Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap zt “l, Rabbi of the Sha’arei Chesed neighborhood in Jerusalem, was one of the central figures in the yeshiva’s teaching staff and later as Rosh Yeshiva. He was connected to Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook as both a student and chassid.
In his personal life, Rabbi Charlap practiced a certain amount of asceticism, including fasting, immersion in a cold mikvah on winter nights, and complete dedication to morning prayers at sunrise (vasikin) and Torah study. He was known for the preparation that he put into his shiurim for his students. His shiurim and hashkafa were eventually gathered and include shiurim in Halacha, Talmud, Tanach and Emunah. Rabbi Kook’s deep imprint is found in all of Rabbi Charlap writings which deal with the sanctity of the Land of Israel and the nature of redemption in our generation.
Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap was one of the central figures in the teaching staff of the yeshiva. Rabbi Charlap was born on the 18 Kislev, 1882 to his father Rabbi Zevulun, who was on the Beit Din of the Maharil Diskin, and his mother Miriam. He studied at the Etz Chaim institutions at the Talmud Torah and Yeshiva levels.
In 1896 he began to study with his father, and he also started learning with Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin of Brisk (1819-1897), but as Rabbi Charlap wrote, “When I reached adulthood (when he was sixteen), the Holy Genius ascended into the heavens on the eve of Rosh Chodesh Shevat, and after nine days, on the ninth of the month of Shevat, my master, my father, my teacher and rabbi, departed. And I was in the early spring of my youth, as if I were a dark world, and I felt myself lost. But the grace of the Lord that you did not count, and gave me strength and strength and I came to studying regularly with my teacher and rabbi of the holy genius Chemdat Yisroel, our teacher Rabbi Yehoshua Tzvi Michel (Shapira). (From his introduction to his book “Beit Zevul.”)
Rabbi Charlap’s spiritual image was shaped to a large extent by Rabbi Tzvi Michel, who immersed himself in the study of Torah study and the dimension of celibacy and self discipline. For a short while he learned in yeshiva “Torat Chaim” and served as one of the members of the “Beit Vaad”.
When Rabbi Ya’akov Moshe was sixteen years old, he became engaged to the niece of Rabbi David of Karlin. In addition to his set study with Rabbi Tzvi Michel, he would study at Yeshivat Torat Chaim with the genius Rabbi Yonah Raam who was 12 years’ older than him. When the Kerem neighborhood was later built in the new area of Jerusalem, and Rabbi Yonah was chosen as Rabbi, Rabbi Yonah began to publicize Rabbi Ya’akov Moshe’s greatness.
During 1904-1908, two important events took place in Rabbi Charlap’s personal life: his introduction to Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, who was the rabbi of Jaffa and his appointment as Rabbi of the Sha’arei Chesed neighborhood in Jerusalem. The significance of these events was expressed in the consolidation of his public authority as a teacher and spiritual leader, serving as the rabbi of a community, and in shaping his spiritual personality and way of life as a result of Rabbi Kook’s decisive influence.
Rabbi of Sha’arei Chesed Neighborhood
When Shaarei Chesed was founded in Jerusalem, a neighborhood filled with Talmidei Chachamim, Rabbi Charlap was invited to serve as the rabbi of the community, which was initially Charedi in nature. Later, the Rechavia neighborhood was founded with many non-religious residents, products of the Haskala movement, and Rabbi Charlap served the entire region as rabbi. In the Sha’arei Chesed Synagogue, Rabbi Charlap taught Halacha and Yirat Shamayim, while in the Rechavia synagogue, where many of the city’s scientists prayed, the synagogue became a spiritual center for the entire public and yeshiva students in particular.
Meeting Rabbi Kook
In 1904, on Shavuot morning, Rabbi Charlap met Rabbi Kook for the first time in Jaffa at the Sha’arei Torah Synagogue where the rabbi prayed.
Rabbi Kook immigrated to Israel on the 28th of Iyar, 1904, and on the Shavuot holiday Rabbi Yaakov Moshe arrived in Jaffa. Kook was thirty-nine years old at the time, and Yaakov Moshe was twenty-one.
Rabbi Yaakov Moshe arrived at the rabbi’s synagogue for the holiday, and at first sight he was fascinated by the sight of his face and his prayer. The height of emotion came when Rabbi Kook was called up to the Torah, and before the reading, Rabbi Kook began by saying “Akdamot” with trembling and weeping. Rabbi Yaakov Moshe was so impressed by the reading that he realized that Rabbi Kook was not only a genius, but also a tzaddik.
After the prayer, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, who had traveled from Jerusalem to Jaffa to be immersed in Torah without distractions, introduced Rabbi Yaakov Moshe to Rabbi Kook. Rabbi Frank also told Rabbi Kook that the Gaon Rabbi Diskin of Brisk had examined R. Yaakov Moshe at the age of thirteen and pronounced that he is a good boy and learns well.
Rabbi Kook invited Rabbi Yaakov Moshe to his home in the afternoon. Rabbi Yaakov Moshe was very excited. Rabbi Kook spoke to him about halacha and aggadah, showed him signs of love and friendship and did not forget to take an interest in his illness. Since then, the connection between them did not cease (from “The Conversations of the Rabbi”, p. 332-334).
The results of this meeting were very significant for shaping his spiritual image. In his memoirs, Rabbi Charlap described the intensity of the emotional connection that developed between him and the rabbi: “I was shocked to the very foundations of my soul. From that moment on, I clung to the rabbi with great love, and I became his disciple and patron to the world … I felt that I was all in the midst of the flame of the Lord, all my corporeality evaporates and my soul, which is called the soul of the Rabbi, rises above the highest worlds. “
A miraculous connection existed between them. Rabbi Charlap writes in one of his letters to Rabbi Kook, who at the time was n London (1916-1989), about a spiritual discovery and a mysterious voice he heard during his visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, “There was the two of you together, in those days you would rise … You and your rabbi have to correct the entire world.”
Rabbi Kook wrote in one of his notebooks during his stay in London that he had a mysterious feeling about Rabbi Charlap, who was ill at the time. “The love of my friend Rabbi Charlap was aroused in me.
Rabbi Charlap recounts a unique experience during his journey to the Galilee with Rabbi Kook: “I woke up in the middle of the night and saw the rabbi in frenzy, back and forth throughout the room. I was horrified and aroused, and now he came over to me and held me, his hands were cold as ice and his face glowed like torches, and his words burst into flames, ‘Rabbi Ya’akov Moshe Hower Weber Farberant von Ahavat Hashem! – I am burned from the love of God!”
The connection between Rabbi Kook and Rabbi Charlap greatly influenced the latter and created a change in his leadership and his thoughts, while providing an answer to his inner turmoil and ideas. In his personal life, Rabbi Charlap practiced a certain amount of asceticism, including fasts, immersion in a cold mikvah on winter nights, and total devotion to prayer and Torah study, and Rabbi Kook wrote to him, “For God’s sake, do not burden yourself with this any more for your health. It is just the yetzer hara (evil inclination).
In contrast to tempering Rabbi Charlap’s tendency towards asceticism, Rabbi Kook sharpened his love of life and changed his views on fundamental areas.
The Rabbi’s Influence on Rabbi Charlap
In the area of Machshava, we find many elements of Rabbi Kook’s philosophy imprinted in Rabbi Charlap’s books and lectures.
One example is the centrality of the Land of Israel as a basis for the nation’s spiritual forces: “Just as Israel’s return to its Holy Land is the beginning of the growth of its salvation, so is the beginning of its teshuva.”
Rabbi Charlap wrote in 1935,”We shall not relinquish any of our rights in the Land of Israel,” which is a very strong position in relation to the question of permission to hand over parts of the Land of Israel.
There is no doubt, as the writer himself attests that the foundations of his conception, its development and its crystallization of these strong views are anchored in Rabbi Kook’s doctrine.
A second example of the conceptual connection shared by the two thinkers was their unequivocal belief in the view of the period as a period of redemption and the return of all Jews in complete repentance: every house built in Eretz Israel symbolized the fulfillment of redemption and every action to liberate the land was a sign of the messianic era.
When he was told that during the War of Independence, Israel’s fighters had broken through Tzion Gate, he discoursed to his students the verse, “and the saviors of Mount Zion came to judge Mount Esau.”
The Colonial Campaign
Rabbi Charlap’s relationship with Rabbi Kook was not only the ideological level, but was expressed in a deep partnership in actions for the common good. In 1914, the two of them went on a tour with other Rabbis, in the moshavot of the Galilee, in order to bring their inhabitants closer to Judaism.”
In one of his writings Rabbi Charlap expressed, “the travel to the Galilee brought me to love all of Israel: zealots, righteous people, non-zealots, etc. I strengthen myself under the shadow of his holiness [Rabbi Kook]”.
At Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva
Another public partnership was the activity of Rabbi Charlap at Yeshivat Mercaz Harav, where he served during the tenure of Rabbi Kook as an educator and senior lecturer, and after Rabbi Kook’ s passing, as Rosh Yeshiva. When Rabbi Charlap taught with Rabbi Kook, he always displayed complete deference before his teacher. During the period of his appointment as rabbi, he was careful to define himself as a slave wrestling with the dust of Rabbi Kook’s feet, and only after the establishment of the “Central Yeshiva” did he agree to define himself as the Rabbi’s disciple.
In 1919, a number of years before the yeshiva was established, Rabbi Charlap gave practical advice to Rabbi Kook in regards to starting the yeshiva. His involvement in starting the yeshiva was not at the theoretical level, but was very practical.
In 1923, Rabbi Charlap was invited to serve on the teaching staff. His afternoon classes focused on Talmudic sophistry and Halachic aspects of the specific tractate of study, usually taking place on Sunday.
Rabbi Charlap’s shiurim in the yeshiva were noted for their depth and the great preparation he invested in them before they were presented to the students. The spiritual work Rabbi Charlap demanded from his students led him to raise them to their maximum potential. Shabtai Don Yichia, one of his first students and later the editor of the newspaper Hatzofe, described Rabbi Charlap’s preparations before teaching, “He would sit up all night and deal with the matter. Sometimes he wrapped his head in a wet towel to cool most of his tension. From one chapter to the next, he shared his students’ choices in preparation for the shiur… When his lesson passed a fire test and was accepted by his students, he was satisfied and his face shone with the glow of an hour of prayer.”
Song of the Sea
On the seventh night of Pesach, Rabbi Charlap would hold a lecture of Shirat Hayam( Song of the Sea) at his home.
Torah scholars would flock to his home, listen to a shiur in Halacha and then talk at a deeper level about the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea. Afterwards Rabbi Charlap would stand and recited it verse by verse with great feeling in a special tune, and the crowd responded, until the end of Shirt Hay am.
Afterward he would dance with great happiness. It was clear that many tikunim were related to his Song of the Sea, for the Song of the Sea did not say “then Moshe sung” but “then will be sung,” to teach that each year the Song of the Sea is recited, and the moment of recitation connects all the souls of all generations. However it is impossible to imagine the magnitude that is revealed during the recitation of the verses (Mei Merom, p. 288, Likutei HaRayeh, p.288).
His series of shiurim and hashkafa are gathered in a wide range of books that have been published and include shiurim on machshava and emunah regarding the sanctity of the Land of Israel and the nature of redemption in our generation. It is interesting to note the fact that the name of one of the books, “Lechem Aviram,” hints at the deep connection between Rabbi Charlap and Rabbi Kook: The word in Hebrew uses the first four letters for – Avraham – Yitzchak Ya’akov – and the last letter for Moshe.
On the 7th of Kislev 5751 (1951), Rabbi Charlap passed away and was succeeded by Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, the only son of Rabbi Kook.