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‘Not Everyone Is Meant To Sit And Learn’: An Interview With Popular Blogger Rabbi Harry Maryles


Of blogs there is no shortage (roughly 130 million, in fact, according to the latest statistics). Good blogs that address contemporary issues relevant to the Orthodox Jewish world, however, are harder to come by. Emes Ve-Emunah – haemtza.blogspot.com – is one such blog.

The blog’s author, Rabbi Harry Maryles, lives in Chicago, and studied under Rav Ahron Soloveichik (1917-2001) in the Skokie Yeshiva from 1968-1972, ultimately receiving semicha from him. After leaving the yeshiva, Rabbi Maryles remained close with his former teacher – who also was his next door neighbor – and considers him to have been his primary mentor.

The Jewish Press recently spoke with Rabbi Maryles.

The Jewish Press: Why did you start Emes Ve-Emunah?

Rabbi Maryles: I have very strong opinions about the Jewish world and some of the problems I see going on in it. The Internet has given me the opportunity to voice my opinion, and I do so in a way that seems to strike a chord with many people.

What kind of readers do you have?

It’s hard to say because most of the readers don’t reply. I get about 1,500 hits a day and, of those, maybe 20 or 30 are commenters, so it’s hard to gauge my readership based on the commenters. Commenters tend to comment when they disagree with me. Rarely will they say, “Yeh, I agree with everything you say.”

But I would say the majority of my readership is what I would call right-wing Modern Orthodox.

What kinds of issues rile up your readers the most?

Haredi misdeeds. Whenever an ultra-Orthodox Jew does something in public that is an embarrassment to the Jewish people – that’s what gets them riled up the most. And there’s been a lot of instances of that, unfortunately.

I notice that you often attack the yeshivish world on your blog. Why?

I don’t attack it. I really don’t. I note things which I think are problematic that need repair. Most of this is in Israel, but some of it is here – this move away from secular knowledge. In Israel, it’s almost unheard of for a yeshiva student to study secular subjects. Through 8th grade they barely have anything, just a little math basically, and after that, they have no secular subjects at all. It’s Gemara all day long for the rest of their lives, if possible.

And what, in your view, is the problem with that?

It’s a question of how you can best serve God. Not everyone is meant to sit and learn. Rav Ahron Soloveichik was against people being forced – whether by peer pressure or the rosh yeshiva – to sit and learn when that wasn’t their best way of fulfilling their destiny. People have destinies, they have things they’re good at, they have interests that they can utilize in the service of God. But if they are indoctrinated to ignore those feelings and indoctrinated instead to stay in yeshiva and then in kollel for as long as they can, they’re not achieving their ultimate purpose and making the finest contribution they can.

The best way a person can make a contribution is by doing that which he’s good at, that which his aptitude is most developed for. In other words, if a person has an aptitude for medicine, let’s say, that shouldn’t be sublimated; it should be followed up. If that’s what your tachlis is in life, don’t reject it in favor of learning. On the other hand, if somebody is really a great talmid and his tachlis is to become a gadol and someone pushes him towards medical school, that’s just as wrong.

A doctor might be saving lives. But most jobs seem more mundane in nature when compared to studying Torah.

Every job benefits somebody. Is accounting, for instance, not a valuable service to somebody? A good accountant will service a person and save him money, and the money of Israel is precious – the Gemara is full of quotes like that. Servicing klal Yisrael is, I think, part of a Jew’s job in this world. It isn’t just serving God. It’s serving klal Yisrael, too, to the best of one’s ability, and providing for one’s family.

What was Rav Ahron Soloveichik’s view on secular studies?

His hashkafa was that secular subjects are not only permissible but necessary, but at the same time not necessary for everyone. There are some people, like his grandfather Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, [who don't need to study secular subjects]. But for many of us it’s a necessity, and Rav Ahron lists why according to the Torah: to build up the world, to be a light unto the nations, to better oneself . Parnassah, he said, is not really a good reason to study secular subjects. For example, he said he would not go to a doctor whose sole purpose was to make money.

He said that his grandfather was very much misunderstood about secular subjects. Many people say that Rav Chaim Soloveitchik was very against university and college, but he wasn’t per se against it. He was afraid that people who went to college in that era would leave Yiddishkeit. But just to study the secular subjects, he was not at all opposed to. If somebody was a committed Jew and that was what he wanted to do, he very much was in favor of it.

There was a nephew of Rav Chaim’s who had the same name as Rav Ahron – his name was Ahron Soloveitchik – who learned by Rav Chaim and wanted very much to go to medical school. He went to Rav Chaim and asked him if he should go to medical school, and without hesitation Rav Chaim said, “Of course you should go, you’ll be saving lives.”

What about those select individuals who seem destined to become great Torah scholars? Is it your view, or was it Rav Ahron’s view, that these people need not study secular subjects at all?

It depends on the individual. When Rav Ahron said that his grandfather, Rav Chaim, didn’t need to go to college, what he meant was: He was going to be Rav Chaim anyway; he didn’t need to go to college. Would he have benefited by college? Who knows? Maybe, maybe not. But the point is he was as great as he was without college. But let’s look at his brother [Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who served as rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University]. Some people say he would’ve been even greater without having gone to college and getting his PhD in philosophy. But, in my view, he was as great as he was because he had the secular knowledge.

Although Rav Ahron Soloveichik believed in studying secular subjects, he still was, generally speaking, more right wing than his brother, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Is that correct?

I would say he was a little more right wing.

He also, incidentally, differed with his brother on the State of Israel and on land for peace. Rav Ahron Soloveichik said Hallel on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. His brother did not.

Rav Ahron was also a kana’i against giving up even one inch of land of Eretz Yisrael. He was very strong on that and sided with the settlers on all issues. His brother, on the other hand, was just the opposite. He agreed with land for peace if it produces peace.

About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and author of “Movers and Shakers: Sixty Prominent Personalities Speak Their Mind on Tape” (Brenn Books).


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