Sunday, September 04, 2005

Rav Kook, OBE?

I was flipping through a book on Rav Kook ("An Angel Among Men", by Simcha Raz), and came across something fascinating: A photo captioned "A letter from Herbert Samuel, the British High Commissioner, informing Rav Kook that King George V has decided to present the Rav with a medallion of honor".

The letter in the photo isn't clear*, but on the same page is another photo, showing Rav Kook wearing the "medallion" in question. The caption to that photo goes on to say, "Notice that it is partially covered, because of its cross shape." Indeed, a fold of Rav Kook's coat covers one arm of the cross**, but it's clear that it's an Order of the British Empire, probably a Commander's badge, based on the dark (in a black and white photo) ring at the center.

(Commander is the third of five levels. This badge might indicate a higher rank, in which case Rav Kook would be a Knight and thus "Sir Kook" if residents of Mandatory Palestine were British citizens or subjects- I don't know if they were.)

Anyway, I've searched, but can find nothing more on this. I'll admit I'm not the biggest student of Kook-studies, but does anyone else know?

*It's typed in Hebrew, signature in English. I can make out that it's dated June 11, 1922, and has words that would translate to "Order of the British Empire," ending with the word "BeYoter"- "high degree."

**Rav Kook is holding a book at the point where the coat folds over the cross. Is the fold inadvertent? Was he holding the book to cover up a deliberate fold? Is it possible an arm was broken (after all, a covered cross is still a cross) and he's covering that fact, not an actual arm?


Habib said...

Actually, he would be Sir Avraham. Had he been further elevated and made a peer of the Realm, he would be Lord Kook (c.f. Lord Jakobovits).

In my extended family there is an OBE, CBE, MBE, and a Dame. Tragically, New Zealand has chosen to relinquish the beautiful British mesorah, stop giving out knighthoods, and rename honours in non-monarachical form. Shame.

Natan said...

Below is an excerpt from an article that I wrote:

It is fascinating to note two universal citations not usually recorded by his biographers - the Universit├Ąt Bern in the Swiss capital awarded Rav Kook an honorary doctorate in recognition of his scholarship, and King George V bestowed the British Royal CBE order of chivalry* - he was officially notified June 11, 1922 by Sir Herbert Samuel in Jerusalem and originally supposed to receive it officially by the King when he passed through London in November 1924**. These reports seems to be credible , although to say "Rav Dr. Kook" would be totally incongruous in today's Mercaz Harav, and thus not surprising that such a distinction would be obscured.

* The award of the CBE, "Commander British Empire", is the third level of the British Empire order of chivalry. This order of the British Empire was instituted on June 4, 1917 by King George V (reigned 1910-1936). King George wished to honor thousands of people who served in non-combatant capacities during the World War. The friendship in Jerusalem of British High Commissioner Herbert Samuel and Rav Kook could explain the circumstances of this award. It will be noted later that Samuel is the personage who directed Harry Fischel to build a residence for the Chief Rabbi.

**This was on his way back from America via England. See Bernard Homa, A Fortress in Anglo-Jewry, The Story of the Machzike Hadath, London, 1953, pg. 88. Homa reports that he received "a cable from Sir Herbert Samuel, then High Commissioner for Palestine, addressed to Rabbi Kook at the Machzike Hadath asking him to be prepared to be received officially by the King, perhaps to receive personally from His Majesty the award of the C.B.E. that had already been bestowed upon him." On Homa and Rav Kook's career in his congregation in London see below.

If you wish, I can send you the article in its entirety.