What do you say about the Kol Hator?

Jan. 2, 2008

Dear Rabbi,

Kol Hator is a scripture that is claimed to be traced on the teachings of the holy Gra. There, theories are descirbed about the "process" of redemption, the "999 footsteps" of Moshiach. According to it, the role of Moshiach ben Yosef is the physical conquering of the Land before the arrival of Moshiach ben David. I have a couple of questions to that:
1. Is it possible that there is a hidden process of redemption and that conquering the Land is part of that process (this is somehting the "religious Zionists" often claim)?
2. What is the concept of "Moshiach ben Yosef"?
3. Is Kol Hator a reliable source?

I would appreciate if you respond to my questions.

Sincerely, Shmuel Levy

Dear Mr. Levy,

Thank you for your excellent questions.

1. It is possible that G-d has reserved some sort of role for Zionism in His ultimate plan, but whatever it is, it does not concern us. Jews are to follow only the laws of the Torah, which prohibit founding a state and ascending en masse to the Holy Land before the coming of moshiach (the Three Oaths) as well as prohibit any action that might put Jewish lives in danger. The Brisker Rav compared the Zionist claims that their state was foretold in Kabbalah to the Rambam's statement that Christianity and Islam helped spread the belief in G-d and His Torah, albeit in a corrupted form, to the whole world and thus paved the way for moshiach. That obviously does not mean that Jews should help spread these religions! For Jews, these religions are kefirah or avodah zarah and are forbidden, despite their role in G-d's master plan. The same is true of Zionism. Whatever Zionism's role is in G-d's plan, that is none of our business. We must continue following the laws of the Torah, and from our point of view Zionism is kefirah, heresy.

2. Moshiach ben Yosef, mentioned briefly in the Gemora at the end of Succah, is a mysterious concept that we know almost nothing about. Since Chazal did not explain it clearly and it does not affect Jewish law, we should apply to it the words of the Rambam that "nobody knows how these things will happen until they happen." The Three Oaths, on the other hand, are written in the Gemora clearly as practical laws and their meaning has been continuously discussed by all Jewish commentators from the Rishonim until today.

For more about Moshiach ben Yosef, see http://www.truetorahjews.org/parsha_pearls/mikeitz

3. The Kol Hator we have today is not the authentic work of Reb Hillel Mishklov, if there ever was such a work. Shlomo Zalman Rivlin (1886-1962) published parts of it in the late 1940's. He himself admitted that this was an abridged version. The alleged original manuscript disappeared during the Zionist war of independence, and has never been found. Only two copies of the abridged version remained, and they were the basis for subsequent printings by Kasher and the Kol Hator institute. In 1994 a new edition appeared with some new sections based on a notebook found in the house of Shlomo Zalman Rivlin. The notebook was written in the handwriting of Dr. Elazar Hurvitz, who is today a professor at YU. Apparently Rivlin dictated it to Hurvitz. It is possible that Hurvitz himself aided in composing the document.

Rabbi Kasher writes in his introduction to Kol Hator (p. 537), "There is no knowledge of where the original manuscript is, nor do we have the copy, which Rabbi Dr. Elazar Hurvitz told me he wrote and prepared for printing all seven chapters."

Furthermore, much of the history of Reb Hillel Mishklov's leading role in the aliyas talmidei hagra is only known to us from Shlomo Zalman Rivlin's book Chazon Tzion, which he published at about the same time as Kol Hator (possibly with the purpose of boosting the authority of Kol Hator). Later scholars, such as Aryeh Morgenstern (Geulah Bederech Hateva) have shown that much of this history was falsified, that Reb Hillel was not the leader of the 1809 aliyah at all, and that he first came to Eretz Yisroel much later.

Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch published a 10 page article questioning the authenticity of the Kol Hator when it was published by Kasher in the late 60s. He notes that the sefer contains many modern Hebrew words, and it is therefore unclear what is from the original and what was added later.

Thank you very much for your quick response and clarifying these questions. It helped a lot. The comparison of the Brisker Rav, comparing Zionism to false religions, seems to be very appropriate - since we unfortunately experience that many Jews make it and the Zionist state into a quasi-religion.

Shmuel Levy