A notice posted in a small (non-Jewish) British magazine in 1921 caused a great stir in the London Zionist office. Confused, the London office dashed off a request for immediate clarification to the Zionist executive in Jerusalem.
The request caught the Jerusalem executive committee by surprise. They in turn forwarded the inquiry to the Chief Rabbi’s office in Jerusalem. The inquiry quoted the magazine notice:
“A matter of great significance to the public has been reported from Jerusalem. Chief Rabbi Kook has announced that a new yeshiva or seminary will be established in the holy city, with the goal of instructing men of priestly or Levite descent regarding their Temple duties. The studies will include rites connected to the Temple sacrifices.
The rabbi believes that this matter is extremely pressing, as he is convinced that, with the state of the world at this time, the Jews will once again offer sacrifices to God. Indeed, such a possibility has been long expected by those with insight into Jewish sensitivities, knowledgeable in the prophecies of the Messianic Era.” (“The Christian”, Dec. 22, 1921)
The Jerusalem executive demanded a response. What was going on? Were there imminent plans to rebuild the Temple and reinstate the Temple service?
The reality — a small group of young men studying the Talmudic tractates that discuss the principles and laws governing the Temple service — was light-years away from the London magazine’s eschatological portrayal of an academy established for the practical instruction of kohanim. And yet, from Rav Kook’s written response, one senses a certain approval for the magazine’s interpretation of the significance of the event. And perhaps a measure of disappointment in the reaction of the London Zionist office.
Below are excerpts from Rav Kook’s dignified reply:
1. It is true that Yeshivat Torat Cohanim was established here [in the Old City of Jerusalem] with the unique goal that scholars who are Kohanim will study the Talmudic order of Kodashim, which is the authoritative source for studying all forms of service in the holy Temple.
2. Despite its secular manifestations, the Jewish people’s national revival must be anchored in the nation’s foundations in holiness. The inner goals of the nation need to be firmly rooted in all matters of holiness.
We must affirm at all times our eternal aspiration that the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days — openly and with deep faith, without hesitation or misgivings.
3. It is our firm belief that the day will come when all nations will recognize that the place that God chose for all time as the site for our Temple shall be returned to its true owners. There, “the great and holy Temple” will be built, a house which will become — through the Jewish people — “a house of prayer for all the nations” (Isaiah 56:7), as God has promised.
And even though this yeshiva is entirely and purely an institution for [theoretical] Torah study, the yeshiva’s establishment nonetheless contains a subtle message to the world. The nations should not think that we have — even in a fleeting moment of despair, God forbid — conceded to relinquish our rights to the site of the Temple, the cornerstone of all holy places.
In the past, the official British committee questioned my views regarding the Temple Mount and our relationship to it. I responded that, until recently, realizing our national rights to the Land of Israel was universally viewed as an unlikely outcome. Nonetheless, Divine Providence brought about the means so that which was improbable became probable. We are certain that this process will continue, until all peoples will recognize the justice of our rights to our Holy Land, as it is written in Scripture.
So, too, the day will come when all nations will recognize the truth of our rights to the Temple area. All will know and recognize that the prophetic vision regarding this holy place — that “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations” — will only come to pass when this great and holy Temple will be established there, in the hands of its original, eternal owners, the people of Israel, God’s people from time immemorial. They and no other.
(Adapted from Zichron Re’iyah, pp. 201-203; Igrot HaRe\'iyah vol. IV, 1127)