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Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sarah 5782

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: Improper Criticism of a Rabbi


Date and Place: 26 Shevat 5767 (1907), Yafo

: Rabbi Yisrael Dov Frumkin, editor of “Chavatzelet” (a Hebrew-language periodical serving the Old Yishuv, especially the Chassidic community). 

: I would request of you to publish the words of this letter in their exact form in your distinguished newspaper:

Chazal were stringent regarding the punishment for those who hear the disgrace of a rabbi and are silent, as we know from the story of Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Shimon (Bava Metzia 84b). Therefore, I am hereby protesting publicly before the whole nation of Hashem, and especially our brethren who live in the Holy Land and our brethren of the Ashkenazic community of Cairo, Egypt. This is regarding the horrible disgrace that the directors of the Ashkenazic community had the gall to speak about their rabbi, the gaon, Rav Aharon Mendel Hakohen [Baharan], who has been in his position for several years. [He was raised in Teveria and was recruited by the fledgling community. He went on to serve 30 years (most of them, after this incident) so whatever the criticism was, it “blew over,” as he was a very respected rabbi and author.]

I saw all the complaints of those who are struggling against him, which were published in Chavatzelet. Even if they were all true as they are written, it would still only require that some of the elder rabbis and the giants of the generation should discreetly urge him to improve his behavior in the future, so that people should not have grounds for casting aspersions. Heaven forbid, there are no grounds for “spilling his blood” (i.e., ruining his reputation and thereby causing immense embarrassment) or for depriving him of his livelihood, which is an act of cruelty that is not fitting for the Jewish people, who are merciful people, the sons of merciful people. Matters are all the clearer because there is almost no doubt that there is at least some exaggeration in what is being reported. It is enough for there to be slight exaggeration to turn a light mistake, which even a great and upstanding person could have made, into a horrible sin and a blood liable. How our nation is experienced in the matter of false claims against us!

Therefore, I will state openly – it is a great and holy obligation upon the leaders of that community to return their rabbi, the gaon, Rabbi Aharon Mendel, may his light shine, to his honor and appease him appropriately publicly if they desire to fulfill their moral obligation. They should know that Hashem stands up for the honor of Torah scholars. I hope they will accept my recommendation for their own good, for “payment is not pushed off” in matters of desecrating Hashem’s Name.

I am certain about the level of goodness and patience of his honor, the great Rav Aharon Mendel Hakohen, the rabbi of the Ashkenazic community of Cairo, that he will forgive he who sinned against him, when he will see their regret on the matter. After all, this is the way of Torah scholars who love peace and increase peace in the world. “When Hashem approves of the ways of a man, even his enemies will make peace with him.” He should stand on his pedestal with the honor due him, as he had until this point, before the storm of this dispute arose. Hashem should spread His canopy of peace over His nation, and “those who are lost in the Land of Ashur and the dispersed in the Land of Egypt shall come to bow down to Hashem on the holy mountain in Jerusalem” (Yeshayahu 27:13), quickly in our days, Amen. This shall bring peace over Israel and over the Rabbis and those who are involved in communal affairs for the sake of Heaven.
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