Thursday, May 6, 2010

Uproar Over a New Yeshiva in Jerusalem - 90 years ago

The following article describes the commotion that accompanied the  foundation of Torat Kohanim, a yeshiva for kohanim in Jerusalem's Old City, 90 years ago.

It was a brief notice in a (non-Jewish) London magazine that caused a great stir in the London Zionist office. The London office quickly dashed off a query to the Zionist executive in Jerusalem. Their request for an immediate clarification quoted the original magazine article, which appeared on Dec. 22, 1921:

"A matter of great significance to the public has been reported from Jerusalem. Chief Rabbi Kook has announced that a new yeshiva or seminary will be established in the holy city, with the goal of instructing men of priestly or Levite descent regarding their Temple duties. The studies will include rites connected to the Temple sacrifices.

"The rabbi believes that this matter is extremely urgent, since he is convinced that the world at this time, the Jews will once again offer sacrifices to God. Indeed, such a possibility has been long expected by those with insight into Jewish sensitivities, knowledgeable in the prophecies of the Messianic Era." 
The Jerusalem executive forwarded the inquiry to the Chief Rabbi. What was going on? Were there imminent plans to rebuild the Temple and reinstate the Temple service?

Rav Kook's Response

The reality — a small group of young men studying the Talmudic tractates that discuss the principles and laws governing the Temple service — was light years away from the London magazine's eschatological portrayal of an academy established for the practical instruction of kohanim. Yet one senses from Rav Kook's written response a certain approval for the magazine's description of the yeshiva. And perhaps a measure of disappointment in the reaction of the London Zionist office.

Below are excerpts from Rav Kook's reply.

1. It is true that Yeshivat Torat Cohanim was established here with the unique goal that scholars who are kohanim will learn the Talmudic order of Kodashim, which is the authoritative source of [study of] all Temple services.

3. The foundation of the nation's renewal must be — despite all of its secular manifestations — based on its sanctified source. The inner desire of the nation is to be rooted once again in all matters of holiness. We must continually stress our eternal aspiration that the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days — openly and with deep faith, without hesitation and misgivings.
4. It is our firm belief that the day will come when all peoples will recognize that the place that G-d chose for all time as the site for our Temple be returned to its true owners. On it 'the great and holy house' will be built, a house that will become through us 'a house of prayer for all the nations' (Isaiah 56:7), as G-d promised.
And even though this [yeshiva] is entirely and purely an institution for Torah study, its establishment nonetheless contains a hint to the world. The nations should not think that we have even a moment of despair, G-d forbid, of relinquishing our rights to the site of the Temple, the cornerstone of all holy places.

In the past, the official British committee questioned my views regarding the Temple mount and our relationship to it. I responded that [realizing] our rights to the land of Israel were, until recently, viewed universally as an unlikely outcome. Nonetheless, Divine Providence brought about the means, so that which was improbable became probable. We are certain that this matter will continue to progress until all peoples will recognize the justice of our rights to our holy Land, as written in the Holy Scripture.
So too, the day will come when all nations will recognize the truth of our rights to the Temple area. All will know and recognize that the prophetic vision regarding this holy place — that 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations' — will only come to pass when 'this great, holy house' will be established there, in the hands of its original, eternal owners, the people of Israel, G-d's people from time immemorial. They and no other.

(Adapted from Zichron Re'iyah, pp. 201-203)

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