Relations with Shabbos Desecrators: Rav Kook vs Rav Elyashiv

Rav Elyashiv is considered by many to be the most important current Posek. Israeli Litvaks and Misnagdim certainly follow his Piskei Halacha to the letter. Sefardim turn to Chacham Ovadya Yosef, whereas Chassidim have an array of Poskim they consult. The most important Posek for the so-called Centrist Orthodox is Rav Hershel Schachter.

I have one volume of R’ Elyashiv’s פסקי תשובות at home. Apparently, many are in fact תשובות for cases R’ Elyashiv was involved with when he was a member of the Rabbanut of the State of Israel. Those who know much more than I, advise that many of the תשובות are drawn from פסקי-דין של בתי הדין הרבניים האיזוריים בישראל.

R' Shlomo Elyashiv ז’ל

The מסדר קידושין at R’ Elyashiv’s own wedding was none other than R’ Kook ז’ל who was also the שדכן. R’ Elyashiv’s grandfather, R’ Shlomo Elyashiv ז’ל was the בעל לשם שבו ואחלמה a very famous מקובל (of all things). When Rav Kook became Rav of Yerushalayim, R’ Shlomo Elyashiv wrote:

To my dear, long-time friend, the brilliant rabbi, the great luminary whose name is renowned for praise and glory, our venerable master and teacher, R. Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook shlita…

I was [just] informed that Your Eminence has been appointed Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, and I was very happy to hear this. Let me, therefore, have the honor of blessing Your Eminence: May you hold this rabbinic post for a long time, and may your good name reach [near and] far, and may you go higher and higher. Amen, so may it be G-d’s will.

It is clear that both R’ Elyashiv and his father had a very close connection to Rav Kook. R’ Elyashiv also worked for the State of Israel’s Rabanut. He can be seen here fourth from the right on the top row at the opening of Heichal Shlomo (click to enlarge).

R' Yosef Sholom Elyashiv שליט’’א at the inauguration of Heichal Shlomo

It has been widely reported that R’ Elyashiv issued a Psak as follows:

until now the public, as well as seminaries and other educational institutions, had been instructed not to visit places that desecrate Shabbos, but now that the chareidi public has grown and unfortunately the major sites in the country desecrate Shabbos while those that do keep Shabbos cannot accommodate the larger groups. Thus if they stand firm in not going to places that desecrate Shabbos, trips and weekends of the major schools may have to be canceled, despite their vital importance in maintaining a proper framework for students during the summer.

When presented with the dilemma, HaRav Eliashiv said, “Since a directive not to visit places that desecrate Shabbos has been established and it is widely known that this is to keep a distance from ugly and unseemly things, this wall should not be breached by contravening the takonoh in any way.”

The rabbonim then pointed out that having schools and seminaries arrange summer programs to safeguard girls is also an important takonoh and if they are not in these programs they could spend their time at other, unsuitable places. “Since we are in a state of war against those who breach the walls of Shabbos,” replied Maran, “we must continue with the battle, which is more important than this concern, and not allow breaches in a time of war to uphold the sanctity of Shabbos.”

“Even in the case of a place that is not publicly known to be a Shabbos desecrater,” he continued, “if we know that Shabbos desecration takes place there, `ein tevunoh ve’ein chochmoh’ – and it should not be patronized.”

To be sure, R’ Elyashiv is often misquoted. I know some people who do not listen to anything said in R’ Elyashiv’s name. Instead, they seek to see things in writing only. Be that as it may, I read the above, and was somewhat נבוך—perplexed. R’ Elyashiv was perhaps suggesting that for בני and בנות ישיבות it was fitting that they not only not be מסייע לדבר עבירה (help someone indirectly commit a sin) but also that they not תומך עוברי עבירה (support those who sin) and thereby distance themselves from non conducive environments. What of Israeli society? R’ Elyashiv’s alleged view could perhaps be summarised by the command to נח that he should enter the ark and separate himself and his family from the sinners around him. The isolationist approach is certainly self-preserving. It’s a pretty safe approach.

I feel that ironically, Rav Kook’s approach was diametrically opposed. R’ Kook would have echoed the command of צא מן התיבה go forth from the ark. Is it a sin to visit an establishment whose owners don’t keep Shabbos? That is the salient question. R’ Hershel Schachter in his shiurim explains that a Cohen who is a Shabbos desecrator is (these days) commanded to Duchan (ברכת כהנים), even though Shulchan Aruch states that such a Cohen isn’t eligible to perform this Mitzvah. The reasoning is that unless the congregation is repulsed by the fact that someone desecrated Shabbos, the Shabbos desecrator is no longer the classical מחלל שבת בפרהסיא and it is better that he keeps one more Mitzvah (to bless the people with love) than to sit on the sidelines and be estranged and do nothing.

Certainly, the environment addressed by R’ Elyashiv is nothing like the environment addressed by R’ Schachter. The type of people R’ Elyashiv is talking to are indeed repulsed by and revile those who commit Shabbos desecration.

How does one classify the people who live and God forbid die for the State of Israel and their people? R’ Kook had, I would suggest, a different approach. Let’s use just one well-known and hugely controversial example. This example was used by the opponents of R’ Kook to suggest that he associated with sinners and promoted secular studies.

Just imagine. The fledgling Yishuv in Israel was opening up the Hebrew University. Who would attend such a University? Surely, the Shabbos desecrators and those who do not sit in Yeshivos. Based on the sentiments attributed to R’ Elyashiv, the very thought of an important Rabbi, let alone a Chief Rabbi, attending and speaking at such a ceremony would be anathema. Surely, הלא משנאיך ה’ אשנא—ascribe scorn and hate to the sinner! R’ Kook saw the light among the darkness. R’ Kook, ironically, in contrast to R’ Elyashiv, took a different view (admittedly at a different time).

R’ Kook perceived opportunity in these Jews and the institution. R’ Kook discerned the sliver of light, as encapsulated by their adherence to קדושת הארץ, to attempt to influence them in a way that would be for the good. Did R’ Kook delude himself to the extent that he thought that after his speech, they would listen to him? I doubt it. Did he expect that Hashem would shine his countenance on the people and aid them to stay loyal to our מסורה despite the fact that they were immersing themselves in the Weltanschauung of the modern world? I would say he definitely  did.

I can’t express the sentiments anywhere nearly as beautifully as R’ Kook did. Accordingly, I present a translated excerpt from his speech at the opening of the Hebrew University. After you’ve read it, ask yourself whether R’ Kook should have been condemned by the Charedim? After that, ask yourself whether R’ Kook would have wanted religious Jews in Israel to avoid the establishments of those who transgress and miss the opportunity to also create a kiddush hashem, as opposed to locking oneself up in the proverbial Ark of Noah.

Rav Kook speaking at the opening of the Hebrew University

There are two paths to the spirit of Israel.

One path goes inward, entirely holy, serving in its entirety to deepen its spirit and shine the light of its Torah deep within. This was the function of all of the Torah institutions that ever existed, the spiritual fortresses of Israel, the yeshivas of the past, present and future, serving amongst us to magnify and glorify the Torah, in the full meaning, greatness and richness of this holy yearning of the Jews in every generation. This path of the spirit is entirely confident-“great peace to those who love Your Torah and they will never stumble.” Yet, even with all of this confidence, Rabbi Nechunia ben Hakaneh would pray when entering the beit medrash that no error may come about through him.

The second path of the spirit in the nation serves not only to deepen the holiness of the Torah within deep within, but also serves as a path for a two-way traffic: to bring concepts and values of Judaism from our private domain to the public domain of the world in general, since it is for this that we stand as a light to the nations; and to bring in the general sciences from the breadth of humanity, and adapt that which is good and elevated to the treasure of our life in its purity; for ultimately doing so makes it possible for us to bring forth a logical and lovely expression from our world to the world at large.

To this end, this university can serve as a great and elevated tool.

But here, my friends, is the place for fear.

We had experience in previous days when our most valued and holy concepts were exported from our realm to the public domain. That is what occurred with the translation of the Torah into Greek. At that time, two paths in Judaism grew clear in regard to this issue. The Judaism of the land of Israel was afraid, and its world grew dark (Masechet Sofrim). But the Judaism of the Greek world experienced a happiness of heart and greeted this work with great joy.

We have also had the experience of importing streams of various cultures, Greek wisdom and other cultures of the nations of the world that we have encountered in the course of our history, which penetrated deeply into us. And this absorption has also been met with fear in many circles and with happiness of heart in others.

When now, after these eras have passed, we come to evaluate them, we see that the fear was not without cause-even though the happiness of heart was also not without cause. Although we gained from those streams in some ways, we also forfeited a great deal.

And it is clear that of those who exported the streams of [our culture] and imported those of [gentile culture] without any fear but solely with an optimistic, banal joy and happiness of heart only, very few of their grandchildren are partners at this time with us in our difficult and holy work of building our land and supporting the renaissance of our nation, for most of them were assimilated amongst the nations and swept away by the “richness of the nations.”

Only those who sat confidently in our inner fortresses, in the tents of Torah, in the holiness of the mitzvot and divine decrees, and those who, while exchanging values and concepts via the spiritual pathway linking Israel to the nations, maintained an attitude not only of happiness of heart but also of a fear that accompanied the happiness of heart and joy of the spirit which came from the power of that great vision of oncoming “richness of the nations” brought forth all of those faithful powers of creativity that are being applied to our great building [of the Holy Land] with our entire heart and soul, and the entire great bloc of the Jewish nation that is faithful to the banner [of this movement].

And so the prophet justifiably said, “Then you will see and be radiant, and fear, and your heart will be happy, for the wealth from the west will be will cast upon you, the richness of nations shall come to you.”

But how can we silence the fear? How do we assure the that the Jewish people will withstand that great current [of gentile influence]?

In regard to this, sirs, I stand as an representative of the public on this honorable stage, and transmit to you the expression of the heart of faithful Judaism, as expressed by many of its parts, which are its finest parts.

We must know that this university will not, by itself, encapsulate all that is necessary for our national life. That comes, first and foremost, from the great and strong yeshivas of Torah, those that exist and those that are yet to be created (amongst them the Central Yeshiva-Merkaz Harav-which we are struggling to establish, with the help of God, may He be blessed, in Jerusalem, to act as a shining light in the light of the Torah of Israel in all of its topics, in halachah and aggadah, in wisdom of deeds and wisdom of mind), yeshivas that, as their name implies, that now, as they did in the past, will establish the spirit of the nation in its full confidence.

And alongside that, this university must function at a level where it will cause God, the Jewish people and the land of Israel to be publicly sanctified and not profaned in any manner-whether by the administration, the teachers, or students. And this applies in particular to those who will teach Judaic studies-from the book of books, Tanach (the light of our life) to the breadth of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud and all of their branches, as well as the wisdom of Israel and its history. These must be people who, in addition to their great knowledge in their respective fields, will be completely committed to the faith of Israel in their views, in their feelings and in the way that they conduct their lives. This will indicate a “happiness of heart” and the greatness of the purified expression of the intellectual disciplines. Then our fear, together with our great sight of the “glorious” vision of this day, and together with the illumination shining upon our souls from the radiance of the lights of the various and multi-hued currents of spirit that pass over us, will bring us to that very “happiness of heart” that we seek, and which contains a blessing within itself.

And we hope that this institution, which is crowned today in the glory of Israel, will take on that character, as it receives the “wealth of the gentiles,” and that we may be assured that, as Rabbi Nechuniah ben Hakaneh prayed, “that no error will come about because of me.”

“My nation will sit in the field of peace and in tranquil resting places and in secure homes” (Isaiah 32:18). And may we merit to see the joy of our nation, and the building of our Temple and its beauty, to which all the nations will stream to take Torah from Zion and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem. Amen.

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

6 thoughts on “Relations with Shabbos Desecrators: Rav Kook vs Rav Elyashiv”

  1. The person with the red box over his head is clearly NOT Rav Elyashiv…
    And the Leshem was Rav Elyashiv’s grandfather, not his father…


    1. Woops, you are right about the Zeyde. Why isn’t the person with the Red Box, Rav Elyashiv? Or is it someone else in that picture, or are you contending he wasn’t in the picture.


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