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.