Do You Practice ‘Gadolatry’?

[Hat tip to Norm]

What are people’s views on this?

Appeals to a gadol and gedolim suggests that there does in fact exist within Judaism an elite class with the final authority over legal, theological, and public policy questions.

Published: January 31st, 2013
I first heard the term “gadolatry” attributed to the late professor Arthur Hertzberg. A portmanteau of “gadol” and “idolatry,” the word “gadolatry” refers to a perceived phenomenon in Orthodox Judaism where select rabbinic leaders are treated with a degree of deference or reverence, bordering on worshipping the person of the rabbi himself. That Dr. Hertzberg would coin such an inflammatory term is not surprising given his personality, such that reactions offense or outrage are as intentional as they are predictable. However, it has been my experience that those strong passions on either side have turned the reasonable question of the role of the gadol in Judaism into the single greatest impediment to intelligent religious discourse in the Orthodox Jewish community.

While I have no expectations of resolving this divisive issue, I do hope to explicate the rationales implied when one invokes a gadol, and why others may find such an argument unconvincing.

In order to participate in an intelligible or meaningful debate, opposing sides must accept certain mutually agreed upon assumptions or premises relevant to the discussion at hand. This prerequisite can be particularly challenging in religious debates where the logical foundations are not based in empirical fact as much as one’s subjective faith, though such statements of faith are often presented as fact. Thus if only one side assumes an idea as a religious truism, the conversation will quickly deteriorate into personal attacks on the other’s religious integrity.

To illustrate this distinction between “fact” and “faith,” consider an instance where one cites a passage in the Talmud to support a halakhic or theological position. Whether or not the passage appears in the Talmud is a matter of “fact” which one can easily verify by looking up the citation in the Talmud. However the significance of that passage – i.e. the degree to which it is determines normative Jewish thought or practice – is a subjective matter of “faith” Often based on one’s tradition. For example, according to Maimonides the Talmud is final authority in determining the universally obligatory or prohibited laws for all halakhic process (Introduction to Mishnah Torah). For others popular practice takes an equal if not superior role in determining halakha, as demonstrated in the idiom “the custom of Israel is Torah” (Ramban Commentary to Pesachim 7b). Today it is not uncommon to hear from Orthodox rabbis, “we don’t pasken from the gemara.” To some degree the fact/faith dichotomy is at the core of any argument in which one invokes a “gadol” to support a position in an argument.

The term “gadol” means “great one” or more specifically a “great rabbi,” whose opinions because of his greatness, are treated not only as superior to those of ordinary rabbis (let alone common Jews) but may also be considered to be the definitive religious position on any given subject. Similarly, its plural form “gedolim” refers to a collective of great rabbis, which in addition to the implication of rabbinic greatness, also conveys the perception of consensus among the religious elite. Thus, when one invokes a gadol or attributes a stated position to a gadol or the gedolim, he is not only appealing to the higher authority in support of a position as much as arguing that the gadol’s affirmation itself determines the correct Jewish position. Conversely, any position which contradicts or criticizes a gadol or the gedolim on matters of halakha, theology, or even public policy is inherently illegitimate if not an outright heretical affront to the Jewish religion or even God’s will. In either case, any position contrary to that of a gadol is summarily dismissed purely on the authority of the elite rabbinic persona.

Appeals to a gadol and gedolim are primarily predicated on two categorical assumptions of faith.1 The first set of assumptions are ontological, in that there does in fact exist within Judaism an elite class with the final authority over legal, theological, and public policy questions to which all Jews must adhere and all lesser rabbis must defer. It is important to distinguish this elite class from the Sanhedrin which was a formal judicial and legislative body with its own qualifications, procedures, and regulations. Even if the other party in the argument agrees that certain rabbis are greater in some way than others, he may not necessarily bestow upon those rabbis the superior authority implied by the designation of “gadol.”

The primary obstacle with this assumption is that it is nearly impossible to verify or reject without similar assumptions of faith regarding the source(s) of religious authority in Judaism. Were one to support the existence of such an authoritative informal institution, one must provide some basis to justify that position. One such option would be to find supporting (or opposing) sources in Jewish texts such as the Bible or Talmud. However, even if these sources are considered part of the religious canon, their respective authority may be disputed and their meanings reinterpreted. In the Talmud itself we find differing opinions relating to the legal normativity of the books of the Prophets,2 and the Rabbinic sages often reinterpreted Biblical verses outside of their literal meaning – the most famous example of which being Ex. 21:24 “an eye for an eye” to mean a monetary penalty (B. Bava Kamma 83b-84a). Finally, as noted above, even the normative role of the Talmud is disputed among Orthodox traditions, not to mention the authority of interpreting Talmudic sources.

In other words, the very question of religious authority in Judaism requires a priori assumptions of faith regarding the very sources of religious authority with which to justify one’s position. After all, rabbinic authority is defined by the Rabbis, and the gadol’s authority would only be validated through the authority of other great rabbis, even those of an earlier era. The authority of any institution must come from some place outside of itself, and unless that source of validation is agreed upon a priori, the question of any authority is never answered, only deferred. Therefore, arguments for the existance of an authoritative gadol class through Jewish texts will not result in definitive conclusions.

And yet, if the existence and authority of an elite rabbinic class is granted, the second set of assumptions which need to be addressed relate to its membership. In particular, two questions which must be answered are 1. who is considered to be a gadol or among the gedolim and 2. what is the criteria by which one makes those determinations. Rarely (if ever) will an individual rabbi declare himself to be a gadol – such a declaration would be not only the mark of arrogance but blatantly self serving. Thus membership in the gadol class must come from an outside source.

Given the elite status of the gadol one may suspect that only one who has attained this elite status could in turn bestow it upon others. Rabbis can only be ordained by other Rabbis, members of the Sanhedrin appoint their own colleagues. To attain a high rank, one suspects the authority must derive from an equal or higher authority. However, there is no such formal mechanism of meritocracy for gedolim. There is no formal election, recognition, or proclamation indicating when a rabbi has achieved greatness. Thus, despite the magnified importance and authority attributed to the gedolim, there is no objective criteria to identify or define them.3

None of this is to argue that great rabbis do not exist. Every field of knowledge has it experts, and indeed, some may argue that similar to other areas of knowledge the gedolim are the recognized authorities in their field such that their opinions ought to carry greater significance. In other words, even if deference to gedolim is not mandated by Jewish texts it should still be expected by dint of the gedolim‘s superior expertise.

However, there are three important differences between the expertise of secular scholars and gedolim and the expectations in relating to that expertise. First, there are important differences in how such expertise is determined. Usually this is measured in terms of the academic output of publications or contributions to a field, except that each field has its own criteria for evaluating the quality of another’s work. Works in the sciences or social sciences must include a section on methodology – how is data collected and why were those conditions valid (if not optimal) for collecting data. In the humanities where there is more subjectivity, scholars not only justify the veracity of their claims or interpretation, but in many cases must justify the very existence of their scholarship. After all, who needs another essay on Hamlet.

As noted above, there no objective criteria by which to similarly evaluate the expertise and contributions of gedolim. In fact I would argue that this is by design. Secular experts seek to convince others of the validity and importance of their research, and so much meet certain formalistic requirements evaluated by peer review. But gedolim by definition of their elite status could only be properly vetted by other gedolim. Gedolim have no need to convince others of the correctness of their positions when those others lack the stature to use their own judgements.

Along these lines, the second difference between secular experts and gedolim is the expectation of obedience. Unless one is a university student dependant on GPA or a PhD advisor’s approval, there are no practical negative consequences for rejecting any expert’s theory. Even an expert’s devotees cannot expect to attract followers if they simply demand obsequiousness to their chosen mentor. On the other hand, a gadol is responsible for determining Jewish law, in which case his word becomes the law itself – which all Orthodox Jews must ostensibly follow. Due to this religious authority, it is not surprising for gedolim to attract a cult like following who will in turn attempt to get others to follow the gadol’s authority because after all, the religion commands it.

The third difference between secular experts and gedolim is also perhaps the source of the most of the controversies in Judaism. Specifically, what are the expectations when one speaks beyond their respective fields of expertise? Secular experts rarely venture beyond their training if they have not done appropriate research, and if they do, there are usually well defined rules of engagement for making a persuasive case. But gedolim frequently issue proclamations affecting public policies of economics, bioethics,4 criminology, or international and local politics. Instead of acknowledging that perhaps a gadol may contradict actual experts, supporters may argue epistemologically that all knowledge is encoded in the Torah, such that an expert in Torah is automatically an expert in all fields of knowledge. But this too is ultimately an assumption of faith, not fact.

One final point which must be mentioned is that not all references to gedolim follow this pattern. It is difficult to discuss contemporary Jewish law without at least consulting with the works of R. Moshe Feinstein or R. Ovadia Yosef, both of whom are considered gedolim even beyond their immediate constituency. Yet, not everyone who cites these undeniably influential sages does so with the expectation that their positions must be normative law binding on all Jews. The distinction between citing an invoking a gadol is in the expectation of unquestioning deference to the gadol’s position.

In conclusion, despite any pretense of a logical rational argument, most appeals to gedolim in religious arguments are not intended to advance a discussion but to end it through the imposition of one’s faith, or at least several components thereof. And as with most arguments of faith, it is usually a pointless exercise to counter argue on those terms. In this regard Dr. Hertzberg was correct in coining the term “gadolatry” – not in the sense that those who follow gedolim are idolaters, but in the minds of a non-trival segment of the Jewish population, when one disputes the sacred authority of a gadol, he might as well argue with God himself.

1. There are of course factual assumptions as well, such as if the person is accurately representing the gadol or gedolim’s position. Sometimes these representations are based on hearsay and on occasion may contradict a rabbi’s published position. In such cases the correct attribution of a position to the gadol is itself a matter of “faith” as well, but since in most instances it is empirically verifiable, for the purposes of this essay I will treat them as facts.

2. For one example, R. Elazar and R. Nachman Bar Yitzchak cites Hosea 2:1 as source that one who counts Jews violates one or two, ostensibly Biblical, prohibitions (B. Yoma 22b), yet B. Chagigah 10b rejects a legal argument based on Amos 5:25 staying, “divrei Torah medivrei kabbalah la yalpinan” – we do not derive words of Torah (i.e. law) from words of tradition. Space does not permit a full treatment of the legal sources of the Prophets, but for the purposes of my argument it does demonstrate at least two approaches codified in the Talmud.

3. Based on my own observations, it seems to me that the designation of “gadol” is more of the result of populism, that there is some communal recognition that someone has attained this rank. Even if other gedolim deem someone worthy, it is still dependent on a community to accept that person as such. And despite the deference one ought to bestow upon gedolim, in rare instances a community can turn against a gadol when he takes certain controversial positions. One such example is R. Saul Lieberman, who upon accepting a position at the Jewish Theological Seminary became went from being respected to reviled in the Orthodox community. See Marc Shapiro’s wonderful monograph, Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox

4. R. Moshe Tendler, a PhD in biology, once complained in shiur about having to argue brain death with people who never went to college.

About the Author: Rabbi Joshua Yuter was ordained in 2003 from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He also holds a B.A. in Computer Science from Yeshiva University, an M.A. in Talmudic Studies from Yeshiva University, and a Master’s Degree in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago. Rabbi Yuter is also an alum of Yeshivat Har Etzion. He is currently the rabbi of The Stanton St. Shul on New York’s historic Lower East Side.

Gedolim and Rav Kook ז’ל

I received an email from a reader who asked if all that stuff mentioned in a comment by Yisroel was true. We need to understand the times. The difference between the secular zionists and the haskolo was miniscule, except that the latter were not nationalistic. Accordingly, they removed themselves from the yoke of heaven, tried to assimilate and removed themselves from their land. Rav Kook was wise and spiritual enough to understand that the secular zionists, by virtue of still being associated with the land, were associating with Kedusha. Once a Neshama is touched by such Kedusha there is every chance it can be further stirred and influenced. Rav Kook, accordingly, never turned his back on secular zionists. Many other Gedolim, and here it spans most groups including Chabad via the Rashab, thought that the secular zionists were a dead loss and one had to fight them with polemics and protestation.

Rav Kook fought them with love; he overcame many of them with unadulterated אהבת ישראל (and that is not because his mother was from kapust 🙂

Yisroel would know that the Rayatz came to Rav Kook soon after he arrived in Israel and before leaving Rav Kook visited the Rayatz.

Here is a collection of material from other web sites and blogs (mainly via R’ Aviner).

“R. Yitzchak Gerstenkorn, the founder of B’nei Brak, told this story: In 5694 (1934), the Rav [i.e., Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook] was invited to the groundbreaking ceremony of the Beit Yosef (Novardok) Yeshiva in B’nei Brak…At the ceremony, which the Chazon Ish also attended, Rav Kook spoke at length…Throughout the Rav’s address, the large crowd sat quietly in their seats–everyone but the Chazon Ish. He remained standing throughout the speech, listening attentively to every word. He only sat down when the Rav finished speaking and took his own seat.”

“R. Tzvi Kagan, who was present at the event, added this revealing piece of information: When the Rav’s address began to draw out, people approached the Chazon Ish and suggested that he sit down. The revered rabbi refused, however, saying, ‘The Torah is standing!’”

from An Angel Among Men, by Simcha Raz, p.375; translated by Rav Moshe D. Lichtman

It’s worth noting that, in his review of this work, Rav Berel Wein stated, “There is so much about Rav Kook that is misunderstood and misportrayed in the Jewish world, that a book that portrays him accurately is invaluable and necessary. This is such a book.”
In a letter from the Chazon Ish to Rav Kook that is seen on p. 374 of this work, we see that the Chazon Ish opened by saying, “HaRav HaRoshi HaGaon Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, Hod K’vod Maran Shlita.” (“The Chief Rabbi, the consummate Torah-scholar, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, the glory of the honor of our Master, may he live a long and good life.”)

“Rav Shlomo Zalman, in his earlier years, enjoyed a warm relationship with Rav Avraham Yitzchak [HaKohen] Kook, the first [Ashkenazi] Chief Rabbi of Israel. He would visit with him, observe his actions, and learn from him. Their relationship was so close, in fact, that Rav Kook officiated at Reb Shlomo Zalman’s wedding… Reb Shlomo Zalman’s respect for Rav Kook was evident from the numerous stories he would tell which highlighted the brilliant and charismatic attributes of the Chief Rabbi… Reb Shlomo Zalman never ceased to speak of him with the very highest admiration.”

“Reb Shlomo Zalman’s classic work Me’orei Esh contains approbations from Rav Abba Yaakov Borochov, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, and Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook. The approbation which appears first is that of Rav Kook.”

“Considering Reb Shlomo Zalman’s aversion to matters of a political nature, it was startlingly unusual when he intervened in the internal affairs of a particular organization. Needless to say, the Gaon’s advice was always sought and welcomed, but in the area of organization politics, no one had ever succeeded in eliciting his response in the past. The issue at hand was whether to accept a certain candidate for a key position in this Torah organization. Reb Shlomo Zalman had recommended not to accept the nominee. His unprecedented intervention was triggered by the fact that the candidate in question always referred to Rav Kook as simply ‘Kook.’”

“Once the Gaon was riding in a taxi with one of the rabbanim from Kol Torah. His companion began to relate that he had found the explanation of a complex subject under examination at the yeshiva, in a particular book. But when he mentioned the name of the sefer, Reb Shlomo Zalman stopped him and refused to hear the explanation, saying that the book contained denigrating remarks about Rav Kook.”

from “And From Jerusalem, His Word,” by Rav Hanoch Teller, pp.196-198

I take issue with what Rapoport writes on p. 92, that when R. Kook passed away, R. Abraham Isaiah Karelitz, the Hazon Ish, declared that he would have no portion in the World to Come. The source for this is Aharon Rosenberg, Mishkenot ha-Ro’im (New York, 1997), vol. 3, pp. 1120-1121, who cites a well-known London anti-Zionist. This is hardly an unimpeachable reference. (This same source also claims that the Hazon Ish insisted that R. Ben Zion Uziel’s Mishpetei Uziel be left on the floor, since it is muktseh mei-hamat mi’us. See ibid., p. 1198; Elyakim Schlesinger’s haskamah to Aharon Rosenberg, Torat Emet [Monsey, 1992]). The truth is that while the Hazon Ish asserted that R. Kook’s philosophical works should not be read, he saw nothing objectionable about his halakhic writings and certainly did not regard as R. Kook as a heretic. See Shelomo Kohen, Pe’er ha-Dor (Jerusalem, 1969), vol. 2, p. 34.  Indeed, one of the first things the Hazon Ish did when he arrived in the Land of Israel was to write R. Kook a letter, asking him to decide a halakhic problem he was confronted with. See R. Ben Zion Shapiro, ed., Iggerot ha-Reiyah (Jerusalem, 1990), pp. 448-449. Even with regard to R. Kook’s philosophical writings, the Hazon Ish sometimes expressed a more positive view, depending on whom he was speaking to. See Binyamin Efrati, “Shenei Bikurim Etsel ha-Hazon Ish ZT”L,” Morashah 6 (1974): 62-63.

from “Of Books and Bans” by Prof. Marc Shapiro

The Netziv – Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhin Yeshiva – said about Maran Ha-Rav Kook: “He is equal to everyone else [in the Volozhin Yeshiva]”, “There was never a student like this in Volozhin” and “If the Volozhin Yeshiva was established only for this great student – it would have been enough.” Ha-Rav Reuven Bengis – Av Beit Din of the Edah Charedit – similarly said that the most important [student] in the Yeshiva is the son-in-law of the Rav of Ponevezh (Ha-Rav Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Te’omim, Ha-Aderet – Maran Ha-Rav Kook’s father-in-law).
[Tal Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 59-60, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 45 and Be-Derech Ha-Torah Ha-Goelet p. 189]

The Chafetz Chaim: Know that he is holy and pure and anyone who impinges on his honor will not go unpunished.

The Chafetz Chaim once came to Ponovezh in his effort to organize Torah scholars who were Cohanim to learn matters relating to “Kodashim” (the sacrifices in the Temple), since the Temple would soon be built and therefore there would be a need to know the practical Halachah. He turned to Maran Ha-Rav, who was a Cohain (and who was stayed in his father-in-law’s house), and asked him to focus on the laws relating to the Temple and sacrifices. A few days later, Maran Ha-Rav visited the Chafetz Chaim in the place where he was staying. The Chafetz Chaim said to him: “I have a request of you, but promise me from the outset that you will fulfill it.” Maran Ha-Rav responded: “Since I trust that his honor will not request anything which is inappropriate from me, I promise to fulfill your request.” “This is my request” – said the Chafetz Chaim – “When a Rabbinic offer comes before you do not refuse to accept it.” Maran Ha-Rav, who had decided not to involve himself with the Rabbinate, found himself in a difficult position, and wanted to free himself and said: “In order to accept a Rabbinic position I would have to involve myself with the halachic authorities who discuss the issues involved, and I already promised his honor to involve myself with ‘Kodashim.'” Chafetz Chaim thought hard and said: “I give up on your first promise, your Rabbinate is more important”…
[Bisdeh Ha-Re’eiyah p. 218, Sichot Ha-Re’eiyah p. 122, Tal Ha-Re’eiyah p. 90, Moadei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 231 and 550, Bein Shenei Cohanim Gedolim pp. 32-33 and mentioned in Bishelosha Be-Elul vol. 1 p. 35]

After Maran Ha-Rav Kook had served a while in the Rabbinate in one of the holy communities in the Exile, he received an invitation from the Chafetz Chaim to help him prepare a work on the service of the Cohanim when the Temple is standing. Maran Ha-Rav replied: If his honor permits me to remove the yoke of the Rabbinate which is upon me, I can fulfill the request which is extremely dear to me. The Chafetz Chaim answered: I have not found an individual as talented as you in administering a Rabbinate in Israel!…
[Ha-Re’eiyah Kook ztzvk”l of Ha-Rav Shmuel Baruch Shulman p. 36]

At a huge Rabbinical Conference in Vienna in 5683, one of the Rabbis made disparaging remarks about Maran Ha-Rav, the Chafetz Chaim (who was sitting at the dais) stood up shocked and said: “You insulted the Mara De-Atra (Rabbinic authority) of Eretz Yisrael.” He left the conference and decided not to return to it. The Chafetz Chaim waited in his hotel to return to his city, and many people came to visit him or receive a blessing. When the members of delegation from Eretz Yisrael wanted to enter, he said: “I will not say ‘Shalom’ to those who caused dispute with the Rav of Yerushalayim (Maran Ha-Rav)!” And he added: “Know that he is holy and pure and anyone who impinges on his honor will not go unpunished.”
[Bisdeh Ha-Re’eiyah p. 225-228, Sichot Ha-Re’eiyah p. 26-127, Malachim Bivnei Adam p. 211 and for additional information on the subject see Sichot Ha-Re’eiyah chap. 11 and Bein Shenei Cohanim Gedolim chap. 4]

In the year 5681, our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook (Maran Ha-Rav’s son) traveled to Poland to meet with Rabbis and Chasidic Rebbes to convince them to join the “Degel Yerushalayim” movement which Maran Ha-Rav established to infuse the Zionist movement with Torah and holiness. At that time, the Chafetz Chaim came to Warsaw, and our Rabbi, who yearned to see the splendor of the most righteous person of the generation, went to where he was staying. He found him surrounded by people. After over an hour, our Rabbi approached to take leave from him. The Chafetz Chaim asked: “Are you a local?” Our Rabbi responded: “No, from Jerusalem,” and he added: “Your honor was close with Reb Eliyahu David (the Aderet), father-in-law of my father.” When the Chafetz Chaim heard whose son was standing before him, his face lit up and he joyfully said: “Your honor is the son of the Rav of Zimel, the Rav of Boisk, the Rav of Yafo, the Rav of Jerusalem? Then why does he speak about his grandfather? Tell me about your father! How is he? We are long-time, dear friends.”
[Bisdei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 221, Sichot Ha-Re’eiyah p. 126, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 157-158, Be-Derech Ha-Torah Ha-Goelet p. 97, Tzvi Kodesh p. 146 and Bein Shenei Cohanim Gedolim pp. 36-37]

See Bisdei Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 217-231, Sichot Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 120-133 and the book “Bein Shenei Cohanim Gedolim” which discuss the special relationship between the Chafetz Chaim and Maran Ha-Rav Kook

On Shavuot morning after davening Vatikin, Maran Ha-Rav Kook was walking in one of the alleyways near the Kotel and met Ha-Rav Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld. Ha-Rav Sonenfeld blessed him that he should merit serving as the Cohain Gadol in the Temple.
[Moadei Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 303-304 and see another blessing of Ha-Rav Sonenfeld to Maran Ha-Rav ibid.]

It once happened that Ha-Sonenfeld was honored to be a Mohel at a Brit Milah and Maran Ha-Rav was honored to act as the Sandak. The two Rabbis met at the door of the apartment where the Brit Milah would occur. After they exchanged friendly greetings, a problem arose: Who would enter the house first? Maran Ha-Rav respectfully suggested that Ha-Rav Sonenfeld enter first. But he responded: “His honor is a Cohain and the Chief Rabbi [of Jerusalem] – and the basic halachah is that he should enter first.” Maran Ha-Rav humbly answered: “But his honor is greater in Torah than I am.” They stood at the door without a decision as to who should enter first. The older houses in Jerusalem were built in such a way that there were two doors in each doorway – the left one was bolted closed and the right one opened and closed, allowing one person to pass through it. Maran Ha-Rav approached the opened door, struck his arm through it and unbolted the left door – and both of them entered at once!
[Melachim Kivnei Adam p. 64]

When the Chazon Ish left Vilna to make aliyah, Rav Chaim Ozer sent a letter to Maran Ha-Rav requesting his assistance. He began the letter: “The Glory of Honor, My Dear Friend, Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon, Ha-Gadol, the Famous One… The Prince of Torah, Our Teacher, Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook Shlit”a…”
[Bisdeh Ha-Re’eiyah p. 236, Chayei Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 388-389, Igrot Le-Re’eiyah #316 and Melachim Kivnei Adam pp. 106-107. Maran Ha-Rav’s response is found in Shut Da’at Cohain #223]

There was a wedding in Elul 5696 in which Rav Chaim Ozer, Ha-Rav Shimon Shkop and many other great Rabbis attended. When news arrived that Maran Ha-Rav had died, Rav Chaim Ozer instructed Ha-Rav Shmuel Markowitz, Av Beit Din of Turatz to eulogize him. And this is what was done.
[This is quoted by Ha-Rav Tzvi Markowitz in Kovetz “Achiezer” #2 from the year 5628 and Davar Le-Dor – Kovetz Hespedim Al Rav Kook ztz”l p. 89]

See Igrot Le-Re’eiyah where there are tens of letters by Rav Chaim Ozer to Maran Ha-Rav with great respect and honor, and where it is possible to see the close relationship which existed between them.

Ha-Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer: We are Gedolim until we reach his doorknob

Ha-Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rosh Yeshiva of Eitz Chaim in Jerusalem, said: “I was young when I arrived in Volozhin, and I looked with great respect at the greater students who sat on the eastern wall, and among them were prodigies who would become Gedolei Yisrael. But I remember well that looking at him [Maran Ha-Rav Kook] was completely different – even among the special he was distinguished by his uniqueness!”
[Tal Ha-Re’eiyah p. 71, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 101 and the booklet “Az Nebabru Yirei Hashem” p. 13]

Ha-Rav Meltzer once visited Ha-Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, and Ha-Rav Meltzer said about Maran Ha-Rav: “We are Gedolim until we reach his doorknob.”
[Mi-Toch Ha-Torah Ha-Goelet vol. 2 p. 170, Le-Shelosha Be-Elul vol. 2 p. 101, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiah p. 202, Bisadeh Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 274, Malachim Kivnei Adam p. 430 and the booklet “Az Nebabru Yirei Hashem” p. 22]

Ha-Rav Meltzer said many times: “If only I could daven during Ne’eilah on Yom Kippur, with awe of holiness and feeling, like Ha-Rav [Kook] davens during weekday Minchah.”
[Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah #51, Le-Shelosha Be-Elul vol. 2 p. 102, Orot Ha-Tefillah of Ha-Rav Y. Epstein (student of Ha-Rav Meltzer) p. 26, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 200, Malachim Kivnei Adam p. 256 and the booklet “Az Nebabru Yirei Hashem” p. 29]

In the eulogy which Ha-Rav Meltzer delivered for Maran Ha-Rav in the Churva Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem, he said: “The True Torah was in his mouth” and “With the passing of Ha-Rav – the spine of Klal Yisrael is broken.”
[Moadei Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 12, Le-Shelosha Be-Elul vol 2 p. 101, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 15, Bisadeh Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 275 and Malachim Kivnei Adam p. 430]

Ha-Rav Shabatai Rapaport, Ha-Rav Feinstein’s grandson, related that in the year 5739, during Sukkot in Monsey, NY, Ha-Rav Feinstein was involved with writing a contrary view to a responsa of Ha-Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer). Ha-Rav Rapaport showed his grandfather a statement from Maran Ha-Rav Kook (relating to the issue) which Ha-Rav Rapaport found amazing. Ha-Rav Feinstein responded: “What is surprising, he was the Gaon of Geonim!”
[Likutei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 59]

Ha-Rav Nisan Alpert, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, Rabbi of Agudat Yisrael, author of “Limudei Nisan” and Ha-Rav Feinstein’s student for forty years, was one of those who eulogized his Rav in New York. He also spoke at a memorial evening for Ha-Rav Kook, on the 50th anniversary of his passing. When he was asked about the connection between his Rav and Ha-Rav Kook, he answered that Ha-Rav Feinstein was a “Chasid” of Ha-Rav Kook. Ha-Rav Feinstein said to learn his books and one will find great things. He also added, rhetorically, that he did not understand what people wanted from Ha-Rav Kook ztz”l.
[Likutei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 60]

Maran Ha-Rav Kook was the Mesader Kiddushin at the wedding of Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Ha-Rav Auerbach’s brother-in-law, R’ Shemuel Zelig, recalls how Maran Ha-Rav was honored with officiating at the wedding in the Jerusalem neighborhood of “Sha’arei Chesed.” Although there were zealots who did not look upon this kindly, the groom’s father – Ha-Rav Chaim Leib Auerbach – did not give in, because of the close relationship and deep respect between them.
[Ha-Torah Ha-Mesamachat p. 41 and Sefer Rabbenu p. 140 from the newspaper “Ha-Tzofeh”]

Ha-Rav S.Z. Auerbach said: If I say to you ‘Maran’ in Yiddish [Der Rov – Ha-Rav], know that I am referring to Ha-Rav Kook zt”l. I only use the term ‘Der Rov’, Maran, for Ha-Rav Kook.
[Sefer Rabbenu ibid. and the booklet “Or Shlomo” p. 24 and see note 34 where various testimonies to this fact are quoted]

Ha-Rav Auerbach honored Maran Ha-Rav with being the Sandek at the Brit Milah of his eldest son, R’ Shmuel, who today serves as the Rosh Yeshiva of “Maalot Ha-Torah” in Jerusalem.
[The booklet “Or Shlomo” p. 21]

Maran Ha-Rav’s picture hung together with pictures of other Gedolei Yisrael in Ha-Rav Auerbach’s sukkah.
[The booklet “Or Shlomo” p. 28]

Ha-Rav Chaim Shteiner related that someone once published a book about Ha-Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector which also included disgraceful words about Ha-Rav Kook. Ha-Rav Auerbach said that it is forbidden to buy this book until it is corrected, and he also wrote a letter to the author asking him to fix it. He also met the author a few times and would always ask if the book was being fixed.

Ha-Rav Avigdor Neventzal related that Ha-Rav Auerbach would not hear the rulings of a particular Torah scholar because he besmirched Ha-Rav Kook’s honor.
[Ha-Torah Ha-Mesamachat p. 308 and the booklet “Or Shlomo” p. 30]

Ha-Rav A. Yehoshua Zuckerman related that when someone mentioned in a talk about the horrible behavior of certain individuals against Maran Ha-Rav Kook, Ha-Rav Auerbach responded with great distress: I recommend that those who were brazen and dishonored Ha-Rav should go to his grave and ask forgiveness.
[Ve-Alehu Lo Vibol vol. 1 p. 83 and the booklet “Or Shlomo” p. 30]

And see further in the booklet “Or Shlomo” by Amichai Kinerati for the close relationship between Ha-Rav Auerbach and Maran Ha-Rav.

R’ Aryeh Levin, who often visited Ha-Rav Shlomo Eliyashuv, the author of “Leshem Shevo Ve-Achlama,” met the latter’s young grandson there – R’ Yosef Shalom. Even then, R’ Areyh recognized the unique greatness of R’ Yosef Shalom. R’ Aryeh once spoke with Maran Ha-Rav Kook about his sorrow that there was a wonderful, righteous, young Torah scholar who would a great match for his (R’ Aryeh’s) daughter, but the young man did not respond favorably to his suggestion (either because he thought he had better options or he was not ready to marry). Maran Ha-Rav asked for the identity of the young man, and told that is was R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Maran Ha-Rav called for the young man and spoke to him. The younger R. Eliyashuv then accepted the proposal and the couple married. Maran Ha-Rav Kook served as the Mesader Kiddushin. When Maran Ha-Rav’s name comes up, Ha-Rav Elyashiv often said that he was honored that Maran Ha-Rav performed his wedding.
[Parashah Sheet “Shevet Ha-Re’eiyah #31] 

Ha-Rav Yosef Buxbaum, the director of the journal “Moriah” and student of Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach related:
It once happened that one of the editors of the “Otzar Mefarshei Ha-Talmud” (Treasury of Talmudic Commentators) included a ruling of Maran Ha-Rav Kook, but another editor removed it. I asked him why he removed the ruling: was it because he raised a difficultly with it and it required further study? He answered: “I didn’t even look into the issue. I just think that a ruling of Ha-Rav Kook is not appropriate for ‘Otzar Mefarsehi Ha-Talmud.'” I said to him: “From this moment, you are fired!” The editor did not accept his decision, and they went to Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Ha-Rav Elyashiv was shocked and said to the editor: “Did you know Ha-Rav Kook?! You should know – he was holy. He did not belong to our generation, and in his generation, they did not properly understand him. Reb Yosef was certainly permitted to fire you. I would have done the same thing.”
[Weekly parashah sheet “Shevet Ha-Re’eiyah #31 and #50]

It is related that Rabbanit Elyashiv once heard words which impinged upon Maran Ha-Rav’s honor, and it caused her so much pain that she physically suffered from it for many days.
[Tzadik Yesod Olam p. 232 and Parashah Sheet “Shevet Ha-Re’eiyah #50]

Ha-Rav Elyashiv once wrote a halachic ruling, and after he finished someone showed him a different opinion which Maran Ha-Rav had written on the subject. Ha-Rav Elyashiv immediately ripped up his ruling and changed his opinion to that of Maran Ha-Rav.
[Parashah Sheet “Shevet Ha-Re’eiyah #50]

Ha-Rav Elyashiv once mentioned a particular teaching of Maran Ha-Rav. Someone who was present said that Rabbi so-and-so, one of the greatest Rabbis of the generation, sayid otherwise. Ha-Rav Elyashiv simply responded: Ha-Rav Kook was greater than us!
[Parashah Sheet “Shevet Ha-Re’eiyah #50]

I highly recommend Simcha Raz’s book. Things have changed, but people’s understanding of history and the present is in a time warp. As the Rav used to say, history has a way of paskening for us. I submit that history has paskened quite clearly that those who considered R’ Kook outside of the pale, were simply wrong.

יהי זכרון האי גברא רבא איש קדוש ותמים—ברוך

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