First Ashkenazi chief rabbi of modern Erez Israel, was a unique blend of the traditional and the modern --- a deeply religious man who, unlike many of his contemporaries, also took an active interest in day-to- day life.
Born in Latvia, Kook took the initiative at a very early age to supplement his traditional Jewish education with broader studies of Jewish and philosophical subjects. By the age of 22 he was appointed rabbi of Zaumel and in 1895 became rabbi of Bausk.
In 1904, he emigrated to Erez Israel where he served as rabbi of Jaffa. It was here that he began to identify with the Zionist ideal and, in opposition to most other rabbis, joined the political movement. This combination of orthodoxy and political Zionism seemed almost a contradiction-in-terms in those days. The majority of religious leaders believed that there could be no return to Zion before the coming of the Messiah; and the active Zionists were mostly those who had abandoned their traditional religious roles and replaced them with secular, political activities. Rabbi Kook, on the other hand, believed that the return to Erez Israel marked the beginning of divine redemption (athalta di-ge'ullah).
In 1914 Kook went to Europe to urge traditional Jews to fulfill the Zionist ideal but, caught up in the outbreak of World War I, was unable to return to Palestine. He therefore took a temporary position as rabbi of a congregation in London. On returning to Palestine after the war, Kook was appointed chief rabbi of Jerusalem and, with the formation of the chief rabbinate in 1921, he was elected the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine.
Rabbi Kook was very popular among all sections of the population both non-religious and religious (except for the extreme Neturei Karta group). He felt that the irreligion of many of the settlers was a passing stage and found religious significance in even the most secular activity. He was outstanding for his ahavat Yisra'el, love of Jews, and once said that just as the Temple had been destroyed, according to the Talmud, because of sinat hinnam (undeserved hatred) among Jews, it will be rebuilt only because of ahavat hinnam, i.e., love for Jews even if it is undeserved.
In 1924 Rabbi Kook set up a yeshivah in Jerusalem, known as Merkaz ha-Rav which carries on the spirit of his philosophy. It is one of the yeshivot whose students do Israel army service. The student body is very active in pioneer settlement The graduates of this Yeshiva are also active in the education of many youth in the Bnei Akiva Yeshivot and in the Religious Zionist Movement. They are among the leaders of settlements in Judah and the Shomron and are activists in the struggle for a Greater Israel. Zevi Judah, Rabbi Kook's son, was a leading rabbi in the yeshivah until his death in 1982. When Abraham Isaac Kook died in 1935, thousands of Jews lined the streets of Jerusalem to mourn the passing of a great scholar, humanitarian, and religious leader.
Entry taken from "Junior Judaica, Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth" CD-ROM
by C.D.I. Systems 1992 (LTD) and Keter.