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A Rare Letter of Rav Kook, Yoel Moshe Solomon, and Zionist Mythmaking

The recent issue of Asif, the annual publication of the Yeshivat Hesder association, contains the publication of a rare letter from 1904 written by Rav Kook to the leaders of Jaffa after he accepted the position as rabbinic leader of their community. There are many interesting aspects of the letter, one of them being that the negotiations between Rav Kook and the leadership of Jaffa lasted two years. Even taking into consideration the speed of communication in the early 20th century and a cholera outbreak at the time, this may shed light on some aspects of Rav Kook’s arrival in the Land of Israel. Rabbi Yehoshua Weisberger’s article (Hebrew) contains not only a transcription of the letter but also some historical background to the decision to offer the position to Rav Kook. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Rav Kook’s son, was aware of this letter’s existence, but neither he or anybody else was able to locate it. It was recently located in the archive of Rabbi Raphael Hacohen Kook, Rav Kook’s nephew, and Rabbi Weisberger has now made it available to the larger public.

One of the figures who was instrumental in offering the position to Rav Kook was Yoel Moshe Solomon.

Except for those who are interested in the history of early Zionist settlement in Palestine, most people are familiar with Yoel Moshe Solomon from the song the Ballad of Yoel Moshe Solomon that describes the founding of Petah Tikva or the street named after him in downtown Jerusalem.

Yoel Moshe Solomon is a fascinating figure and the story that the song describes, the purchase of the land for Petah Tikva and its settlement, has been the subject of much historical speculation and controversy. To summarize a very interesting story, Yoram Taharlev, who wrote the song, relied upon the description found in the great historian and bibliographer Avraham Ya’ari’s Zichronot Erez Yisrael. While the description found there is based upon something written by one of Solomon’s sons, there are a number of other versions of what transpired the day in 1879. If you’re interested in learning more about Yoel Moshe Solomon and the myth and history surrounding the founding of Petah Tikva, I highly recommend this episode (Hebrew) of Ran Levy’s excellent podcast Osim Historiah that includes a lecture by Eli Eshed in which he talks all about what may have really happened to Yoel Moshe Solomon and his companions when they set out to create the historical settlement of Petah Tikva and the genesis of Yoram Taharlev’s song.

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