Rabbi A.I. Hacohen Kook

Profiles in Leadership: One Jew in search of the10 Lost Tribes of Israel


Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail, z"l 
Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail, was laid to rest on September 16, 2015. Since 1961, when he served as a rabbi/teacher at YBA Nechalim, he had dedicated his life to research and activity on behalf of the dispersed of Israel, in particular, research regarding the fate of the Ten Lost Tribes.

In 1975, at the urging of his mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, of blessed memory, he founded the non-profit organization, Amishav – for the Dispersed of Israel.

Rabbi Avichail has lectured widely in Israel and abroad, published numerous articles and the Hebrew books HaOvdim B’Eretz Ashur and Shitei Yisrael, the latter of which has been translated into English and French.

In order to assist in aliya and conversion, he wrote and published the booklet Judaism (Hebrew) which has been translated into numerous languages.

Rabbi Avichail was a member of the Rabbinical Court which converted the Belmonte community in Portugal. He facilitated aliya of the BaDerej L’Yerushalayim group from Mexico and the Bnei Menashe group from Peru. He continues to assist the aliya of Bnei Menashe from northeast India (some 1,000 souls to date). Rabbi Avichail has travelled the world, from India, Burma, China, Thailand and Japan to Europe and South America, in order to research, encourage and guide the dispersed of Israel.

Rabbi Avichail was born in Jerusalem in 1932. His parents came from Lithuania and Ukraine. At 16 he was drafted by the Israel Defense Forces during the War of Independence; he completed his service with the rank of sergeant in the Nahal brigade at Kibbutz Yavne. Afterwards he joined Kibbutz Saad, where he lived and worked for five years, and then studied at Yeshivat Kerem BeYavneh and Merkaz HaRav Kook. He received his rabbinical ordination and completed a teaching certificate for Bible studies and Mishna. He has held the positions of community rabbi, students’ rabbi at the Hebrew University, and teacher of Bible and Judaism for all ages. He received the equivalent of a Doctorate in Jewish Professions for his rabbinical studies and publications.

Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail and his wife Rivka were jointly awarded the Yakir Yerushalayim prize [annual citizenship prize in Jerusalem] in 2012. They have six children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Their home was open at all times to the Bnei Menashe, new converts and all those who wish to study Judaism.

Thousands of citizens of Israel from the Bnei Menashe community will mourn  this  modest and saintly man, who paved the way for them to begin new lives as Jews in the state of Israel.

Passover interview with Rabbi Drukman - Part 1 of 3: The 'Formerly Religious' Phenomenon

"Do everything you can to ensure the future of the people and the country."

Rabbi Haim Drukman established a generation and paved the way for the religious Zionist movement in many areas. Apart from the love of Torah and love of Israel, he has a great message here for today's youth

By Ariel Horowitz – Arutz Sheva, Small World Magazine, 12 Nissan 5775, 01/04/15 (Translation)

Rabbi Drukman at memorial service
for Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, zt"l
This year, as every year, Rabbi Haim Drukman visited the grave of his mentor, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Hacohen Kook, on the Mount of Olives on his yortzeit (the Fast of Esther). Thirty years have passed since that rainy day that Rabbi Zvi Yehuda was buried. "I think that his character is sorely missed today," said Rabbi Drukman with sad eyes, "In many situations, I feel that he is missing." How symbolic that three years ago, on his way back home from the Mount of Olives, the rabbi received notification of winning the Israel Prize.

"The real prize is the privilege to contribute to the nation, the state, the Israeli public," says Rabbi Drukman, "When there is official recognition of this enterprise, it certainly adds value."  Rabbi Drukman’s modest words actually allude to several enterprises: his establishment of Bnei Akiva yeshivas in Israel, his many years of work with the Association of Hesder Yeshivot and his position as head of the Israel government’s Conversion Authority. This last role put him in a severe – some would say explosive – conflict with the ultra-Orthodox Haredi world.

In his book-lined study at his home in Merkaz Shapira, a small religious community in the south, just a short walking distance from Yeshivat Bnei Akiva Or Etzion that he founded, Rabbi Drukman sits, learning and teaching, advising students and rabbis, in person and on the phone; Looking down from above is a painting of Rabbi Kook, whose name he mentions during our conversation over and over again. Just before Passover we came to his home to talk to him, to try to understand some of his teachings, and to hear his thoughts on religious Zionism, today's youth and Israeli society.

‘Taking off the hat’


When I ask Rabbi Drukman to recall the religious world that he experienced in his youth, he was not tempted to glorify the past and put down the present. As usual, he is full of gratitude for our situation today. "The situation in the days of my boyhood was far different from the case today. Like [the distance between] heaven and earth. I was once interviewed on a Channel One TV program, and the interviewer said, 'Israel is full of religious education, but it is also full of datlashim - formerly religious people!' I replied: 'Let your ears hear what your mouth is saying: There are also formerly religious people! Decades ago the majority were formerly religious people! You have to understand that just a few decades ago everyone was traveling in just one direction: the off-ramp leaving the path Torah and the Mitzvot.

Boys and girls finished the eighth grade in a religious school, and that was the end of all their connection to Judaism. They were drawn to the big ideas of that era: building the Land, pioneering, Socialism; and it seemed to them that these ideas had nothing to do with the Torah. We would say, 'so-and so has taken off his hat' – because in those days the boys would go with hats, berets, in public. Who ever dreamed that religious youth would go on the street wearing a kipa? How can anyone not see what a revolution took place? Today there is a world of tremendous religious Zionist Torah that is unprecedented! We have an entire population; we have institutions and youth movements. Look at how much value there is in [religious Zionist] education; how effective it is and how much it influences."   

Are ‘formerly religious’ people today leaving religion for the same reasons as before?

"I don’t think so. Today, it is usually the religiously weak youth, those without a strong religious background; boys who went with a kipa but without any commitment to religious Zionist values. If there are internal values, you can stand up to all kinds of crises and difficulties, exposure to other influences and peer pressure. But if there are no values, a religious upbringing will not last. Some people are outraged when formerly religious people are referred to as 'captured babies’ [who never learned Torah]. They claim that that the formerly religious are people with great values who turned to another path after thoroughly investigating [religion]. But no one can convince me this is the reality. [In most cases] it is a weak youth who comes into contact with a particular social group, and finds it difficult to resist the peer pressure; so he allows himself to pulled along in order to fit in. What can you do? It is a sign of lack of character. It is important that we fill our students with substance and develop their character, [so they will have the backbone] to stand on their own."

Do you think that secularization is associated only through one’s encounter with another world, or can is be due to problems in the religious world itself?

"You cannot generalize. In most cases, it is about a weak character who could not cope with the reality around him, but there are also youths who were disappointed with the religious world, so they left. Rabbi Kook, of blessed memory, wrote long ago that people, by mistake, relate to Judaism through those who they see practicing it [rather than for what it really is]. Sometimes someone may encounter a rabbi that disappoints him, and because of it he projects that disappointment onto the values the rabbi seems to represent. One needs to make a distinction between a specific rabbi and whole of the religious world. It is the identification of Judaism with a specific individual that often creates the motivation to become secular."

Go to Part 2: Rabbis and Politics

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What's the connection between YBA and Shmita?

Rosh Hashana this year (5775) marks the start of the Shmita year. The Torah commands us not to plant in the soil of the Land of Israel every seventh year - "Shabbat Haaretz."

This mitzvah created a dilemma for the early pioneers in Eretz Yisrael, whose livelihood depended on agriculture. Rabbi A.I. Hacohen Kook came to their aid by creating his famous "Heter Mechira" ruling, which gave the early pioneers a halachicly permissible way to continue tilling the soil during the Shmita year. The anti-Zionist Haredi community in Eretz Yisrael at that time refused to accept Rabbi Kook's ruling, and still today, will only buy Arab grown produce during the Shmita year.

Amir Dror-Fogelman
However, for the religious Zionist community in Israel today, it is still an important value to support Jewish agriculture in the Land of Israel. So in the past two Shmita cycles, the Otzar Haaretz organization has worked to provide Jewish grown produce in accordance with Halacha to the general public. Otzar Haaretz is endorsed by virtually all religious Zionist rabbis in Israel as the perfect halachic, ethical and Zionist solution to the Shmita conundrum.

This year Otzar Haaretz will be supplying fresh produce to over 120 stores across all of Israel. Amir Dror-Fogelman,the CEO of Otzar Haaretz and graduate of YBA Yad Avraham in Netanya says, "I believe that, b'ezrat Hashem, the extensive preparations we have invested in for the coming Shmita year will be successful, and that every Jew in Eretz Yisrael will be able to keep the mitzvah of Shmita in accordance with halacha. It is important to prove, first and foremost to ourselves, that we have the where with all and ability to serve the entire public on a national scale."

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YBA At a Glance


The core mission of Yeshivot Bnei Akiva is to train future leaders for the State of Israel; men and women who are observant Jews devoted to Torah study, dedicated to the Land of Israel and the Jewish People and loyal citizens of the State, particularly regarding army and national service.

  • Since the first Bnei Akiva yeshiva was founded at Kfar Haroeh in 1939 by Rabbi Moshe Zvi Neria z”l, YBA has grown to become the largest religious Zionist educational network in Israel, with 73 schools and over 24,000 students.
  • More than 79,000 YBA graduates can be found in every industrial, academic and professional sector of Israeli society, including many leading artists, scientists, industrialists, IDF generals, mayors, Supreme Court justices, Members of Knesset and Israel Prize winners.
  • YBA schools were Israel’s pioneers in achieving successful social integration and educational excellence with students from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds, including most recently, the absorption of Ethiopian olim.
  • YBA students put into practice the Jewish values of Tikun Olam and Gemilut Chasadim through weekly volunteer community involvement, social action, and chesed activities, affecting the lives of thousands of needy Israelis.
  • While maintaining its traditional base of residential schools, in the past 20 years YBA has established many non-residential schools in development towns to answer the need for quality religious Zionist education in Israel’s peripheral areas.
  • All YBA schools maintain an open enrollment policy – no child is ever turned away due to the parents’ inability to pay tuition; about 50% of YBA students receive full or partial scholarship each year.
  • YBA schools strive to help every student realize his or her maximum potential, academically, socially, ethically and spiritually; over 70% of YBA graduates achieve full matriculation for college entrance – well above the national average.
  • Virtually all YBA high school graduates go on to proudly serve the State in the IDF and in the National Service, with a high proportion joining Hesder Yeshivot or volunteering for elite units and officer training in the IDF.