web analytics
August 29, 2014 / 3 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Rav Soloveitchik’

Staying Close Infuses Life

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

In this week’s haftarah, Jeremiah prophesies about the destruction of the First Temple. God commands Jeremiah to leave Jerusalem and travel to Anatot to buy a field from his cousin Chananel (Jeremiah 32).

It can be suggested that when God told Jeremiah the Temple was doomed, Jeremiah clung to the city. While he knew the word of God was true, his love for the Temple was so great that he did not want to leave. Part of him may have felt that by remaining nearby he would be able to infuse his very life, his very spirit, his very breath, into the Temple to keep it standing.

Jeremiah obeyed God’s word and left to buy a field. This truly was an act of faith, for it showed that even in the midst of doom one must always believe the Jewish people will prevail. Jeremiah certainly did what he knew he had to do. Still, by leaving Jerusalem he broke the umbilical cord between himself and the Temple. And the Temple was destroyed.

This interpretation was offered by Rav Soloveitchik after the death of his wife, Tonya. He explained how the circumstances of his wife’s death corresponded to the Jeremiah story.

The Rav often spoke of his wife in the most romantic terms. He said she was his bayit, his home, his Temple. When doctors told the Rav that Tonya was terminally ill, he understood the prognosis was bleak. But like Jeremiah, he felt if he remained with her physically he could keep her alive and infuse part of his being into her.

And so it was. For months the Rav prayed, studied and conducted his business while at his wife’s side. One day Tonya urged him to travel to New York to finalize a contribution made by a generous philanthropist to Yeshiva University. The Rav hesitated, but the doctors assured him that Tonya was not in danger that day. He flew to New York and was successful in securing the gift. As he stepped off the plane upon arriving back in Boston, he was notified that Tonya had lapsed into a coma. Entering his wife’s hospital room, the Rav found her unconscious. A short time later, Tonya Soloveitchik died.

While it is true that none of us has the power to keep alive everything we love forever, our physical presence sometimes has the ability to comfort and heal. Staying close to the people and places we cherish helps infuse them with life. This Shabbat let us remain close to those we love. Let us resolve to connect ourselves powerfully to Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem.

The Lessons Of Holiness Even In Death

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

From a literal perspective, the names of portions are nothing more than the first major word of the part of the Torah that is read during the week. It can, however, be argued that deep meaning actually lies within the names themselves.

The portion we read this week, Kedoshim, means “holiness.” It follows the portion Acharei Mot, which means “after death.” The chronological order of these portions teaches an important lesson.

What is the challenge that presents itself after death? In my early years in the rabbinate, I always felt my challenge as a spiritual leader was to sit with bereaved families and help them undo the pain they were feeling. Death is a kind of darkness, a deep darkness. My role, I thought, was to remove that darkness.

But after my mother died, I stood before my congregation and apologized. Through that painful experience I came to realize that the goal of removal is simply unrealistic. The goal is rather to find a way to cope with the suffering that comes with termination. I compared it to the following: Imagine walking into a dark room for the first time. Not knowing one’s way or one’s place, one trips over the furniture, unaware of which way to turn. However, after days and weeks and months and years, when one walks into that very same dark room, though the darkness still exists, with time we learn how to negotiate the furniture and we can make our way.

The truth is that after suffering a great loss one is actually blessed if one constantly feels the darkness of the pain of termination. Such an emotion is reflective of the power of the relationship between the bereaved and the deceased. If there is no sense of darkness, it could mean that that sense of connection has been blurred, even lost. The challenge, however, as one continues to feel the darkness, is learning how to cope or, to go back to my analogy, learning where the furniture is while feeling the darkness.

The last time I was at my mother’s grave, my dear sister Suri, a woman of profound spirituality, turned to me and said, “Mommy is far away.” I keep thinking of that comment. My mother died on Yom Kippur 1983. It is certainly a long time ago. In a certain sense my sister was right – with every year the soul seems to move further and further away.

While not denying that reality, we are reminded this week that there can always be kedoshim – a sense of continuum that is expressed through holiness. How so? The challenge of death is to keep the person who has died alive in spirit. Indeed the Talmud says there are some people who are actually living yet are not really alive; they’re only going through the motions. On the flip side, there are others who, though physically dead, continue to live through the teachings they left behind and through those they touched in life.

In Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik’s Halachic Man, his introductory page includes the Talmudic statement that in a moment of great personal conflict, the biblical Joseph looked up and saw in the window the image of his father, Jacob. It was Rav Soloveitchik’s way of saying that his writing and teachings continue to be powerfully influenced by his late father, Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik.

I bless you and ask you to bless me that we always remember those who have passed on, like walking through the darkened room full of furniture. And I pray that we always feel those who are closest tapping us on the shoulder, helping us along the complex path of life, guiding us even after death to learn from their teachings and live lives of holiness.

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?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/rabbi-julius-berman-reminisces-on-rav-soloveitchik-and-50-years-of-community-service/2011/11/12/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: