Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, One of the Most Influential Rabbis of the 20th Century. Did He Visit the White House 88 Years Ago?

The caption reads "Rabbi Dr. Abraham I. Kook, 4/15/24"
Where was this picture taken?
Part One

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) was a renowned Talmud scholar, Kabbalist and philosopher.  He is considered today as the spiritual father of religious Zionism, breaking away from his ultra-Orthodox colleagues who were opposed to the largely secular Zionist movement.

Born in what is today Latvia, Rabbi Kook moved to Palestine in 1904 to take the post of the Chief Rabbi of Jaffa.  He appears in many of the historic pictures taken by the American Colony photographers, usually as a bystander, without being identified.  One photograph, from the Library of Congress' larger collection, identifies the rabbi, but the surroundings do not appear to be in the Land of Israel and actually look incredibly like a street scene in the United States.

Evidence suggests that the picture was taken in Washington DC before or after Rabbi Kook met with President Calvin Coolidge in the White House. 

Coolidge and Johnson, April 15, 1924
It's a historic fact that Coolidge was in Washington on April 15, 1924, the same day Rabbi Kook's photo was taken.  Coolidge threw out the first ball at a Washington Senators baseball game where Walter Johnson shutout the Athletics. Coolidge also spoke at the dedication of the "Arizona Stone" in the Washington Monument.
The picture of the rabbi appears in a larger set of unaccredited pictures taken that week of well-known Washington politicians including Coolidge, the White House press corps, Senate leaders William Borah and Burton Wheeler, the Federal Oil Reserve Board, and more.

But why did Coolidge meet Rabbi Kook, and what was the rabbi doing in Washington?

Rabbi M. M. Epstein,
apparently on a ship
According to an article by Joshua Hoffman in Orot in 1991, Rabbi Kook, then Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi in Palestine, headed a delegation of rabbis to the United States in March 1924 to raise funds for yeshivot in Europe and Eretz Yisrael. He was joined by Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein (pictured left), the head of the Slabodka yeshiva in Lithuania, and Rabbi Avraham Dov Baer Kahana Shapiro, the Rabbi of Kovno and president of the Rabbinical Association of Lithuania. The three rabbis were brought to America by the Central Committee for the Relief of Jews Suffering through the War, better known as the Central Relief Committee (CRC). 

According to Hoffman, "The rabbis had originally planned to stay in America for about three months. However, because their fund-raising efforts were not as successful as had been hoped, they remained for eight months. In the end, they raised a little over $300,000, far short of the one million dollar goal which the CRC had set."

Hoffman described the April 15 conversation between the president and the rabbi:  "Rav Kook thanked the President for his government's support of the Balfour Declaration, and told him that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land will benefit not only the Jews themselves, but all mankind throughout the world.... The President responded that the American government will be glad to assist Jews whenever possible."

Rabbi Kook leaving a meeting with Winston
Churchill and Emir Abdullah (1921)
Part Two:  Rabbi Kook with Winston Churchill, the High Commissioner, Lord Balfour, and a Jewish Spy

Click on the photos to enlarge.

Click on the captions to see the originals.

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1 comment:

  1. Lenny, if you can place R. Kook at the baseball game - well, that would be an all-time Grand Slam.