Rav Kook Is Born
Photo: Library of Congress

September 7, 1865

The first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine, Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook, known for promoting religious Zionism and for writing “Orot” and other religious books, is born in Griva, Latvia.

In 1884, he begins studying at the Lithuanian Volozhin Yeshiva, and he takes his first job as a rabbi at age 22 in Zeimel, Lithuania. At age 38, he accepts his first position in Mandatory Palestine, becoming the head rabbi of Jaffa and the surrounding agricultural settlements. Beyond tending to a religious community, Kook earns a reputation for spreading Jewish wisdom and teachings to the secular community of Jaffa.

He is visiting Europe for the Agudat Yisrael convention in Germany in 1914 when World War I breaks out, and he is unable to return to Palestine. He spends a year and a half in Switzerland, then works in London as a congregational rabbi from 1916 to 1919.

Kook finds and actively opposes a growing anti-Zionist movement among influential Jews in the United Kingdom. He publishes Zionist letters and successfully appeals to British Jews to urge the government to help the Jewish people return to the Land of Israel. His public articulation of Zionism is cited during the parliamentary debate over Zionism and contributes to the British government’s decision in November 1917 to issue the Balfour Declaration in support of the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

When he returns to Palestine in 1919, he becomes the chief rabbi of Jerusalem. In 1921, he is named the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine, while Rabbi Yaakov Meir takes the post of the Sephardi chief rabbi. The chief rabbinate transitions to play a powerful role in Israel when the state is declared in May 1948.

Kook remains the chief rabbi until his death Sept. 1, 1935.