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Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution (Jewish Lives) [Kindle Edition]

Yehudah Mirsky

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Book Description

Rav Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935) was one of the most influential—and controversial—rabbis of the twentieth century. A visionary writer and outstanding rabbinic leader, Kook was a philosopher, mystic, poet, jurist, communal leader, and veritable saint. The first chief rabbi of Jewish Palestine and the founding theologian of religious Zionism, he struggled to understand and shape his revolutionary times. His life and writings resonate with the defining tensions of Jewish life and thought.

A powerfully original thinker, Rav Kook combined strict traditionalism and an embrace of modernity, Orthodoxy and tolerance, piety and audacity, scholasticism and ecstasy, and passionate nationalism with profound universalism. Though little known in the English-speaking world, his life and teachings are essential to understanding current Israeli politics, contemporary Jewish spirituality, and modern Jewish thought. This biography, the first in English in more than half a century, offers a rich and insightful portrait of the man and his complex legacy. Yehudah Mirsky clears away widespread misunderstandings of Kook’s ideas and provides fresh insights into his personality and worldview. Mirsky demonstrates how Kook's richly erudite, dazzlingly poetic writings convey a breathtaking vision in which "the old will become new, and the new will become holy."

Product Description


"Yehudah Mirsky's lively and clarifying book presents this great-souled rabbi in all his startling richness, and responsibly introduces its readers to one of the most influential and misread figures in modern Jewish thought. This is a significant contribution to the history of Jewish ideas - and also to contemporary debates about the Jewish religion and the Jewish state, because the best and the worst of Israeli Judaism may be traced back to the dissonant strains, by turns tolerant and jingoist, in Kook's profoundly original writings." -Leon Wieseltier -- Leon Wieseltier "Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, was one of the most important Jewish religious thinkers of modern times - and indisputably the most influential in Israel - yet biographic studies of him in any language, and English studies in general, have been sorely lacking. Yehudah Mirsky's volume instantly becomes the go-to life and thought of this revolutionary, conservative, radical, traditional, messianic, reality affirming, richly dialectical thinker. The book is written with authority and clarity and is a pleasure to read. Mirsky writes with literary grace and sensitivity, nuance and complexity without losing clarity and focus. Mirsky's mastery of traditional texts enriches his deep reading of Kook's writings even as his rigorous academic method enables his scholarly lucidity, on Kook's extraordinary life and oeuvre and the complex afterlife of his teachings. All this and more are captured by Mirsky with restraint, understatement, irony and wisdom."-Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, theologian, past professor of Jewish Studies at City College of the City University of New York; President Emeritus of CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership -- Rabbi Irving Greenberg "This volume is the most extensive personal and intellectual biography of Rav Kook in English-- and, to use Rav Kook's beloved imagery, it sheds a great deal of light. Rich in insights and studded with previously neglected or unknown historical details, the book moves through Rav Kook's life and writings in a way that both makes his ideas accessible and provides a sorely needed context for the various stages of his thought. Mirsky does not shy away from critique. Both scholars and the general public will profit immensely from this book."-David Shatz, Professor of Philosophy, Yeshiva University, editor Torah u-Madda Journal -- David Shatz "Sensitive and deeply engaging ... Yehudah Mirsky's account of the life of this exceptional religious leader is must reading for anyone wishing to better understand Rav Kook and his times."-Jewish Book World Jewish Book World "Learned, luminous and uncannily timely ... [A]rich and compelling presentation of Kook's life and thought ... Erudite [and] excellent."-Jewish Review of Books Jewish Review of Books "Yehudah Mirsky's new biography of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook focuses on a brief but enormously significant period of modern history ... As the question of Jewish unity feels rather pressing in our own day, Kook's belief in overcoming partisanship for the common good is worth recalling. And Mirsky's excellent feat of scholarship is a great place to begin."-JWeekly JWeekly "Superb ... gripping, panoramic ... vividly rendered ... Combines scholarly balance with wonder ... All this in clear, elegant and at times beautiful English."-The Jewish Chronicle The Jewish Chronicle "Mirsky has a deep knowledge of the historical context of Rav Kook's life and career. He also knows the classical Jewish sources that his subject drew upon and often reformulated in his writing. And he is truly critical (as distinct from argumentative) in examining both the strengths and weaknesses of his subject. And he is an exceptionally good writer."-First Things First Things "Excellent... Neither current Israeli politics nor contemporary Jewish spirituality can be accurately understood without addressing Rabbi Kook's legacy. The book brings to English readers the life story of Rabbi Kook, along with an explanation of his religious philosophy, in language as clear as anything I have ever read about Rabbi Kook's thought."-Canadian Jewish News Canadian Jewish News "While some books offer a good read, and others encapsulate groundbreaking scholarship, Yehudah Mirsky's Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution manages to do both."-Jewish Week Jewish Week "An intellectual biography in its truest sense: a story of the coming-to-be of a towering intellect and a turbulent soul. Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution will aid English-language readers unfamiliar with this profoundly influential rabbi to understand one of the founding figures of contemporary Israeli society."-Marginalia Review of Books Marginalia Review of Books "Yehudah Mirsky's remarkable new intellectual biography ... is a must-read as an elixir to the monochromatic times in Israel we are living through now."-Aubrey L. Glazer, The Times of Israel -- Aubrey L. Glazer The Times of Israel "This volume presents a clear picture of [Kook's] thought-without forcing it into a consistency that was never there and without hiding the problematic of his ideas. Mirsky is a master of prose and is able to present complex ideas in understandable English while maintaining the flow of the narrative... It certainly is now the standard biography of Rav Kook and it is essential for any serious collection dealing with modern Jewish religious thought as well as related areas."-Shaul Stampfer, Religious Studies Review -- Shaul Stampfer Religious Studies Review "Yehudah Mirsky's fantastic new book ... deserves all the accolades it has received."-Marc B. Shapiro, Seforim Blog -- Marc B. Shapiro Seforim Blog

About the Author

Yehudah Mirsky is Associate Professor of the Practice of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University. He served in the U.S. State Department's human rights bureau, lived in Israel for the past decade, and has contributed to the New Republic, the Economist, and many other publications.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1675 KB
  • Print Length: 287 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0300164246
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (1 Feb. 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00I50EXPU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #580,332 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive Biography 6 Jan. 2014
By For Two Cents Plain - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I confess that I just received this book, which I had pre-ordered, and couldn't put it down. No only is it the first in-depth, book-length intellectual biography of Rav Kook in English, but it sets a standard that may never be equaled. The author's knowledge of his subject is profound and thorough, his writing is a pleasure to read, the historical photos significantly add to the volume, and the classic design and production should please any book-lover. For seasoned students of Rav Kook's thought, it contains many new points of information and rich insights, while for those who are new to the subject, it will supply the religious, cultural and historical context needed to appreciate -- or at least, begin to appreciate -- this towering and complex modern mystic.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding intellectual biography 12 Jan. 2014
By Jonathan Groner - Published on
This is an outstanding biography of a towering Jewish figure who is not as well known today as he should be. Mirsky correctly emphasizes Rav Kook's thought rather than the details of his daily life and his family. The author brilliantly focuses on Rav Kook as a mystic, a religious reformer, and a lover of the people of Israel and of the land of Israel -- yet resists the temptation to place this great rabbi and thinker, who died in 1935, into today's categories of "modern Orthodox" versus "haredi." Rav Kook was disdained, even hated, by much of the Jewish religious establishment of his day because of many elements of his thought -- particularly the concept that secular Zionists were helping to bring about the redemption of the Jewish nation. Yet in many ways, he was hardly the equivalent of today's liberal Orthodox rabbis. For example, he opposed women's right to vote in religious elections in the Jewish community of Palestine.

This is an intellectual biography, which is exactly what is needed for a thinker such as Rav Kook. However, Mirsky's elegant prose style makes it a fascinating book to read, if not always easy reading. Highly recommended.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly and well-researched, but flawed in its overall portrayal of Rav Kook 3 Sept. 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Dr. Yehuda Mirsky has clearly worked assiduously to create an in-depth, well-researched biography of Rav Kook, as well as an impressive overview of many of his writings. However, I did find a few errors in the book. For example: Rav Charlap's transformative meeting with Rav Kook took place exactly one week after Rav Kook arrived in Jaffa in 1904, not several weeks later as the author indicates. He also misidentified Rav Kook's doctor; it was Prof. Hermann Zondek (the endocrinologist), and not his brother Bernard (the gynecologist). And Rav Neria wrote that Rav Kook's famous essay about Shir HaShirim was composed while Rav Kook sat on a rock at the Baltic Sea seashore, not in Boisk.

But in general, the book brings together a fascinating image of Rav Kook's life from a wide variety of sources.

Rav Kook cannot be easily pegged as politically left-wing or right-wing. But it appeared to me that, due to the author's own political leanings, he failed to call attention to certain instances which would indicate right-wing views (such as Rav Kook's encouraging Jewish settlement in what is now Jordan; his insistence on re-settling Hebron after the 1929 massacre; and his refusal to recognize Arab ownership of the Kotel in the framework of a 1930 British compromise agreement between Arabs and Jews.)

My principle problem with the book, however, relates to how external sources should be evaluated, and how to balance their relative significance. Rav Kook had vocal and vociferous critics from all sectors, especially the secularists on the left and the religious zealots on the right. And yet, he was widely admired and beloved. While the criticisms are enlightening, the reader is left with the overall impression of a idealistic mystic who (in his naivete) managed to antagonize many of the leaders, political, religious, and intellectual, of his time. It becomes difficult to understand why he was so admired by intellectuals like Bialik, Agnon, and Azar, as well as leading Talmudic scholars such as rabbis Charlap, Franck, and Meltzer.

The author states that Rav Kook was the obvious candidate for chief rabbi of Jerusalem. But from the evidence of the preceding chapters, one wonders - why? Of all the rabbinical scholars of the time, why chose the embattled and misunderstood rabbi of Jaffa?

In short - an excellent biography in terms of the many details of Rav Kook's life, but one fails to get a sense of the overall 'forest' that was Rav Kook's inspiring and charismatic influence on his generation.

I give the professor an "A" for effort, but a "B" for the final product.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High level but readable overview of Rav Kook's life and philosophy...highly recommended 10 Mar. 2014
By SeferTech - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Readable, accessible but manages to capture the high level of Rav Kook's thinking and outlook during one of the most turbulent times in Jewish history before and after the founding of the modern State of Israel. The author clearly conveys the struggle's of Rav Kook's soul as he grappled with the seeming struggle between Orthodoxy and modernity. His view of it all being part of the dawning of Moshiach is very much relevant today and for all time. I highly recommend this book. I have the Kindle version which is convenient as you can read it on your phone, tablet or computer.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Touches the Head, but the Heart 28 July 2014
By Helper Joe - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
For those of us who cannot cut through Rav Cooke's Hebrew, and who want to get an unbiased sense of the man, this is book is a must-read. (I refuse to disrespect the rabbi by using the awful spelling 'kook.') The only readers who may not like it are die-hard Rav Cooke adherents.

There are two reasons for the missing star. There is little, if any, discussion of the rabbi's inter-action with his flock, surely an important side of a spiritual leader. One is tempted to think that Rav Cooke "loved mankind, but people not so much." I do not believe that that was the case.

The second reason for the missing star is a certain animus towards the ultra-Orthodox that I detect in the author. Other antagonists of the rabbi get at least a somewhat sympathetic treatment; they do not. This is not only unfair, but anti-intellectual.
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