The Limit of Intellectual Freedom: The Letters of Rav Kook
By Bezalel Naor
Orot, Inc. New York, 2011
Few questions represent the challenge modernity poses to religion greater than that of intellectual freedom. How far can individuals deviate from received tradition without leaving their faith communities? In a number of letters, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook traced two approaches in Talmudic and post-Talmudic literature. Rabbi Dr. Bezalel Naor translates, expands and explains these letters, previously inaccessible to a wide audience due to Rav Kook’s complex literary style. According to Rav Kook, the Talmud Yerushalmi considers faith and aggadah to be subject to the same decision-making process as halachah, thus limiting acceptable dissent in the community. In contrast, the Talmud Bavli excludes aggadah from that process and allows for greater diversity of belief. Geonim are split on this subject and the Rambam and Chovot Halevavot followed the Bavli. Despite this multiplicity of approaches, which many today will find comforting, Rav Kook posits the inviolability of certain unspecified fundamental beliefs which undergird a community’s belief system and without which the community will collapse.
Rabbi Gil Student writes frequently on Jewish issues and blogs at TorahMusings.com.