On February 8, 2023, the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College, with the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center at Yeshiva University, hosted a lunchtime talk with Dr. Daniel Rynhold titled Heresy and Heretics in the Thought of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook. Dr. Rynhold is dean of the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, professor of Jewish philosophy and director of the Revel doctoral program.
Dr. Rynhold’s talk examined Rabbi Kook’s reputation as a “beacon of tolerance” in an increasingly intolerant world, particularly how his philosophy of controversy is relevant to the tribalism and hostility of contemporary discourse.
Rabbi Kook is notable both for his participation in the Religious Zionist movement and his support for secular Zionists. His readiness to examine unorthodox writings, such as those of the seventeenth-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, underscored his appreciation for ideas and developments external to Judaism, even if he didn’t always agree with them. Dr. Rynhold demonstrated how this unique appreciation for contrary opinions stemmed from Rabbi Kook’s mystical conception of G-d and reality.
Citing Orot, a collection of Rabbi Kook’s writings originally published in 1920, Dr. Rynhold directed students’ attention to passages discussing the origin of earthly controversies, which, according to Rabbi Kook, stem from finite humans’ inability to fully comprehend the all-encompassing infinitude of G-d.
Rabbi Shalom Carmy, assistant professor of Jewish philosophy and bible, who is currently teaching a Straus Center course on the writings of Rabbi Kook, remarked on the importance of events like this which enrich classroom learning and vice versa. “Many of the students in my course on Rabbi Kook had the opportunity to take part, to hear a perspective not identical with mine and to react to it,” he wrote via email. “Dean Rynhold’s presentation and our subsequent discussion will help shape the topics and arguments that will keep us busy the rest of the term and for a long while afterwards.”
Dr. Eliezer Schnall, director of the Honors Program, agreed. “We’re very grateful to Dean Rynhold for demonstrating his own openness to debate by allowing students to engage and even challenge the ideas he presented.”