Review by Elisha Paul
Rav Avraham Yitzchok HaCohen Kook’s siddur Olat Reyah is an unparalleled work that allows aspiring scholars to gain access to Rav Kook’s deepest thoughts and perspectives on prayer, yet its profundity makes it difficult for even the most fluent Hebrew speakers to comprehend.
A new addition to the constellation of English language adaptations by Koren publishers of great Orthodox scholars helps address this challenge.
The English version of Rav Kook’s siddur by Rav Bezalel Naor is the latest installment of the original Siddur Olat Reyah that picks up where his groundbreaking work on the Hagadah left off.
One hopes that a final work of an adaptation in English of the section on Pirkei Avot will eventually complete the trilogy of selections from the Hebrew original.
With painstaking exhaustive research of all existing writings by Rav Kook related to the siddur including Rav Kook’s notes to his personal copy of the Shlah’s siddur, no scholarly stone was left unturned in order to produce an extensive authentic translation and adaptation of Olat Reyah that adheres to the soul and spirit of the original work in Hebrew with precision and expertise.
It is hard to decide whether one would gain the most benefit from the siddur by praying with it or by studying it. I found myself doing both.
A unique feature provided throughout the work is the weaving together of relevant scholarly background and translated commentary with stories from the lives of Rav Kook and his main disciples that help illustrate and contextualize the great Chief Rabbi’s teachings. Rav Naor paints beautiful pictures with words that help the reader visualize historical events and teachings in a way that transports us back in time for brief fleeting glimpses into the life of a spiritual giant.
One example of many is the famous story of how Rav Dovid Cohen, the Nazir, became Rav Kook’s disciple by merely hearing Rav Kook recite the Akeidat Yitzchok section of the morning prayer service. The Olat Reyah commentary to the Akeydah comes to life through the detailed illustration of the historical backdrop to what occurred to help transform and captivate the young scholar’s heart and soul that compelled him to become a lifelong adherent of his spiritual master.
We are carried along for the spiritual journey that was inspired by Rav Kook’s humble yet powerful authenticity and magnetic presence that had an almost overwhelming spiritually intoxicating effect on many of those who came into his orbit.
The late Ner Yisrael Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yaakov Weinberg zatzal was once asked about learning Rav Kook’s commentary to the siddur, and he exclaimed that it isn’t a commentary, it is his Neshamah on paper. This masterpiece helps reveal to the English reading world facets of Rav Kook’s soul that were until now inaccessible.
This siddur will quickly become an indispensable classic in the expanding library of English works that Rav Naor and others are producing to provide a doorway to peer into the often elusive teachings and works of Rav Kook, one of the most important lodestars of Jewish thought and wisdom for our generation.
This siddur is available for purchase here and at https://www.korenpub.com/koren_en_usd/koren-rav-kook-siddur.html
Originally Published on the Lookstein Center list serve, Bookjed.