way, Atheism is not an enemy of religion.  It is an enemy of primitive religion, but an ally in the creation of a more advanced one.  If we can make the ideas of Atheism the general property of the religious world, we will move religion forward and make it possible for those whose souls instinctively and absolutely correctly thirst for skepticism and doubt to approach this religion.

6. Note:  What Is to be Doubted?

Thus, according to Modern Orthodoxy and post-Atheism, doubt is critical for the growth of faith; without it a person cannot believe truly; if people, limited by nature, do not doubt their own limited religious ideas, they will remain much farther from God in their understanding than those who, though limited, at least doubt.

When we frame the problem this way, we frequently encounter the following question: “should one doubt everything?  There must be something, from the religious perspective, that is absolutely beyond question.  God’s existence is certain – how can that be doubted?!”  The answer, from the point of view of religious post-Atheism, is that everything can and must be doubted.  To doubt is not to deny, but to subject to criticism and analysis.  This applies even to the tenet that God exists.  But what is to be doubted is not the words themselves, but our interpretation and understanding of them.  Since doubt is not denial but analysis and clarification, it is necessary for our religious understanding.  It would be incorrect to see doubt in the existence of God as a choice between the statements “God exists” and “God does not exist.”  This is a different kind of doubt entirely – what we must doubt is the meaning that we give to the word “existence” as it relates to God.

Rabbi Kook proposes a completely radical approach to this problem.  He explains that there is a faith which is not faith.  And there is a lack of faith, or Atheism, that is, in its essence, faith. What does he mean by faith which is not faith?  He refers to the person who believes in God, but whose belief is so primitive that his image of God is closer to a caricature than to God Himself.  And what is lack of faith that is faith?  This is the situation when a person says that he does not believe in God, but he says that because religious groups have pictured Him in such a primitive form that he is unable to believe in such a God.  This unbelief reflects not a lack of faith, but a high level of religious feeling.

The words “I believe in God” or “I do not believe in God” do not reflect true faith or lack of faith.  We must hone the meaning of these words during our whole lives – not just our individual lives, but over the course of all human life.  We can and must doubt these meanings in every way, for doubt is not denial – doubt is dissatisfaction with simple answers and a thirst for more precise understanding.

7. Example 3:  Extracting the Divine spark from Reformed Judaism

We will now turn to another example and analyze, according to our model, the Modern Orthodox perception of Reformed Judaism.

It is clear that Reformed Judaism is a typical “ism.”  It contradicts traditional Orthodox Judaism, yet many Jews follow this ideology, which sees itself as worthy and moral.  Appearing at the beginning of the 19th century, it rode the gathering wave of rationalism.  The reformers were convinced that all that was needed for an understanding of the whole world, including religion, was sound reasoning.  They believed that by means of rational analysis they could easily distinguish what was important in religion from what was secondary, and then do away with the secondary to create a new, true religion, based on the main ideas of Judaism.  They considered the main ideas to be the philosophical tenets, such as monotheism, and ethical values; they discarded what they saw as unimportant: observance of the Sabbath, kashrut, etc, which they viewed as rituals.  The Reformed movement steadily gained ground throughout the 19th century.

However, with the crisis in rationalism that occurred at the turn of the 20th century, Reformed Judaism, too, found itself at a crossroads.  It began to change in a new direction, in many ways drawing nearer to the tradition.  Reformed Judaism today is entirely different from what it was at the beginning of the 19th century, but its external appearance remain essentially the same.

The “shell” in Reformed Judaism is evident:  it is based on the idea that we can make changes in religion at will, according to our needs of the moment.  Clearly, this contradicts the fundamental ideas of Judaism regarding the nature of the Divine in both the Written and Oral Torah.  When Reformed Judaism first appeared, the Orthodox, observing its external form, naturally judged it to be in opposition to Judaism.  We, however, working according to Rabbi Kook’s ideas, must not get caught up in a conflict with the superficial errors of Reformed Judaism, but must find the core, that positive idea which attracts Jewish souls to its teaching. For if Jews are turning to it, it must contain a Divine spark.

What is this spark? As discussed earlier, one method of seeking it out is to ask what adherents of this movement take pride in.  Reformed Jews’ main point of pride is that they are modern: they are in step with the times; they change and grow rather than stay still.  (This is why they often prefer the term “progressive” to “reformed.”)

Therefore, we must ask: from the perspective of our own Divine souls, is this principle – to grow and advance rather than to stay in one place – good or bad?  It is good, of course, and each of us feels it so.  Thus, we have carried out an analysis of  “ism” and extracted the spark (process 2).  We must now carry out process 3: we must turn to ideal Judaism and see how this spark – the value of change – is presented there.

Ideal Judaism is the sum of all the meanings contained in the entire Jewish written and oral Tradition.  It is the soul of Judaism, and it does not have clear, unambiguous boundaries.  It is very hard to make sense of everything; to do so, one must not only have great knowledge but also be able to read classical texts from a contemporary perspective.  One must have deep religious intuition to spot the necessary thought in any one of many classical sources.

As a parallel to this idea, we might examine our own soul.  It is so difficult to determine its boundaries that some are convinced that it does not exist.  Yet we know quite well that we have a soul – our primary experience tells us so, and primary  experience is stronger than any rational theory, as any such theory is by nature secondary, created to explain our prior experience.  Despite the certainty of its existence, it is hard to define and articulate the boundaries of our own soul, as it is hard to define the soul of Judaism.  Nevertheless, it is possible to investigate that soul and to discover there what we seek.

How, then, are we to find the idea of change within Ideal Judaism?  In its most apparent form, it is presented as the Continuing Revelation, but that concept is not a simple one, and we will discuss it in more detail later.  In order not to become mired in its complexities, we will take a clearer example.  We will explore the difference we have already discussed between Rabbi Kook and Maimonides on the questions of change in the Divine and of the religious importance of progress (see above, # 6).

Again, Rabbi Kook tells us that, given its perfect nature, the Divine cannot lack the aspect of constant change, and therefore religion, to be worthy of God, must progress and develop.  In other words, the need for progress and modernization, even in the area of religion, is not merely a human trait; it is a manifestation of our Divine nature.  Religion, therefore, must develop – not in order to make it easier and more convenient for us humans, but because without development religion will not adequately reflect God.  Kook’s analysis of this concept completes process 3 on our diagram: we have found the corresponding spark in ideal Judaism and developed it to a higher level than it reaches in the “ism” we began with.

We are now faced with process #4, the cultivation of this spark in existing Judaism.  According to our model, if (B), our “ism,” is Reformed Judaism, the Judaism of tomorrow, (D), will be the Modern Orthodoxy of Rabbi Kook – that form of Orthodox Judaism that sees development as important and provides a roadmap for it.  Furthermore, in some sense, Modern Orthodoxy is even more modern than Reformed Judaism, as it not only strives to develop and evolve in areas that seem “out of date,” it has a program for the further development of Judaism. (We will discuss this in more detail below.)  This orientation to the future is entirely unique.  In our experience with many religious ideas, we have never come across anyone who proposed a program of religious development for the coming decades or centuries!  This demonstrates that the spark of change shines more brightly in Modern Orthodoxy than in Reformed Judaism.

8. Note:  The Essential difference between Reformed Judaism and Modern Orthodoxy

Although there are parallels between certain aspects of Reformed Judaism and Modern Orthodoxy, we must emphasize again the cardinal and essential difference between them.  Both recognize that the historically formed, traditional Orthodox Judaism in many ways fails to address the needs of contemporary society, and that this prompts many Jews to leave it.  However, the two approaches to this problem are critically different.  The Reformed Jews proclaim that it is difficult for people today to observe all of the commandments and restrictions of Judaism, and therefore we should ourselves lighten the demands to make life simpler for its followers.  But the Modern Orthodox maintain the opposite: after all, from a technological standpoint, today it is much easier to observe all of the commandments than it was in past centuries, so the real question people are asking today is simply, “what do I need all of this for?”  But when we develop those sparks that have dropped out of sight within Judaism, we create a reason for many more people to move towards it.  In other words, the Reformed solve the problem by making Judaism smaller, while the Modern Orthodox solve it by making Judaism bigger, through the development of its ideals and the restoration of its sparks of Divine light.

Both movements see the presence, seriousness and depth of the problem, and they do not avoid it, as do many of the Charedim, but the solutions they propose are polar opposites.

9. Example 4:  The Divine Spark in “Americanism”

As another example of the application of our model, I would like to try to identify the Devine spark in the American way of life known as Americanism. Americanism fully qualifies as an ideology, so we should be able to discover its concealed spark.

In many of its superficial aspects, Americanism does indeed stand in opposition to Judaism.  It speaks of advancing oneself in the material realm, of individual liberty, of freedom from dogma, all of which would seem to contradict the Orthodox Jewish values.  However, again, we are not to focus on the external picture, but to seek out that central kernel in Americanism that attracts Jewish souls.

What is the soul of Americanism?  We must determine what the American individual, the American people, and American civilization pride themselves in.  We need to find the point of pride of this specific group of people, as distinct from any other.  Therefore, we cannot say that Americans take pride in freedom, democracy, or patriotism, as other nations pride themselves in these as well.  We must search for the element that is specific to the American worldview that distinguishes Americans from Europeans. 

It would make sense to begin our search for the soul of America with what is rightly known as the “American Dream.”  The embodiment of the American dream is the self-made man, the man who does not inherit millions, but who, through wit, persistence, and initiative, is able to accomplish his vision, to do something important and useful for society, and who receives for this, as society’s token of gratitude, great sums of money.  The man who happens to find a million dollars is not an example of the American dream.  It is the man who makes a million dollars.  There must be praiseworthy, creative deeds.  This is unquestionably America’s point of pride.  On the broader, societal scale, it is clear that for Americans, the embodiments of their national spirit and source of pride are skyscrapers, roads, bridges, cowboys galloping across the wide prairies.  A concrete example of American pride was the nationwide rapture after the landing of a man on the moon, which was captured in Neil Armstrong’s famous words: “This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.

We will try to identify the Divine spark in this.  Again, let us recall the important principle that the first step is sympathy.  Without sympathy there is no understanding.  Therefore, if skyscrapers, bridges, and the moon landing bring joy to your soul, inspire you with a sense of progress, of the grandeur and divinity of humankind, then we can begin to dig.  But if there is no resonance, then you cannot and should not search this “ism”; it is not for you.  This is perfectly normal as every person’s spiritual abilities are limited.

Thus, it is fairly easy for those who delight in skyscrapers, bridges, and the moon landing to find the essential soul of Americanism.  It is the joy of man’s mastery of his surroundings.  This is the joy of cowboys and settlers in the Wild West, the joy we find in achievements of science and technology, in improved standards of living and medicine, in the moon landing.  When a person has power over nature, he feels a sense of greatness.  And that feeling of the greatness, whether on the level of the individual, the nation, or of humanity as a whole – that pleasure in the fact that man has built, developed, and spread civilization throughout the world – that is the soul of Americanism.         

Europe, to a great degree, lives on its inheritance in the material, cultural, and spiritual spheres and in the structure of its society.  America is grounded in faith in the creative abilities of “civilized man,” in his energy and his future.

As an illustration of the difference between the European and American mentalities, we might look at their attitudes towards distant countries and colonies.  The European sees it thus:  he travels to distant “dark lands” and brings back riches and a bride.  He brings them back to his home, to the city.  The American views it otherwise:  he travels to distant “dark lands” and transforms them into “vast expanses of light.”  He does not strive to create colonies, he strives to turn everything into America.  He sees the dark lands as a field for the expansion of his civilization, not as a place to plunder for riches for his city.  This is an entirely different view of life.

We have identified the spark in Americanism, and it is clear that this thirst to “take the field” is not an active component of Judaism today.  Now we must try to find the authentic Jewish expression of this spark (process 3).  Where does it appear in Ideal Judaism?  It is written, of course, in black and white, on the very first page of the Torah. Verses 1:27 - 28 read: “So God created man in His image… and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea, the bird of the sky, and every living thing that moves on the earth.’”  Building civilization and exercising power over nature is, in fact, the very first commandment given by God to man.  Therefore, the spirit of America in no way contradicts the Torah, but is fully in accord with it; it is the realization of the commandment to “subdue the earth,” and is a manifestation of the Divine in man.  Hence the joy.

But how many modern Rabbis would say, “A man has landed on the moon!  How brilliant—how wonderful from a religious point of view!  People have built skyscrapers and bridges, laid roads and made advances in physics and medicine – wonderful!”  Unfortunately, there are almost no such Rabbis.  In other words, we observe a typical flaw in existing Judaism.  In fact, only one prominent rabbi of the 20th century, the Modern Orthodox Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik, wrote or spoke about this.

Contemporary Orthodox Judaism is still far from assimilating and developing this spark.  For it to do so, it is necessary both that there be educated people who are able to combine the pursuit of science with adherence to Judaism and, above all, that the religion clearly emphasize to the Jewish people the positive nature of progress in science, technology and civilization. This must be done by rabbis in Yeshivas and synagogues, and in articles and lectures, and, to no lesser degree, by each of us in our daily interactions. By recognizing the religious importance of the advancement of civilization and raising this awareness in the world around us, every one of us can contribute to the development of Judaism.

10. Example 5:  the advancement of Judaism by means of a spark from pluralism and religious tolerance

Let us examine one more example of our model in action: the advancement of Judaism by means of a spark from pluralism and religious tolerance.

From an outside perspective, monotheism, with its inherent rejection of other gods, is in no way a tolerant or pluralist point of view.  In ancient times, various systems of idolatry added new gods to their pantheons with little fuss, accusing the monotheist Jews of “atheism” for their refusal to recognize other deities.  Monotheism, it would appear, insists on a single religious truth.  How can this leave room for pluralism?  Pluralism, which generally proclaims that everyone has his own truth, clearly contradicts Judaism with its One God and obligatory commandments.  So the external shell of pluralism is evident, utterly incompatible with Judaism.

Nonetheless, if, as we see, many Jews turn to ideological pluralism (process 1), that means, according to Rabbi Kook, that it must contain some Divine spark.  In order to find it, those of us who are observant Orthodox Jews, yet who sympathize with pluralism, must ask ourselves what exactly it is in pluralism that attracts us.  What is it that accords with our deep intuition?  That is the exclamation:  “One person can’t be right about everything and another always wrong!”  In other words, we protest against the absolutism of a privately owned truth, against any one sided claim to truth. This clearly is the Divine soul of pluralism.  Thus, we have carried out process 2.

In order to carry out process 3 in this instance – to unearth this spark in ideal Judaism and to nurture it until it shines brighter there than it does in secular pluralism, we will turn again to Rabbi Kook’s conception of the infinite nature of the Divine.  Rabbi Kook notes that because it is the essential nature of the Divine to be infinite, and humanity is by nature finite, no conception understood or formulated by humans can wholly encompass God.  Therefore, others’ conceptions, as well as our own, contain elements of Divine light which we must study and assimilate in order to make our own understanding more complete.  In other words, a secular approach to pluralism asserts that everyone has his own truth:  you have yours, I have mine, leave me alone and don’t come bothering me with yours.  In contrast, Rabbi Kook’s religious pluralism argues that every person has his piece of the truth, each one a part of an all-encompassing Divine truth.

This pluralism of connection, of a many-faceted unity, is a higher form of pluralism than the secular one that sees all viewpoints as separate.  What springs from this viewpoint is one of the most important aspects of Modern Orthodoxy -- Modern Orthodoxy’s religious tolerance derives not from a “live and let live” attitude, which can lead to the fragmentation of society and its ultimate collapse, but from the conviction that we are all part of a greater whole, and that the element of Divine truth that you have grasped is something I need also, to increase my own spiritual wholeness.  Therefore, I do not simply let you be, I am interested in your truth and want to grasp it.  This approach leads to a far higher level of pluralism and tolerance than the simple indifference of secular tolerance.

A Direction for the Further Development of Judaism

Now that we have outlined the process and examined several examples of its application, I will make a few additional remarks, and then draw some conclusions regarding possible further directions for the development of Judaism.

11. Religious anti-fundamentalism.

To characterize Rabbi Kook’s approach, I would like to introduce a new and important idea, which, to my knowledge, has not before appeared in the history of religion: namely, religious anti-fundamentalism.

Today, the term fundamentalism carries more negative political weight than real meaning; “fundamentalist” is understood to be synonymous with “fanatic”.  But let us leave its loaded and “political” uses, and examine it from the point of view of religious theory.  What is the essential meaning of “fundamentalism”?  The term refers to an effort to modernize religion by means of a return to its original foundation and a rejection of its historical course of development; change is seen as polluting the pure roots of the given religion.

A classic example of this in Christianity is, of course, Protestantism.  Protestantism called for a return to the Bible, proclaiming that the entire historical path of the Catholic Church had been wrong, had distorted the foundations of Christianity, and must therefore be reexamined and even discarded. Accordingly, the study of the patriarchy of the Church that was the basis of religious concept is still considered of interest, now not as an authoritative source, but as a source of inspiration, being a collection of interesting thoughts by prominent men.

The central idea of fundamentalism is that the historical development of religion is a human phenomenon, whereas the original foundation is Divine.  This formulation, of course, awakens a powerful religious yearning to return to that source.  This is where God revealed Himself, this is the essence of the religion.  The rest was written by people, who did the best they could, but who inevitably ruined, misunderstood, and misrepresented much.  The fundamentalist principle of a return to the roots always receives significant support from followers of a religion because there is almost always a belief that in the beginning was the Gift, the Revelation.  A light came down from above, and only after that did people rework it, perceive it, understand it and, perhaps, confuse it.  The idea of a return to basics always finds its followers.

However, as theology students well know, the fundamentalist cannot, in fact, return to basics because the source is already hidden from us by changes in mentality, in understanding, in life that have taken place in the intervening centuries.  No matter what we do, we will never be able to look at the source with the eyes of those who lived a thousand or fifteen hundred years before.  The fundamentalist inevitably looks back at the source with his own, contemporary eyes, and so fundamentalism, despite the mantle of conservatism and the slogan “back to basics”, is in fact always a form of modernization.6

The Protestants carried out such a modernization of Christianity.  In Judaism, one could more or less consider Karaite movement to be fundamentalists (Their approach was similar to the Protestants’: they saw Talmud and the oral Torah as recent human distortions, and called for a return to the original written Torah.  However, in the 7th century, they were not able, with the mindset of their own day, to see the Torah through the eyes of the Jews of Moses’s time in the 14th century BC, two thousand years earlier.)   An example of fundamentalism in Islam is Wahhabism.

Founders and activists of fundamentalism are always characterized by a passionate, even ecstatic feeling of faith.  In order to reject historical development and say, “we are returning to the original source,” one must have a burning religious fervor indeed.7  Therefore, attempts to oppose a passionate and charismatic fundamentalism with a lackluster, respectable, moderate traditional religion usually fail.  This is the general view of fundamentalism among religious scholars.

Returning now to the ideas of Rabbi Kook, we see that the plan he offers for the modernization of religion – Modern Orthodoxy – is radically opposed to the fundamentalist approach.  First, the term “Orthodox” refers to the preservation of all the laws and norms that have come to exist in a given religion – in the case of Judaism, Halakha.  Fundamentalism often calls for a reexamination of many rules, which it pronounces to be human deviations from the original Divine foundation.  More important, Rabbi Kook’s actual approach to the process of change within religion is contrary to fundamentalism.  In the development of culture, society, science, etc, Rabbi Kook sees not human digression, but the immanent Divine Revelation – a view that changes the entire relationship between the foundation and ongoing development. That is, in Rabbi Kook’s picture we do not see the traditionalists’ “moderate and respectable” opposition to fundamentalism: the stable and permanent against the excessive and fervid.  Instead, Rabbi Kook rejects both, fundamentalism and traditional static forms of orthodoxy, both of which reveal weakness of faith in their failure to notice that the Divine Revelation is present not only in the original form of a religion, but in its continuing development and their inability to feel the need to add the living immanent Revelation along with the original transcendent one.

Thus, Rabbi Kook’s concept might be called “religious anti-fundamentalism.”  It not only recognizes the necessity of historical development in religion but it sees it as a dialogue with God.  We will now examine this approach in more detail.

12. Religious Anti-fundamentalism and the concept of the Continuing Revelation

The religious concept of the Continuing Revelation asserts that the Divine Revelation did not stop at Mount Sinai, but continued throughout time and continues still, manifested not in miracles, but in the course of human history, above all of Jewish history.  Therefore, this Revelation can and must be listened to, and to do this we must see history as a dialogue with God.8

There is no doubt that the very idea of monotheism as a religion of Dialogue implies a continuing interaction between man and God throughout all of human history.  What is more, Jewish monotheism, as Rabbi Kook’s concept emphasizes, is characterized by the idea that not only does every individual carry on a dialogue with God, but the nation as a whole, and all of humankind do the same.  And it would be natural to suppose that through this Dialogue God continues to speak. Of course, He does not say anything to contradict His earlier words. God’s word cannot be revoked.   The earlier Revelation is never rescinded, but it must be continually developed and added to.  Thus, the idea of a national dialogue with God leads to the principle of Continuing Revelation, and that, in its turn, to Modern Orthodoxy.

In other words, the view of history as a dialogue between man and God means that God is continually speaking to us, and all innovations that brings forth progress in culture, society and religion, is not simply human invention, but also Divine Revelation.  Therefore, it must be integrated into our religious ideas and not discarded.

It stands to reason that not everything that has occurred in the course of history is Divine.  Many developments can and should be criticized, changed, repaired.  But it would be categorically wrong to cast away historical development as a whole, as we would be discarding with it essential elements of the Revelation.  According to this conception, we do not have the right to reject historical change – not because we must protect human creative activity from primordial religious dogma, but on the contrary, because we adhere to a religious viewpoint.  Thus, the concept of the Continuing Revelation, and Modern Orthodoxy, which is based on it, are both aspects of Rabbi Kook’s religious anti-fundamentalism.

13. The Embedded Implication that Judaism Must Lag Behind Culture in its Development

Looking at this model for the development of Judaism by means of sparks from “isms,” we are obliged to make note of one critical feature, which from a religious point of view might well be seen as an embedded “flaw.”  Namely, the model presupposes that Judaism lags behind culture in its development.  The “ism” appears first, arising in relation to progress in the larger society.  As a result of this, people become dissatisfied with flaws in Judaism that earlier generations accepted (A);9 they leave and build (B), and only two or three generations later does a segment of the religion adopt, develop, and realize the essence of these new ideas to create (D).

But if it is always thus, how will religion ever be able to lead?  How will it accomplish what it is called upon to do?!

The answer to this problem comes in two complementary parts.

The first is the fact that, indeed, within the structure of assimilating sparks from various “isms,” Judaism will never be in a position to overtake those “isms.”  However, Rabbi Kook explains that Judaism has “in reserve” another most important concept, namely, that of God’s dialogue not only with the individual, but also with the nation as a whole. Christianity or Western society never adopted this idea, inherent to Judaism from the start; humankind has only today begun to explore it.  Therefore, Judaism will be able to lead civilization by means of this idea, rather than through its assimilation of sparks, which, as important as it is, merely serves to correct accumulated flaws that occur in the process of transition from Judaism of Diaspora to a Judaism of the Nation of Israel.    Until we have adequately corrected these flaws, we will continue to fall behind and so will be unable to make us heard by the world.  We must continue to correct them, while at the same time developing that concept of national Dialogue with God which is uniquely ours, so as later to bequeath it to humankind, thereby making an essential contribution to the development of civilization.

This is the first part of the answer.  However, the problem has another aspect.  The second part of the explanation as to why Judaism lags behind culture in its development is that, as the Kabbalah explains, our entire world is “tikkun olam” -  “a world of correction.”  God’s light cannot appear in our world immediately in its true form.  At the beginning of Creation and again in every new stage of development, happens the shvirat kelim, the breaking of the vessels, and the sparks of Divine light get always enveloped by shells.  Judaism’s “lag” is grounded in the very foundations of existence.  Every idea first appears in a wrong form, in the context of the “ism.”  And only afterwards, as a result of our efforts to improve the world, it appears in a purer and more correct form. 

This arrangement of things is, of course, not accidental.  It is related to God’s desire to allow us to become His “companions,” his co-creators in the universe.  However, this is too big a subject, and must be explored in more detail elsewhere.

14. The Integration of Three Groups within the Jewish People, and a Program for the Development of Judaism over the Coming Decades

In concluding this discussion, and to help us determine a direction for the future development of Judaism, we will examine an excerpt from Rabbi Kook’s book “Orot”.

“The three official parties in the life of our nation: One, the Orthdox party, as we are accustomed to call it, which carries the banner of the holy, pitches stridently, jealously, bitterly for Torah and commandments, faith, and all the holy in Israel. The second, the new Nationalist party, campaigns for all the aspirations of the nationalist tendency, which comprises much of the pure naturalism of the nation, which desires to renew its national life, after it was so long hidden within due to the violence of the bitter exile. The third is the Liberal party, which not so long ago carried the banner of Enlightenment, whose influence is still great in wide circles, does not fit into the nationalist scheme and seeks the universal human content of the Enlightenment, culture, ethics and so forth. It is understood that in a healthy state there is a need for these three forces together, and we must always aspire to come to this healthy state, in which these three forces together will reign in all of their plentitude and goodness, in a whole, harmonious state in which there is neither lack nor superfluity, for the Holy, the Nation and Man, will cleave together in a love lofty and practical. The individuals and also the parties, each of whom finds his talent best suited for one of these three elements, will congregate together in worthy friendship to recognize each the positive mission of his companion.” (p. 177, translation by Bezalel Naor).

In other words, Kook tells us not to think that the correct, future Judaism will be the continuation and legacy of the Orthodoxy of his time.  In fact, it will be an integration of the ideals of the Orthodox, the nationalists, and the universalists.  In order to appreciate the stunningly radical nature of this idea, let us translate it into the language of today:  it would be as if to declare that the future of Judaism will integrate the values of Agudath Israel, the Likkud and Meretz.

In the language of our model for religious development, this would mean that the ideologies of the nationalist and universalist groups each contain sparks, which Judaism must absorb. This is a revolutionary idea, and at the beginning of the 20th century, when it was formulated, it was unthinkable. Today, however, 80 years later, things look somewhat different.

In fact, Rabbi Kook’s picture of three groups within the Jewish nation and the need for a synthesis of their ideals is itself a general program for the development of Judaism. We would do well to examine its progress over the past eighty years in order to determine to what extent it has been carried out and to define a direction for further development.  Of course, in trying to foresee the course of the next 30 – 80 years, we can only make guesses, but nonetheless, I would like to present a brief sketch of one possible scenario.

Over the past decades, the dynamic between the religious and national “camps” was such that religious Zionism, essentially carrying out Rabbi Kook’s program, to a significant extent absorbed into itself many values that were seen, at the beginning of the 20th century, as the domain of secular Zionism: the settling and claiming of the land, the responsibilities over the government, the army, etc.  In this area, Rabbi Kook’s program is plain to see.  However, the sparks from the third group, the universalists, who hold general humanist values, have barely been integrated at all into Judaism over these eighty years.  Yet these values – human rights and individual liberty, rejection of religious and national coercion, protection against infringements on the rights of the individual by society or state, defense of animals and the environment, the importance of peace and democracy – all of these, at their base, belong no less to Jewish religious values than they do to the “nationalist group.”  We cannot integrate them into Judaism in their present form, as their central Divine spark is still enveloped by a foreign shell, which feeds off its energy and often directs to evil ends.  But in fact, all of these ideals are not only found within Judaism, they have the potential to exist there on a far higher level than they do in their present anti-religious manifestations.

At the beginning of the 20th century it seemed unfathomable that religious circles would integrate the ideals of the Zionist movement and become more important and active in Israeli society than the Zionists themselves – yet this has taken place in less than one hundred years.  Similarly, it may seem most improbable that Modern Orthodoxy should undertake to “seize” the humanist values that are today proclaimed by movements with an anti-religious orientation.  And yet, according to Rabbi Kook’s model, it appears that this is precisely the program for the development of Judaism over the next three to eight decades.

Of course, it is not given to us to see this work through to the end – yet nor do we have the right to shirk it.

1 The core of the scheme below is described in Rav Kook’s article “The War of Ideas and Faiths” (Orot,.p. 129); see also Shmona Kvatzim 1:16.

2 See Shmona Kvatzim 1:71, also Orot, p. 63 (passage 9).

3 See Shmona Kvatzim 8:51

4  The most well-known passage about this is: “The nefesh (=lower part of the soul in Kabalistic tradition) of sinners of Israel in the “footsteps of Messiah” – those who join lovingly the causes of the Jewish People, Land of Israel and the national revival – is more corrected than the nefesh of the perfect believers of Israel who lack the advantage of the essential feeling for the good of the people and the building of the nation and land. But the ruah (=higher part of the soul) is much more corrected in the God-fearing and Torah observant… The tikkun (correction) will come about through the “Light of Messiah”…  Israel should bond together, and the nefesh of the observant will be corrected by the perfection of nefesh of the better transgressors, in regard to communal affairs, and material and spiritual ideals attained to human understanding and perception. Whereas the ruah of these transgressors will be corrected by the influence of the God-fearing, observant and great of faith. And thereby both groups will receive Great Light… The higher zaddikim, Masters of neshama (third and highest part of soul) will be the uniting conduits, through which the light of the nefesh will flow from left to right, and the light of the ruah from right to left…This will be accomplished through the light of Messiah, who is David himself, who erected the yoke of Teshuvah  -. For the sake of David, Your servant, do not rebuff Your Messiah” (Arfilei Tohar, § 21, published also in Orot).

5 Atheism displays the power of life: “Therefore the real spiritual heroes extract sparks of great kindness from their atheism and turn its bitterness into sweetness” (Arfilei Tohar, § 120); “The destructive wind of disbelief will purify all the filth which gathered in the lower realm of the spirit of faith and this results into Heavens to clear... all will grow in purity and strength, in supernal holiness, from the firm pure exalted kernel, which no negativity can affect. Its light will shine as a new light upon Zion, with a wondrous greatness” (Shmona Kvatzim 1:476, Orot ha-Techiyah, ch. 51, p. 199).

6 This is the source of the apparent paradox noted by some scholars of contemporary Islam, who observe elements of modernization in Islamic fundamentalism. This, according to these scholars’ perception of fundamentalism, should contradict fundamentalism’s conservative intent.

7 Here it might be noted that in this sense the reformers of Judaism, of course, have not the least relation to fundamentalism, as they in no way attempt to return to an original observation of the Torah.  On the contrary, they reform it, changing the rules for observation of the laws of the Torah according to what they consider the “demands of the times.”  Therefore, the view one sometimes encounters that posits Reformed Judaism, as a kind of parallel to Protestantism is entirely unfounded.  In fact, the two movements present different systems of modernization altogether.  In particular, within Protestantism, which was itself built on religious fervor, new religious revival movements have repeatedly emerged, something that is not at all the case in Reformed Judaism (although one must acknowledge its tremendously important social role, especially in the Jewish community in the US.).

8 For a more detailed presentation and analysis of the concept of the Continuing Revelation, see Tamar Ross and Yehuda Gellman, “The Implications of Feminism for Orthodox. Jewish Theology,” (in Menachem Mautner (ed.), Multiculturalism in a Democratic State: Ariel Rosen-Zvi Memorial Volume, pp. 443-464), part 5: “The theology of the Continuing Revelation and its premises in Jewish philosophy, Hagaddah, Kabbalah, and the work of Rabbi Kook”

9 See Arfilei Tohar, 2 and 68