web analytics
April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Rav Soloveitchik’

Individuality And Commonality

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Why is there a time of physical separation between husband and wife every month – a law found in this week’s Torah portion?

Perhaps the separation points to a difference between Jewish and fundamentalist Christian approaches to sexuality. In Christianity the basic purpose of sex is procreation. In Judaism, as important as procreation may be, marital pleasure as an expression of deep love is even more important. Note the words of Ramban: “Speak words which arouse her to passion, union, love, desire and eros” (Epistle of Holiness). Of course, such words and actions should be reciprocated by wife to husband.

It may be suggested that a time frame of separation is mandated to heighten the physical encounter. A kind of pause that refreshes, allowing for the love encounter between husband and wife to be more wholesome, more beautiful.

Rambam in his commentary to the Mishnah (Avot 1:16) wrote about love between husband and wife as empathetic friendship, a camaraderie involving a caring responsiveness, a sharing of innermost feelings – a relationship of emotional rapport rooted in faith and confidence.

Here again, a time frame of separation may be mandated to make sure that spouses can relate in ways other than physical, and then transfer those feelings to the physical realm when permitted.

One last approach. In many ways love is not only holding on, but also letting go. To be sure, love involves embracing the other, but in the same breath it allows the other to realize his or her potential. This is the great challenge of harmonization. How can I be one with you while letting you be who you are? On the other hand, how can you be who you are without our becoming distant and alienated from each other?

This could be the meaning of ezer k’negdo (Genesis 2:18), which Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik understands as Adam’s “discovery of a companion who even though as unique and singular as he, will master the art of communicating and with him form a community.” (Lonely Man of Faith, p.26)

Therefore a time frame of separation is mandated to foster individuality even as the coming together fosters commonalty. Each is stressed in the hope that it will spill over and become part of the other and forge a balance.

These rationales do not explain why the separation takes place at the time of niddah or why immersion in a mikveh is crucial for purification, but they may offer some understanding of why the Torah sees the separation as a conduit to enhancing love between husband and wife.

Limmud – Yes or No?

Friday, February 7th, 2014

He makes a good argument but falls a bit short. I must admit, however, that in a recent article in The Jewish Press, Rabbi Gil Student makes some very valid observations – both pro and con about Limmud.

Limmud, one may recall is an interdenominational event whereby rabbis from all denominations are invited to lecture the Jewish public on matters of Torah and Jewish interest. The one held in London was attended by British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. For which he was severely criticized by the right.

The criticism was based on the proposition that joining with non Orthodox movements in any forum, especially if it is in any theological context will give the false impression of legitimizing theologies that are anathema to Orthodoxy. This was universally condemned by all segments of Orthdodxy, including Rav Soloveitchik.

Limmud is certainly a theological event. But I have argued that Rabbi Mirvis was not there in any joint context with them and therefore not seen as endorsing anything other that the Orthodox point of view. To the best of my knowledge there was no panel or joint appearance of Rabbi Mirvis with heterodox rabbis. He was there to teach. And teach he did to real acclaim by all who witnessed it, including those of other denominations.

However, Gil suggests a problem I hadn’t thought of which I think has merit. The idea that if a high profile rabbi is there, it is OK for any Orthodox Jew to attend. Which would mean that they would be exposed to ideas they are rarely if ever exposed to – and ill prepared to deal with from an Orthodox perspective. Here is how Gil put’s it:

If the Orthodox leadership permits attendance at Limmud, it will effectively be permitting Orthodox Jews to study Judaism under non-Orthodox teachers. It will be encouraging the spread of heresy among the faithful. Of course, many Orthodox Jews will be able to intellectually deflect these foreign assumptions and beliefs, perhaps even growing stronger from the challenge. But ideas have wings; they excite and inspire. This is especially true when the intellectual match is uneven, when the non-Orthodox best and brightest are teaching the Orthodox not-so-best and not-so-brightest. There is a risk, a very real risk, that some Orthodox Jews will become enchanted by the passionate spokespeople of non-Orthodox Judaism.

I think he’s right and this is a matter of real concern. But as Gil also points out, the positive impact Rabbi Mirvis made has ‘wings’ too. I would go so far as to say he made a Kiddush Hasehm with his appearance:

Many non-Orthodox Jews have never met a refined and intelligent Orthodox Jew. They expect Orthodox Jews to be socially and intellectually backward. But the impact of interaction with Orthodox Jews has brought many people to Orthodoxy, including non-Orthodox rabbis. This is particularly true when an Orthodox scholar teaches, offering an intelligent and compelling worldview. There is great outreach opportunity at Limmud. An Orthodox rabbi has the unique opportunity to teach an audience thirsty for knowledge and often unaware of basic traditional texts and concepts.

Is it worth taking the chance that ‘some of our own’ may leave the fold in order to gain those who may come into the fold? That is the $64,000 dollar question.

Gil suggests that a solution to this might be for prominent rabbis not to attend and thus not be a drawing card for observant Jews who are ill prepared and thereby vulnerable to the ‘enchantment’ of heretical thought presented by charismatic speakers.

If a ‘second tier’ rabbi does the teaching, that risk will be diminished and the goal of attracting Jews with little or no background will still have its impact.

‘You Murder the Children’: Rav Soloveitchik on Abortion

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

When one thinks of Modern Orthodoxy, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l soon comes to mind for his leadership thereof. In our time, however, Modern Orthodoxy has become a vague term with problematic tendencies. As Rabbi Steven Pruzansky–who has numerous shiurim on Yeshiva University’s Torah website–recently wrote, “Too often, one finds in the Modern Orthodox world grievances of one sort or another against this or that aspect of Torah, as if Jews get to sit in judgment of God and His Torah.”

No issue might better crystallize the dissonance between Rav Soloveitchik’s Modern Orthodoxy and today’s than abortion. Let us consider the great man’s views.

During a shiur on Parashat Bo in 1975, Rav Soloveitchik stated that “to me it is something vulgar, this clamor of the liberals that abortion be permitted,” adding:

“I consider the society of today as insane…I read from the press that in Eretz Yisrael they permit abortions now! Sapir [probably Pinchas Sapir] comes to the US and asks that 60,000 boys and girls should leave the US and settle in Eretz Yisrael. When a child is born, it’s also immigration to Eretz Yisrael, and yet you murder the children.”

Rav Soloveitchik then predicted:

“And if you kill the fetus, a time will come when even infants will be killed…The mother will get frightened after the baby will be born…and the doctor will say her life depends upon the murder of the baby. And you have a word, mental hygiene, whatever you want you can subsume under mental hygiene…And there is now a tendency for rabbis in the US to march along with society, otherwise they’ll be looked upon as reactionaries.”

Similar remarks appear in Reflections of the Rav:

“If the dominant principle governing the logos ["thinking capacity"] is that abortion is morally permissible because only a mother has a right to decide whether she wishes to be a mother, then infants may similarly have their lives terminated after birth. What if the child interferes with the promising brilliant career of the mother?”

These words might be jarring for those who view Rav Soloveitchik as the mild-mannered author of philosophically oriented books like The Lonely Man of Faith. Equally if not more jarring might be Rav Soloveitchik’s statements on sexual morality, which I discussed a few months ago.

Specific to abortion, one might counter that Rav Soloveitchik permitted an unborn child with Tay-Sachs disease to be aborted through the sixth month, but this proves just the opposite, namely: 1) What does this narrow, tragic case indicate about Rav Soloveitchik’s general view of abortion? 2) What does it indicate about Rav Soloveitchik’s view of abortion after the sixth month even in the case of Tay-Sachs? And vis-à-vis those who claim a woman’s absolute right to “terminate a pregnancy” at any point, I doubt such an attempt to (mis)represent Rav Soloveitchik as a “moderate” on abortion would be received agreeably. In this regard, one of Rav Soloveitchik’s sons-in-law, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, shlita, has observed in the context of abortion:

“Even if we were to accept that indeed it is the woman’s own body, we totally reject the conception that she then can do with it as she pleases. This is a completely anti-halakhic perception [emphasis added]. It rests on a secular assumption that, as it were, ‘My Nile is my own; I made it for myself’ (Yechezkel 29:3), as if we are the source of our own existence and therefore the masters of our own being. This is assuredly not the case.”

Rav Lichtenstein summarizes the worldview of that anti-halakhic perception as follows:

“The essence of modern secular culture is the notion of human sovereignty; individual man is master over himself, and collective man is master over his collective… From a religious point of view, of course, eilu va-eilu divrei avoda zara—both approaches are idolatrous. Here one establishes individual man as an idol, and the one idolizes, in humanistic terms, humanity as a whole. The basis of any religious perception of human existence is the sense that man is not a master: neither a master over the world around him, nor a master over himself.”

Yes, Rav Soloveitchik earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Berlin (as likewise Rav Lichtenstein earned a Ph.D. in English literature from Harvard). Yes, Rav Soloveitchik enjoyed classical music (especially Bach). And first and foremost, Rav Soloveitchik was a Torah Jew for whom Halachah was not some intellectual game or cultural style, rather an all-encompassing conviction with profound social implications. Thus his denunciations of abortion, which derived from the same worldview as these remarks in 1953:

Adultery and Marriage: a Jewish Approach to Monogamy

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

It is well known that one of the Ten Commandments is the prohibition of adultery. Extramarital sex has historically been a man’s game, since the male sexual desire is stereotypically assumed to be uncontrollable. A recent survey by the National Opinion Research Center has shown, however, that the number of married American women having adulterous affairs has nearly doubled over the last decade. Today, 21 percent of men admit to having such affairs while 14.7 percent of women now admit to having them.

Sociologists explain that women today are more willing to cheat since they have stronger careers and aren’t as worried about the financial loss they would incur in a divorce. A recent Pew Research Center poll showing that working mothers are now the primary “breadwinners” in 37 percent of American homes (up from 11 percent in 1960) seems to bear this out, as these numbers roughly match the proportion of men and women having affairs. Most of these breadwinning women are single mothers, but 40 percent of them are married and earn more than their husbands. Perhaps it is true that when women began to enter the workforce in greater numbers and rise in the corporate world, they learned from and now emulate corporate male behavior.

In What do Women Want?, Daniel Bergner notes that women may be no different from men in their struggle with monogamy and desires for sexual novelty , although there may be differences depending on the situation. For example, research on rhesus monkeys demonstrated that males initiated sexual relations when the monkeys were kept in smaller cages, but in larger spaces the females initiated sexual relations. Significantly, this and other findings have occurred at the same time that the number of women in scientific research has soared. We hope that science has passed the era when scientists could claim that women suffered from “hysteria” (based on the Greek word for uterus), irrational behavior supposedly caused by disturbances in the uterus.

One might think that monogamy was considered to be against the norms of evolution, since a male biologically wants to have as many offspring as possible. Analysis of various animals living with their brood show that anywhere from 10 percent to 70 percent of their offspring have a father different from the male animal currently staying with the brood. Professor David P. Barash of the University of Washington famously quipped, “Infants have their infancy; adults, adultery.” Even among primates (which include humans), more than 200 species are not monogamous. However, British scientists have found that in the three species of primates in which monogamy evolved, it did so after a period where males had earlier committed infanticide. In reaction, fathers began to remain by their children and mothers to protect them from rival males, thus establishing the monogamous nuclear family. The virtual universality of this system among humans, and its staying power across civilizations, argues for its value.

Even among other species from beetles to baboons, while exogamous sex occurs, one mate will often react with a ferocious jealousy if it observes the other straying. Promiscuity may be necessary among some species for survival, but that does not mean that these creatures like it.

Marriage is one formal marker and arrangement for monogamy. In the Jewish tradition, marriage is a central institution, and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik wrote about this unique commitment:

On the one hand, the great covenant [of marriage] has been compared by the prophets time and again to the betrothal of Israel to G-d; on the other hand, the ordinary betrothal of woman to man has been raised to the level of covenantal commitment. Marriage as such is called berit, a covenant. Apparently, the Bible thinks that the redeeming power of marriage consists in personalizing the sexual experience, in having two strangers, both endowed with equal dignity and worth, meet. And the objective medium of attaining that meeting is the assumption of covenantal obligations which are based upon the principle of equality. Hence, we have a clue to the understanding of the nature of matrimony. All we have to do is analyze the unique aspects of covenantal commitment and apply them to the matrimonial commitment (Family Redeemed, 41-42).

Knowing how hard it is to find the perfect partner, the Rabbis taught: “It is [as] difficult [for G-d] to match up [a man and a woman for marriage] as it is to split the sea (Sotah 2a).” Elsewhere in the Talmud, the Rabbis debate whether the primary goal of marriage is to produce offspring or about the marriage itself:

Rav Nachman said in the name of Shmuel that even though a man has many children, he may not remain without a wife, as it says: “It is not good that man be alone.” But others say that if he does have children then he may abstain from procreation and he may even abstain from taking a wife altogether (Yevamot 61b).

But even those who subscribe to the latter position, that it is not obligatory to get married, must agree that it’s still desirable and good (i.e., not legally required but clearly very good and important) to marry.

Rav Soloveitchik further explains:

Within the frame of reference of marriage, love becomes not an instinctual reaction of an excited heart to the shocking sudden encounter with beauty, but an intentional experience in reply to a metaphysical ethical summons, a response to the great challenge, replete with ethical motifs. Love, emerging from an existential moral awareness, is sustained not by the flame of passion, but by the strength of a Divine norm whose repetitious fulfillment re-awakens its vigor and force. The marriage partners, by imitating G-d who created a world in order to be concerned with and care for it, extend the frontiers for their communal living to their offspring, and by questing to love someone who is yet unborn, defy the power of erotic change and flux. The ethical yearning to create and share existence with someone as yet unknown redeems hedone by infusing it with axiological normative meaning and thus gives it a new aspect — that of faith. Since our eternal faith in G-d is something which defies rationalization, the mutual temporal faith of man and woman united in matrimony is just as paradoxical. History does not warrant our unswerving religious faith; likewise, utilitarian psychology denies the element of faith in the marriage institution (Family Redeemed, 42).

No one claims that monogamy is easy. We know from psychological studies that young people often have cognitive skills that are still evolving, and it is difficult to tell whether two people can grow compatibly over decades. The choice of a partner is a serious matter. Honest and loving marriage is central to the Jewish faith. We must do all we can to collaboratively preserve the holy covenant that strengthens our families and societies.

We must protect our own marriages and the institution of marriage. Adultery, as one of the many causes of failed marriages, must be rejected through ethical conviction and spiritual commitment. We must all have personal moral accountability, legitimate caring for our spouses and children, and Jewish commitment to the pledge of monogamy and shared covenant of love and devotion.

Rabbi Julius Berman Reminisces On Rav Soloveitchik And 50 Years Of Community Service

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

This Sunday, Yeshiva University is honoring Rabbi Julius Berman for 50 years of community service. Currently the chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, honorary president of the Orthodox Union, and chairman of the board of trustees of Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school (RIETS), Rabbi Berman has headed a dozen Jewish organizations over the last five decades while also working in the law firm of Kaye Scholer, where he has been a partner since 1967.

 Aside from being the first Orthodox Jewish layman to head the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (1982-1984), Rabbi Berman is also well known for the close relationship he shared with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (popularly called “the Rav”), who ordained him in 1959.

The Jewish Press: How did you wind up in Rav Soloveitchik’s shiur in Yeshiva University?

Rabbi Berman: On the eve of my bar mitzvah, my father got a letter from his uncle in Israel, Rav Avraham Bender [whose grandson, Rav Yaakov Bender, currently heads Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway]. In the letter, he wrote two things: a) “I’m sending some sefarim for Yudl” – which is my Yiddish name – and b) “I’m making a commitment that when he gets into Rav Chazzan’s shiur [in Torah Vodaath] or Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik’s shiur [in RIETS], I’m going to send him a Shas.”

Well, I had never heard of the name Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik at that time, but sure enough, I went to Torah Vodaath for high school, to college in YU, and eventually ended up in the Rav’s shiur.

And you immediately developed a relationship with Rav Soloveitchik?

Well, I got into the Rav’s shiur when I was going for semicha. The class was overflowing because everybody wanted to get into the shiur. So a bunch of us – the ones who came for the first time – were sitting all the way in the back because you couldn’t get to the front. It probably was good because everybody was so frightened that if they would say something stupid, the Rav would tell them it was stupid.

After the first year, though, a whole group left the shiur because they were getting semicha. So we, the ones in the back, moved all the way up. I recall distinctly that we were all sitting there, waiting for the Rav to walk in for the first day of shiur. He walks in, we of course jump up, he sits down at a table, and almost the first thing he says is, “Ver vill sagen? – Who wants to say?”

Suddenly everyone put their heads down, avoiding eye contact, because they were so nervous about saying [the Gemara]. Rav Soloveitchik repeated, “Ver vill sagen?” Again, no contact at all. He started getting a little frustrated and started looking on his desk for the list of names of the people in the class. He couldn’t find it, and I felt for him, so I pointed to where the roll book was. He misunderstood me, though, and said, “Oh, du vill sagen? Sag! – You want to say? Say!” And day after day, since I was the only name he knew, he said, “Berman sag – Berman say.” So that was my “initiation” into the shiur.

Earlier this year, some Jewish Press readers – reacting to an article by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin – criticized Rav Soloveitchik for being so harsh and forbidding in the classroom. Others readers countered that Rav Soloveitchik’s shiur was a form of intellectual boot camp and that his harshness was designed to inspire excellence from his students. What’s your take on the issue?

From Lakewood To Yeshiva University: An Interview With Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

“From the age of 12,” Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff told The Jewish Press in a recent interview, “I had one dream: to be a tzaddik, a gaon, and a melamed. I never became a tzaddik, I never became a gaon, but I did become a melamed, nodeh l’Hakadosh Baruch Hu.”

In his youth, Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff studied for several years under Yeshiva University Rosh Yeshiva Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik and would later write the two-volume The Rav: The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. He also authored The Silver Era: Rabbi Eliezer Silver and His Generation, Bernard Revel: Builder of American Jewish Orthodoxy, and two volumes of Rakafot Aharon. Within a year he hopes to publish his memoirs, the product of ten years of writing.

Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff delivers halacha and hashkafa shiurim twice a week at Yeshiva University’s Gruss Kollel in Jerusalem, many of which can be accessed at YUTorah.org.

The Jewish Press: What’s your background?

Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff: I was born in the Bronx. A few blocks south of my house was the area of the shuls. No shul spoke to another one, but when Roosevelt came by in ’44 during his presidential campaign, all the shuls got together, built an eruv and took out a sefer Torah for that menuval to kiss. I remember it like yesterday. That was the one time all the shuls got along.

I had one grandfather who lived with us who knew nothing else outside of reading Hebrew and how to daven. He came to America at the age of 14 or 15, but he was never mechallel Shabbos. My other grandfather learned in Volozhin, but by the time I knew him, there was nothing left of Shabbos.

I’m the eldest of three boys and went to public school for a year. The teacher had a lot of trouble with me because I learned too quickly. She told my mother, “Your son is too bright . Send him to a parochial school where he’ll have a double curriculum.”

And since it was a miracle that Yeshiva Salanter – the only yeshiva in the Bronx – was five little blocks away from my house, I went there starting in second grade and the rest is history .

In high school already, I went to Lakewood. I went to Rav Aharon Kotler. I loved Lakewood. I wanted to learn and nothing else mattered, but my mother [wanted me to go to] college, so they put heat on me and made a deal: I’ll give Yeshiva College a trial for a year, and that’s what happened.

At Yeshiva College you studied under Rav Soloveitchik. How many years were you in his shiur?

Four years, but I remained very close to him afterwards .

In rebbe I found my lodestar, my guide. What was so beautiful about the Rav was that you lived in Torah and you were part of the big world, and there was no contradiction. That’s ultimately what I was looking for, and with rebbe I found it.

Can you elaborate?

The Rav was a PhD from Berlin. In the shiur it was just like Lakewood; there was basically nothing external. But when you got to know him on a more private level, you could talk to him about Freud, about Karl Marx, about Machiavelli . The man was so broad and on everything he had beautiful, beautiful insight.

And he was down to earth. When I told the Rav I was going on aliyah, he asked me, “How will you make a living?” That was the Rav. There was no shtick about him. He was just so human.

You have an interesting story about Rav Soloveitchik concerning Thanksgiving. Can you share it?

The Rav used to come in from Boston Tuesday morning, said shiur at 1:00 in the afternoon, and then again at 10:00 Wednesday morning. One year he couldn’t come in Tuesday because of a wedding in Boston, so he came in Wednesday. After he finished shiur on Wednesday, he looked at his watch and said, “Tomorrow, we’ll say the shiur at 9:00, will you be here?” I said, “Rebbe, we’ll be there, but why so early?”

So the Rav looked at me: “Arnold, don’t you understand? Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving. We have Thanksgiving dinner with my sister, and I promised my wife we’ll be there at 2:00. So I have to catch the 12:00 plane.”

I had never celebrated Thanksgiving. I was a kana’i like most kids. When I came home and told my mother the story, she was in ecstasy. She said to me, “Why can’t you be modern like Rav Soloveitchik?”

In an article you wrote several years ago, you mention that you took a chemistry class in Yeshiva University with Professor Shmuel Soloveitchik. Many people know about Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Rav Ahron Soloveichik. Very few know anything about this third brother. Can you talk about him?

He had a brilliant mind, and he was such a decent human being, but when [his father] Reb Moshe would teach his children and get mad at them, the Rav said he didn’t understand and Reb Shmuel, to avoid his father’s anger, would say he understood.

Obviously he knew how to learn, but he wasn’t on the level of the Rav or Reb Ahron.

He was in chemistry and had patents. He was married to a brilliant woman, Batsheva Ziv, who came from a chashuva rabbinic family. She’s related to the rosh yeshiva of Ponovitch. She was the most famous teacher in Bais Yaakov in Washington Heights.

They couldn’t have children and that clouded his life. His last years were very sad. He died in 1967. At the time, the Rav’s wife was critically ill, and the Rav shaved and wore regular shoes when he went to the hospital to visit her because he didn’t want her to know that Reb Shmuel died. It was terrible. At the funeral Reb Ahron Soloveichik just lost himself. He broke down and had to be led away.

His wife went on to marry, a year later, Reb Yehoshua Hutner, who was Reb Yitzchok Hutner’s first cousin. They had a fabulous second marriage and I had the zechut that they lived one floor under me in the building in which I reside in Israel. They were our closest friends. He died last year. She died about ten years ago.

Incidentally, she was also related to Reb Aharon Kotler and was very friendly with Sarah Kotler, Reb Ahraon Kotler’s daughter. So whenever Sarah came to Israel, we would come down and talk. She was always frum. These rumors that she wasn’t aren’t true. She was always a shomeret Shabbat , She was a Brooklyn College graduate, a lawyer, and an assemblywoman.

In an interview with YU’s student newspaper, The Commentator, you said, “To me it’s a compliment that I don’t need [a black hat] to be frum.” What did you mean by that?

Today we all wear uniforms. What is the concept of wearing a uniform? What is chassidus all about? It’s beautiful. You have a social order, you build a wall around yourself . It’s a way of protecting yourself from outside influence. My generation didn’t need it. When we made a commitment, we made a commitment. That’s what I meant.

But if a black hat will keep you frum in America, you should wear two black hats, not just one. To me, being a Torah Jew is the most important thing in the world .

But when all is said and done, the chassidim conquered America. The Litvakim lost. In the Litvishe yeshivas no one dressed the same. When I learned in Lakewood, the only one who wore a black hat was Reb Aharon Kotler.

Even the old mashgiach, Reb Nosson Wachtfogel, wouldn’t dare wear a black hat. No one wore black pants and white shirts. It was unheard of. Everyone dressed different and stylish. In YU, not so much. Lakewood was more stylish because it’s part of Slabodka mussar [to dress in a dignified manner].

So you see the different mode of dress as a sign that chassidim have “conquered America”?

More than that. We think like them. There’s da’as Torah. Bachurim worship the ground their rosh yeshiva walks on. That didn’t exist when I grew up. When I grew up the roshei yeshiva were mortals. There was no da’as Torah. You could argue with them. But who ever argued with a chassidic rebbe?

Rav Soloveitchik On Tape

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

It’s as if you were in the room.

 

Rabbi David Holzer, the personal shamash of Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (the “Rav”) from 1972-1979, has just penned a book,The Rav Thinking Aloud (self-published, HolzerSeforim.com), with scores of unedited transcripts of Rav Soloveitchik’s personal conversations on topics ranging from Chabad and Zionism to birth control and women’s hair covering.

 

According to Holzer, Rav Soloveitchik on occasion allowed him to tape his conversations. Section I of the book is based on these tapes and on Holzer’s notes; Section II contains a 60-page-long transcript of a discussion between Rav Soloveitchik and his students regarding Zionism, aliyah and Yom Ha’atzmaut; and Section III loosely reconstructs, based on notes, a lecture series Rav Soloveitchik delivered in the 1950s on “The Religious Definition of Man.”

 

The Jewish Press recently spoke with Holzer about his new book.

 

The Jewish Press: What inspired you to compile this book?

 

Rabbi Holzer: I’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time. I’ve seen the Rav presented in many different lights and very often I’ve heard people say, “The Rav contradicts himself.” So I felt there was a need for a certain clarity because the Rav had very clear views, except that unfortunately people sometimes – intentionally or unintentionally – reflect their own views in how they understand the Rav.

 

Also, there’s the personal side. When you study somebody, if all you have is his intellectual ideas, you don’t develop a close emotional bond with the person. With a book like this, by the time you get through it, you feel a closeness to the Rav himself. You start feeling like the Rav is close, warm. You appreciate the person more.

 

Your book publicizes some of Rav Soloveitchik’s private conversations.  Would he have approved?

 

This is something that I struggle with all the time; it’s something I don’t rest easy with. However, I felt that it’s such an important contribution for people to experience the personal side of the Rav – to really get a closer feeling and appreciation of him. And so far, people who have read the book have told me they appreciated it and have felt inspired.

 

What was it like being Rav Soloveitchik’s shamash?

 

For me it was glowing. It was more like having a zeide who takes care of you at the same time you’re supposed to be taking care of him. It was a very close, warm relationship. He was someone you could confide in, discuss things with, and learn a derech ha’chaim. You see the way he acts, the way he talks. It’s on a different level of existence.

 

Back to the book. You report a conversation in which Rav Soloveitchik sounds pretty categorical in his position that married women must cover their hair. Rabbi Irving Greenberg, on the other hand, claims that during a private conversation with him in the 1950s Rav Soloveitchik said the opposite.

 

            That’s why I try being very careful. I’ll only put down what I actually heard from the Rav. I remember the conversation; it happened in the car. I remember that he was very emphatic: the hair has to be covered. He didn’t even want to go into details.

 

Rav Soloveitchik refers to Chabad and the Lubavitcher Rebbe several times in this book – sometimes positively, sometimes negatively.

 

            I would say that’s probably exactly right. Everyone has positive and negative traits, and the Rav called a spade a spade. For this topic I was careful only to put down what I have on tape [and not the material I have in my notes].

 

            Based on the time you spent with Rav Soloveitchik, would you say these

 

excerpts reflect his general attitude toward Chabad?

 

            Yes. It’s an accurate representation of what I heard.

 

Some readers who view Rav Soloveitchik as a moderate, 20th-century posek may be surprised to read that he took a fairly strict view on such halachic issues as birth control and women singing at the Shabbos table.

 

I was surprised too. When I brought up the issue of spacing children the Rav said there’s no such thing. He was very clear that things that people think are just fine are not just fine. On the other hand he says there are good reasons for birth control, but only in the right context.

 

As far as women singing, that question was personal, because I was just starting a seminary in Israel. I started mentioning different bases for heterim, but the Rav said: I know all the heterim, there’s no basis to allow this. The Rav had no reason to be stringent or lenient on me. He just felt in a straightforward fashion: This is the way I analyze the halacha, this is the way I see it.

 

In one conversation Rav Soloveitchik speaks to you about his grandfather Reb Chaim Soloveitchik’s opposition to the formation of Agudath Israel. Can you elaborate?

 

            That’s a dynamite issue. For that part, I was really nervous. My son and I listened to the tape over and over to make sure we got it right, especially when the Rav quotes the letter Reb Chaim sent to his father. We listened to that part probably 20 times. It’s fascinating. As for the details of Reb Chaim’s views I’d rather the book speak for itself. The Rav goes into detail.

 

Are you planning to publish more volumes of The Rav Thinking Aloud?

 

            Hopefully,im yirtzeh Hashem. I have a lot more material in the areas of halacha, minhagim, chumash, hashkafos. I can definitely see at least another two or three volumes. I think they will captivate the imagination.

Haggadah Aims To Make Rav Soloveitchik ‘Come Alive’

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Among the many posthumous additions to Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s literary legacy, one book always seemed conspicuously absent: a Soloveitchik Haggadah in English.

No more. Last month Rabbi Menachem Genack, rabbinic administrator for the Orthodox Union’s Kashruth Division, filled the void with the publication of The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening (OU Press).

A student in Rav Soloveitchik’s shiur for close to 20 years, Rabbi Genack compiled the Soloveitchik Haggadah commentary from audiotapes, class notes, and Rav Soloveitchik’s previously published writings.

 

 

Rabbi Menachem Genack

The editor of two previous works by Rav Soloveitchik, Rabbi Genack also serves as spiritual leader of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Englewood, New Jersey, and lectures at Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school. The Jewish Press recently spoke with him about the new Haggadah and the legacy of Rav Soloveitchik, whom he, like many others, affectionately refers to as “the Rav.”

The Jewish Press: What inspired you to put this Haggadah together?

Rabbi Genack: Part of our mission here at the OU (and mine as well) is to make the Rav’s Torah and chiddushim available to a large audience. To that end we started by publishing the Rav Soloveitchik Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur machzorim last year with ArtScroll, and we’re planning in the future to put out a kinos, siddur, bencher and Megillas Esther from the Rav as well. All of those projects are well into development.

How is this Haggadah different than other haggados, or is it different?

Well, it’s substantially different because it’s the Rav’s material Anybody who ever heard Rav Soloveitchik’s shiurim will always remember the first shiur he heard because it was so mind expanding and transformative. It opened up new horizons for a person.

Sometimes in the Rav’s printed word, his language – while still very eloquent – is more obscure, not as accessible. What we tried to do is capture, to the extent possible, the eloquence and excitement that anybody who ever went to a shiur of the Rav experienced. We wanted to make a Haggadah that made the Rav come alive.

In the last 10-15 years, tens of books by Rav Soloveitchik have appeared on the market. How do you view this development?

I think there’s a thirst to learn about Rav Soloveitchik. He was just sui generis, in a class by himself – both in terms of the excitement and dynamism of his presentation and in terms of the power of his insights. When you heard his insights, they were so compelling you would say, “Oh, that’s so obviously true.” But until he presented it, it wasn’t so obvious.

Describe your relationship with Rav Soloveitchik.

I was a talmid of his. I started going to the shiurim at Moriah [a synagogue on Manhattan's West Side] when I was in high school, and then I continued going to his shiurim [in Yeshiva University] even after I was working here at the OU. I used to shuttle back and forth. I was not so foolish as to leave something so extraordinary.

I also worked with Rav Soloveitchik in publishing some of his halachic material and yahrzeit shiurim – every year Rav Soloveitchik gave a shiur for the yahrzeit of his father in front of close to 2,000 people. I used to come to his apartment every Wednesday and work with him. The Soloveitchiks in general are perfectionists and have an aversion to publishing, so I often urged him to publish – and I guess I convinced him at some stage.

This Haggadah is OU Press’s first publication. Why did you start OU Press and what will some of its future publications be?

Well, we’ve published books before. We published four volumes of Rav Soloveitchik’s chiddushim on different mesechtos or topics (Yoreh De’ah,Hilchos Aveilus,Meseches Challah and Meseches Gittin) and another three are coming out this year. We also published 23 issues of a halachic journal called Mesorah that contains chiddushei Torah from Rav Soloveitchik and contemporary halachic issues in kashrus.

But we started OU Press as a platform for scholars to publish their works, and we hope the Rav Soloveitchik works I mentioned earlier will be the engine for this. For instance we recently spoke to Menachem Leibtag, a young scholar who is an expert in Tanach and is working on a sefer about different themes in Sefer Bereishis. Over time we hope to publish many seforim and books that will hopefully capture the imagination of our constituency .

OU Press is not meant to supplant what everybody else is doing. We’re just trying to serve our constituency directly.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles//2009/02/11/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: