The Kosher Bookworm: Rav Kook and Teshuva for our time

The Kosher Bookworm
Issue of August 28, 2009 / 8 Elul 5769
You might not know this from most of the other Jewish weeklies, but this past Sunday marked the 74th yahrtzeit of HaRav Avraham Yitzchak Kook zt”l, the first Chief Rabbi of the Holy Land, and one of the first and most articulate advocates on behalf of yishuv Eretz Yisrael, and Ahavat Am Yisrael. It is to his memory that this week’s essay is dedicated.
With the first week of Elul now behind us and with the upcoming High Holiday season and Selichot services just ahead, I felt that this would be a most opportune time to bring to your attention one of the most eloquent and effective books dealing with the theme of teshuvah [repentance]. Titled “Orot Teshuvah,” the book was written by Rav Kook beginning in 1914, before World War I began, and finished in 1924.
A little over ten years ago “The Art of T’shuvah,” a book based on Rav Kook’s writings on teshuvah, and  centered upon Orot Teshuvah, appeared in English with a commentary by Rabbi David Samson and Tzvi Fishman.
This popular rendition of Rav Kook’s works on teshuvah is aimed at the general public and is cast in a simple tone, absent the more complicated poetic and mystical aspects that are common in his other works. According to the authors, this volume serves as an introductory primer and a general guide to the Rav’s thoughts on the topic of teshuvah.
I bring this book to your attention inasmuch as it is the only English translation of quality that is extant today by a Jewish publisher. In the spirit of the season I urge your patronage of this sefer, where available. Another English rendition of Orot Teshuvah was published in 1968  by Yeshiva University, titled, “Rabbi Kook’s Philosophy of Repentance” by Dr. Alter B.Z. Metzger, under the editorship of Dr. Leon Stitskin, of blessed memory.
Dr. Metzger, a musmach of Yeshiva University, also holds a doctorate  in education from Columbia University. He has served on the faculty of Stern College for over forty years and still serves there, having earned the enviable  reputation of being one of the most distinguished rabbis in service of the faculty of Yeshiva University. Dr. Metzger has also written numerous books dealing  with Chassidic and mystical themes.
This volume was published under the aegis of Yeshiva University at the enthusiastic suggestion of its then-president, Dr. Samuel Belkin zt”l, and published with the support and encouragement of Rav Kook’s son, Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook zt”l.
The fact that this sacred sefer has been out of print for so many years is most unfortunate. I do trust that this was just an oversight by Yeshiva University, and that a new and enhanced edition, in honor of Rav Kook’s 75th yahrtzeit, will be forthcoming in the near future.
When I say “enhanced,” I mean the  following:
First, a new introduction by Dr. Metzger would be in order, detailing how the Rav’s teachings and influence has grown over these past four decades. Furthermore, the appendix of explanatory notes should be enhanced based upon the increase in the studies and research into Rav Kook’s teachings on the theme of teshuva since the first appearance of this work in the original Hebrew.
Also, it is my opinion that either an additional foreword or  commentary be penned by one of Rav Kook’s foremost contemporary interpreters of Orot Teshuvah,  Rav Moshe Weinberger of Aish Kodesh of Woodmere. It was he, through his popular shiur on Orot Teshuvah given every Friday morning at his Woodmere beis medrash, that  brought the practical importance and relevance of this work to my attention.
And finally, in any reprinting of Dr. Metzger’s masterpiece, the original Hebrew text, from the Mossad HaRav Kook edition, should be printed along side the English translation.
More information for your reading/learning pleasure
A  few  more items for your learning pleasure. For more information on the teachings of Rav Kook, for both the high holidays, and year round, please check out
Also, Yeshivat Har Etzion  has  possibly  the most extensive site anywhere of sophisticated learning and printed shiurim relating to the Yamim Nora’im. Beginning with the teachings of their roshei yeshiva, they have shiurim dealing with repentance, shofar, halachah, selichot, and the holiday liturgy and its deeper meanings in the machzor.
These shiurim are not simple pilpul. They reflect a deep and intense learning that is informed by the teachings of all major poskim  from all points of view. Modern and worldly scholarship as well as that of the classical interpreters of our faith’s theology and hashkafah are reflected throughout Har Etzion’s presentations.
Taken together with the analytical teachings of the Torah related texts by Rav Menachem Leibtag, you will certainly come away with some of the best teachings since your Mesivta, yeshiva, Bais Yaakov  and seminary days. Of this I am certain. Their website is
Go learn and enjoy, until next time. From the Kosher Bookworm, Shabbat Shalom.