In the spring of 1934, many Jewish tourists from Europe and the United States traveled to Eretz Yisrael for the Passover holiday. Hundreds ascended to Jerusalem, excited to celebrate the festival in the holy city.
The Jewish National Fund, wishing to properly welcome these guests — and potential donors — decided to organize a Seder for them on the second day (Yom Tov Sheini) of Passover. In order to attract religious Jews, the JNF approached the Chief Rabbi, requesting that he sponsor the event and supervise the kashruth of the festive meal.
Ordinarily, Rav Kook was only too happy to help the JNF and promote the redemption of land in Eretz Yisrael. On this occasion, however, he refused. He was not willing to take part in organizing a second Seder in Jerusalem. Observing the holiday for an additional day — that is for Jews residing in the Diaspora, he explained. We who live in the Land of Israel must protect the honor of Eretz Yisrael.
Why did Rav Kook oppose a public second Seder so vehemently?
Like many other Halakhic authorities in Jerusalem, he favored the opinion of the Hakham Tzvi,1 who ruled that tourists visiting in Eretz Yisrael should conduct themselves like local residents and observe only one day of Yom Tov. In practice, he would tell visitors from outside of Israel that they should recite the regular weekday prayers on the second day of Yom Tov, and observe Yom Tov Sheini only by avoiding forbidden work and not eating hametz (leavened bread) on the eighth day of Passover.
Yet this ruling was difficult for many religious Jews to accept. They were accustomed to attending the holiday services on the second day of Yom Tov. And the second Passover Seder was particularly important to them. How could they skip one year, knowing that the following festival they would once again be observing two days of Yom Tov?
Once, a visiting rabbi from Pressburg arrived in Jerusalem and sought Rav Kook’s counsel as to what he should do on the second day of Yom Tov.
When Rav Kook heard the question, he gave a pained look. “Most tourists don’t even ask. And the few who do ask do not abide by my ruling. So why should I give a ruling?”
It was only after the visitor persisted, promising to follow the Chief Rabbi’s decision, that Rav Kook gave his ruling, as described above.
“Imagine,” Rav Kook noted, “if ten Jews from Israel were to walk into a synagogue in a city in the Diaspora on the second day of Yom Tov and publicly don tefillin and pray the weekday service. Would there not be an uproar?”
The rule in such a case is that a Jew from Israel should pray the weekday prayers and don tefillin in private. Publicly, he should wear holiday attire and outwardly observe the holiday. Why then do the Jews of Diaspora fail to understand, even if they choose not to follow the ruling of the Hakham Tzvi, that the honor of Eretz Yisrael requires them to observe the second day of Yom Tov in private? Yet they insist on organizing public festival prayers on the second day — even at the Kotel!
The JNF representatives, who realized that the Chief Rabbi’s participation was critical for the success of their Seder, deliberated how to overcome his opposition to the plan. In the end they approached one of the older students in his yeshiva with the proposal: for a substantial fee, the student would supervise the Seder. They stipulated, however, that he must secure Rav Kook’s approval for the event.
The young scholar, unaware of Rav Kook’s previous refusal, happily accepted the proposition. The amount offered was sufficient to provide for his family’s needs for several months. He hurried to the Rav to gain his approval.
Rav Kook now faced a difficult dilemma. Always sensitive to the needs of others, he knew how important this extra income was to the young scholar and his family. But what about the honor of Eretz Yisrael?
After considering the matter for a few moments, Rav Kook’s face lit up. “Please tell the JNF,” he replied, “that I too have a condition. If they are willing to accede, I will give my hechsher and authorize the event.”
The rabbi continued: “My condition is that they invite the band of the Jerusalem Institute for the Blind to play music at the Seder. Any publicity for the JNF Seder must prominently advertise the band’s participation.”
“After all,” he beamed, “everyone knows that musical instruments are not played on a Jewish holiday. A Passover Seder with a band playing in the background — that is not a real Seder!”
(Stories from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Mo'adei HaRe’iyah, pp. 143-145, 324-325)
1 Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi (1656-1718) was the rabbi of Amsterdam and the author of widely respected responsa.