Since the canonization of the Bible, the Bar Kokba Revolt is arguably the historical event of greatest significance to the Jewish people, deeply marking its national self-image. While the meaning of the Revolt has been discussed by Jewish thinkers throughout the generations, the topic awakened with renewed relevance beginning in the nineteenth century along with the development of new ideological movements: the Haskalah, Nationalism, Zionism and its ethic, the establishment of the State of Israel, the wars fought on Jewish soil since then, and of course the longing for redemption that accompanied all these processes. Indeed, the same motifs and conflicts are implicit in the Bar Kokba Revolt: national awakening, revolt against a ruling empire, organization of a Jewish army and crystallization of concepts of faith and trust, the establishment of Jewish rule and, finally, the founding of a state. Although that state fell some three years later, its fleeting existence continues to echo in historical consciousness until today.
This paper concerns treatment of the Bar Kokhba Revolt by R. Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook and his students. Specifically: did they see the Revolt as a positive model for the process of redemption that Rav Kook believed was beginning in our day? My discussion offers a comparative survey of other views from the 19th-20th century, expressed by thinkers, rabbinic figures, maskilim, and scholars regarding the Revolt. I demonstrate the extent to which each author’s stance effectively voices his own ideological allegiance and the values common to his historical period; moreover, each author’s reading of the Bar Kokhba Revolt loyally reflects his personal world-view.