Rav Kook's Response to Hatikvah

by Zev Rosenfield

Originally appeared in M'Ohelei Torah, Bnei Akiva of North America

In Western culture, the notion of separation between Church and State is prevalent. However, in Judaism, the contrary is true. In the tradition of Am Yisrael, all issues regarding nationality (for example nisiut, malchut) are essentially religious and find their origin in the Torah (written and oral.) Among these issues, though, it is difficult to find halachic specifications regarding national symbols (such as a flag or an anthem.) A conclusion might be drawn from this that, such symbols, therefore, have no place in Judaism. In reality, the concept is not at all foreign to our tradition. Each of the shevatim had its own color and is represented on the choshen by a different precious stone, as well as having its own emblem. Each of these symbols finds its source in the Torah and has significant meaning behind it.

The concept of degalim first appears in the beginning of Sefer Bamidbar, as the tribes of Israel formed their campsite in the desert. This might have been a horah sha'ah, a one-time commandment. However, looking at the midrashim surrounding that parasha, its importance can be understood:

חיבה גדולה חבבו הקב"ה שעשאם דגלים כמלאכי השרת כדי שיהיו ניכרים (במדבר רבה פ"ב. ג')

According to the midrash, the flags were given so the tribes could be identified and recognized with honor, serving a similar function as nations' flags. The midrash elsewhere elaborates further on how the banners portrayed military strength. According to the midrash, other kingdoms learned of the concept of flags from Am Yisrael :

סימנים היו לכל נשיא ונשיא מפה וצבע. על כל מפה ומפה כצבע אבנים טובות שהיו על לבו של אהרון. מהם למדין המלכות להיות עושים מפה וצבע לכל מפה ומפה. (במדבר רבה פ"ב. ז')

In reading these midrashic accounts, the point is made clear that the concept of national symbols is not alien to Am Yisrael . However, it is imperative that they have religious nature and significance.

With the establishment of the State of Israel, national symbols were chosen. The blue and white Israeli flag has been officially accepted by Knesset as the flag representing the Medinah . In applying some aspect of religion to the flag, Rav Soloveitchik zt"l found it to be likened to the garments of martyrs, a halachic concept that appears in Shulchan Aruch, in that the martyred soldiers were fighting to be able to raise the flag over captured territory.

Regarding the national anthem, the issue is not simple. Hatikvah, which is known as the anthem of Medinat Yisrael, was composed by Naftali Peretz Imber, probably in 1878. He first introduced it to the settlers of Rishon Le-Zion, and it gained much popularity among the Olim from Aliya I and III. It eventually was sung at numerous Zionist Congresses and was named the official song of the Zionist movement. However, surprisingly enough, it has never been officially established as the anthem of the State of Israel by Knesset, (as opposed to the flag, which has been accepted). The poem has been revised a few times, and the song we sing today is a shorter and altered version of the original text.

Rav Kook zt"l heard Hatikvah, did not care for it, and disagreed with the attitude that it conveyed. As is well known, however, Rav Kook had great respect for the secular Zionists and contended that there was a level of k'dusha in their work, even without them realizing it. It is for this reason that Rav Kook was not opposed to singing Hatikvah .

Nevertheless, Rav Kook wrote an alternate poem in direct response to Hatikvah, entitled Ha'Emunah . He hoped that it would ultimately replace Hatikvah as the national anthem. Showing solidarity with the Medinah, we, the followers of Rav Kook, continue to sing Hatikvah with pride because of its wide acceptance as the anthem. However, many yeshivot with the hashkafa of Rav Kook also sing Ha'Emunah on a regular basis because of the important meaning is has to us as religious Zionists.

This article will attempt to compare the two poems and analyze Rav Kook's criticism of Hatikvah . Before comparing the two texts line by line, I will briefly describe the different approaches of each poet. Imber, living in the midst of the turbulent times of the first aliyot, has a more negative and pessimistic attitude. He writes as if the Jews were surviving on their last bare threads. "Only the last hope is sustaining us". He grieves about the churban . He believes that the only hope of keeping the Jewish flame lit is if there remain a few Jews kindling it.

Rav Kook, alternatively, has a typically optimistic outlook. The roots of Zionism are not in the "last Jew" who finds some strength. Rather, the eternal Torah, given to us by Hashem, is the root of Zionism. There is much to look forward to in having Am Yisrael return to Eretz Yisrael.

In conducting a line by line comparison, it is clear that where Rav Kook agreed with Imber, he simply copied the words into Ha'Emunah . However, when he disagreed, Rav Kook made a sharp and direct contrast in his own poem.

The first stanza in Ha'Emunah responds to the first two in Hatikvah . The basic difference in each can be seen from the very outset:

"כל עוד בלבב פנימה" – "לעד חיה בלבבנו "

Both describe the feelings of the inner heart בלבב-בלבבנו , however, Imber talks of at least one heart (בלבב is written in the singular form) having the last sparks of Jewish hope - "As long as... כל עוד- ," Rav Kook, on the other hand, establishes the fact that all our hearts (בלבבנו plural) are forever – לעד filled with strong belief in returning to Eretz Yisrael .

In this first stanza of Hatikvah, a condition is made. As long as there are feelings in one heart and that one Jew's soul is alive and looking onward toward Israel , then, the second stanza begins - עוד לא אבדה תקוותינו only then we know that we have not lost our age-old hope- התקוה הנושנה (Hatikvah line 6). In contrast, Rav Kook uses a more optimistic term than hope; he prefers האמונה הנאמנה (Ha'Emunah line 2)- strong, trustworthy, and unconditional faith. There is definite and strong faith in our Jewish hearts that we will return to Eretz Yisrael . Hope is a non-committing, secular concept, while belief and faith have stronger religious overtones. Furthermore, Imber hopes to return to a land with only historic importance- לשוב לארץ אבותינו (Hatikvah line 7), while Rav Kook regards it with religious importance and holiness (Ha'Emunah line 3). However, both poems refer to Israel as עיר בה דוד חנה (lines 8 and 4, respectively).

The third stanza of Hatikvah stands in contrast to the second in Ha'Emunah . Here, Imber is implying that everything is lying on the shoulders of one individual who will not have lost hope, someone similar to Herzl- את קול אחד חולינו (Hatikvah line 10). Without this last individual - an אחרון היהודי (Hatikvah line II), we have no hope. While this is optimistic recognition of the fact that a leader is on the way, there are clear echoes of insecurity and pessimism. Rav Kook, on the other hand, knows that the one individual who will ensure that Am Yisrael will live in Eretz Yisrael eternally, was the very first Zionist – אב המון קנה (Ha'Emunah line 6), referring to אברהם אבינו . Zionism is not a creation of this century, but rather is an integral part of every Jew's belief, dating back to the time of our forefathers. In the last two lines (Ha'Emunah lines 7 and 8,) Rav Kook's optimism grows. Rather than seeing things as the last hope (אחרית תקותינו - Hatikvah line 12), he writes שמה נחיה חיינו -חיי עדת מי מנה - we will surely live in Eretz Yisrael forever.

In Imber's fourth stanza, he reflects sadly on the churban : על חורבן מקדשנו עין אבות דומעת (Hatikvah lines 15-16). "The eye tears at the thought of the destroyed temple." Rav Kook preferred not to dwell on the churban when writing about the geulah . He found it more appropriate to contemplate and long for the excitement and joy that will return when we are once again able to serve Hashem in the third Beit Hamikdash . שמה נעבוד אלוקינו בחדווה בגילה וברננה (Ha'Emunah lines 9-10.) Instead of crying over חורבן מקדשינו Rav Kook looks forward to שמה נעלה לרגלינו שלש פעמים בשנה (Ha'Emunah lines 11-12,) once again being able to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem every festival.

In the final stanza of Hatikvah, it is decided that one factor will save Am Yisrael from the wrath of G-d that caused galut . It is the רגש אהבת הלאום בלב יהודי פועם

(Hatikvah line 17-18,) - the feeling of nationality which pumps in every Jew's heart. While Rav Kook would subscribe to the concept of nationalism, he does not agree it is the essence and raison d'etre of Zionism. In truth, Zionism stems, and should stem, from one source – חמדתנו תורת חיים (Ha'Emuna line 13).

When mentioning the rebuilding of Eretz Yisrael, Hashem will not be referred to as קול זועם Hatikvah line 20)- a G-d of wrath, but rather as the giver of the Torah; on which religious Zionism is based – מפי עליון ניתנה (Ha'Emunah line 14). Imber hopes that someday we will be able to fully regain the land – עוד נוכל קוות גם היום (Hatikvah line 19), whereas for Rav Kook it is inevitable that Am Yisrael will maintain a firm and secure attachment with its land- past, present, and future- נצח היא נחלתנו (Ha'Emunah line 15).

It is clear that Imber and Rav Kook zt”l subscribe to two very different outlooks on Zionism. Typical secular Zionists of the late eighteenth century did not attribute any religious aspects to their dream of creating a Zionist movement to return to Eretz Yisrael . They were tired of persecution and anti-Semitism. The only hope was to rely on those courageous individuals who could stand up on their own two feet and breathe life into the dying nation. The only logical place to dream of such a rebirth is the land with common history for all the Jews, Eretz Yisrael . However, if this proved impossible, other options might suffice. This is clearly the message behind Imber's Hatikvah - the last hope for survival.

Religious Zionism stemming from Torah, however, views the return to Eretz Yisrael as something that we have known would happen for centuries. It is not just Herzl's brilliant solution to the problem of anti-Semitism. It is the fulfillment of the prophecies that appear throughout Tanach, spoken over 2000 years ago. It is a promise made by Hashem to Avrahan, Yitzchak, and Yaacov, and recorded by Moshe Rabbeinu in the Torah.

When reciting ותחזינה עינינו בשובך ציון we don't think of running away from anti- Semitism. Rather, we cry and long for the eventual return of the shechinah to our midst. We pray for the day when we can once again watch the kohanim doing the service in the Beit HaMikdash . It is our strong " Emunah " in the fulfillment of the promise that has kept us alive, and that is giving us the strength to pursue the difficult task of rebuilding Eretz Yisrael, and allowing for the rebirth of Am Yisrael as a nation. This is how Rav Kook conveyed his pride in our present accomplishments.

We often use the term אתחלתא דגאולה when speaking about the exciting times in which we live. However, I believe that it would be an exaggeration to think that the Israeli flag and Hatikvah will be the national symbols of Melech HaMashiach . In מדרש תהילים פרק כ' , chazal say:

נרננה בישועתך ובשם אלקינו נגדול. לפי שבעולם הזה כל אדם מכיר דגלו מתוך סגנון שלו שנא' וגו' ומתוך דגלו מכיר בית אב שלו. ומתוך בית אב שלו הוא מכיר את משפחתו. אבל לעתיד לבוא אינו כן, אלא ובשם אלוקינו נגדל.

Let us continue to work hard and strive for the day when we will no longer need flags, anthems, or national symbols, rather we will identify with the name of Hashem- ובשם אלוקינו נגדול.

To read the original texts, click here.

To view the worksheet, go here.

To hear Al Jolson sing the original version of Hatikvah, click here.