Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Passive Superiority

Yitzchak Avinu is perhaps the most facinating of our three Avos. While we know are great deal about the deeds and adventures of Avraham Avinu and Yaakov Avinu, Yitzchak seems to get comparatively little time in the narrative of Bereishis. Further, the little "face time" he does get in parsha Toldos is quite uninspiring. He prays for and gets kids, goes to live amongst the Pelishtim for a short time and gets into trouble with them and then blesses his sons when he gets old. That's about it for his active participation in the history of our people.
Yet if one look scarefully through the Chumash, Yiztchak actually appears in as many parashas as his father and son. Avraham appears in three (Lech Lecha, Vayera, Chayei Sarah). Yaakov stars in (Toldos, Vayetzei, Vayishlah, as well as cameos in Vayeshev, Miketz and Vayechi). Yitzchak, however, plays important roles not just in Toldos but also Vayera and Chayei Sarah. Why then the perception that he only really shows up briefly?
Every day of the week, when reciting Uva L'Tzion, we recite the following words:
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the entire world is filled with His glory. And they receive from one another and say: Holy in the highest Heavens, the place of his Divine Presence, holy on the Earth, the work of His mightiness, holy for ever and ever."
(Blue=original Hebrew verse; Orange=Aramaic interpretative translation)
Rav Tzi Yehudah Kook, zt"l, notes that the Targum of the Biblical verse tells us that holiness originally resides in Heaven with God as its source. By leaving a life in accordance with Torah and striving towards personal and national holiness, we draw that Divine energy down towards us, as the verse tells us: Thou shalt be holy for I the Lord thine God am holy." (Vayikra 19:2) Having achieved a drawing of the Divine holiness down into this world, we then bask in the eternal spiritual purity it provides, hence the third part of the Targum's interpretation.
Rav Kook then analyzes Avraham and Yitzchak and notes their respective parts in this process. Avraham, it is clearly, was active in drawing Divine holiness down to this world through his constant efforts to make the presence of God obvious to all those around him. Yitzchak, however, played a more passive role. He let the Akeidah happen to him. He let Eliezer bring his wife to him. Even when he could have been active in deciding who to give his paternal brachah to at the end of his life, that choice was made by Rivkah Imeinu and Yaakov. Yet all is not what it seems. Yitzchak was not simply a sounding board, a passive target for the activity of others. Rather, with Avraham having done the work of bringing God's holiness into this world, Yitzchak immersed himself in it and spent his life basking in that spiritual ectasy and the unprecedented connection to the Divine that came with it.
One might think, therefore, that Yitzchak had the easier job. Yet Rav Kook says that it is just the opposite. Activity is easy. One is striving for a goal, building towards it, always having a focus for one's energy. Maintaining oneself at a spiritual peak, spending all one's days at the highest level of purity, is far harder because of the danger of slipping that is constantly present. A simple questioning at the time when his father was putting him on the altar, an insistence on having an active role in choosing his wife instead of letting the Hand of God decide events, a demand for photograph ID when Yaakov presented himself for the brachah, all this seemingly minor activities which also appear emminently reasonable, would have taken him away from the peak of holiness in which he dwelt.
The Gemara in Zevachim, 62a, discusses how the Jews who returned from Bavel and wanted to rebuild the Temple determined the original position of the external altar so they could put a new one there:
"It is understood that the form of the Temple could be recognized (Rashi: the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah knew where the Kodesh, Heichal and courtyard were). But how did they know where the altar had been? Rabbi Elazar said: 'They saw a vision of an built alter and the great minister Micha'el standing and offering upon it.' Rabbi Yitzchak Napachah said 'They saw the ashes of Yitzchak piled up in that place.' Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani said 'The whole Temple are smelled of the incense but that place smelled of the limbs of the sacrifices.'"
What is the significance of these three visions? In the context of the three levels of "kadosh" above and the difference between being active and passive as noted by Rav Kook, I would suggest the following. The first vision, that of an altar in use with Micha'el offering the souls of the righteous, was indicative of the first level of holiness, that of the Divine. It is also indicative of the active pursuit of holiness. Offering a sacrifice requires a person to take action, after all, and make the offering in both the physical and spiritual sense of the word. The second vision, that of the ashes of Yitzchak, represents the second level of holiness, that which is brought into this world. It is also demonstrative of the passive since Yitzchak's participation in that event was entirely passive. Ashes are entirely physical, the remnant of the sacrifice from which the spiritual has ascended to Father in Heaven. They also represent the effort of he who brought the offering and who passively accepted God's judgement upon himself.
The final vision, that of the two smells, represents the final level of holiness, which is eternal. The uniqueness of the k'tores in the Temple service is that it was the most spiritual and least physical of all the offerings. Some spices were put on the golden alter within the Heichal and it was the scent which became the offering. Not the smoke, not the residence, but the emphemeral, invisible scent. Corresponding to this was the scent of the limbs of the sacrifice, the constantly mentioned re'ach nicho'ach in the Torah which was, despite its obvious presence, also invisible. When experiencing this vision, the Jews of the time were therefore given a vision of basking in the eternal holiness that comes when they bring the Divine back into this world. These three visions therefore replicated the efforts of both Avraham and Yitzchak to bring the Divine back into this world and allow us to immerse ourselves in it and raise ourselves to the highest possible levels of Avodas HaShem, the level in which we reach our highest level of potential through our passivity.

But Is He Raising a Legitimate Concern?

If there's one thing Rav Ovadiah Yosef is known for, it's beeing a straight shooter. Unlike many rabbinical leaders who smile in public and speak of the brotherhood of all Jews but then tell their followers in Yiddish that only they are legitimate inheritors of the Convenant of Sinai, Rav Yosef tells it like it is. If he doesn't like a particular group, he won't mince words on where he stands. If he's unhappy with a certain political initiative, he will tell his followers what he thinks, no matter whose microphone is sitting in front of his face.

And all this is on top of being a leading posek and genius in halacha.

So when he calls secular Israeli teachers a bunch of donkeys, one must not instinctively condemn but first ask: is there some substance to what he says?

In his sermon, the rabbi said that the teachers in the secular education system know nothing, "neither Shabath, nor holiday", and teach only "nonsense", and added that people whose parents placed them in the secular education system are unfortunate.
"What do they teach? They teach history and all sorts of nonsense about world nations, that's all," he said

Now, this outtake requires one to take a deep breath and remember a couple of things. One, the word "asses" in the English translation is "chamor" in the Hebrew original. Chamor means donkey in modern English but in more traditional literary usage, a donkey is called an ass. That part of the body we label as "ass" is more properly termed an "arse" So Haaretz, through creative translating, has given a meaning to Rav Yosef''s statements that he never intended.

The second thing to remember, as we learned a couple of weaks ago during the story of the Akeidah in parshas Vayera is that the term "donkey" does not mean simply calling one an animal.

During the story of the Akeidah, we are told:

"And Avraham said unto his young men: 'Abide ye here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship and come back to you." (Ber. 22:5)

To which Chazal comment that Avraham Avinu and Yiztchak Avinu both saw a spiritual cloud covering Har HaMoriah while the two escorts, Yishmael and Eliezer by tradition, saw nothing. Since they saw nothing, Avraham concluded, they were as spiritually aware as the donkey, therefore they could stay behind with it. Not that they were like donkeys, just that they lacked the higher spiritual awareness of Avraham and his son.

Thus Rav Yosef calling the teachers donkeys clearly indicates his opinion that secular Israeli teachers lack any spiritual affection for Judaism or a desire to transmit it to their students, seeing their job rather as teaching secular subjects in as non-Jewish a way as possible. (I am not indicating my agreement with this opinion, just my belief that this is what he mean)

The predictable response has been one of strident criticism. People are understandly offended by his analysis. But is he wrong? Consider: Israeli schools rank poorly when compared with European and North American ones. Levels of viole frequent strikes nce are rising leading to frequent concerns about teacher intimidation. Add to a poorly performing educational system in which teaching children about the so-called Palestinian view of history takes priority over teaching true Israeli history and you have to wonder: does the Rav have a point?

The ideal educational system in Israel would teach high levels of secular subjects such as math, Hebrew, world and Israeli history along with a basic knowledge of Judaism and the Bible. Furthermore, expecting this is not so radical. After all, until Shulamit Aloni and her self-hating apostles came along, that's exactly what the secular Israeli education system did!

Yes, there are enough problems within the Chareidi school system that Rav Yosef could be asked to worry about before commenting on the problems the secular one. But outrage doesn't change the fact that there are problems needing to be addressed and that it is time for Israel to start addressing them.

Another One Who Doesn't Know When to Retire

No one will ever accuse Edgar Bronfman of being a self-hating Jew. As this article from Ynet notes, he has spent most of his life fighting the good fight on behalf of our people. Despite not having much in the way of an actual Torah or Jewish education, he has felt a strong sense of connection and used his considerable personal resources to better our lot in society.
Yet like many good activists, it seems that in his old age he has decided that it is not time to sit back and bask in the glory his considerable achievements have brought him. Rather, having helpd secure some level of safety and prosperity for world Jewry, he has now turned his attention to attacking Judaism with the same zeal he had previously reserved for attacked its enemies. As the article notes:
The strict approach to conversions advocated by the rabbinic institutions in Israel and abroad infuriates Jewish billionaire Edgar Bronfman, the man who for nearly three decades led the World Jewish Congress. Anyone who declares himself Jewish should be accepted to the Jewish people, he says. Or else the Jewish people would cease to exist.
I have no difficulty with the first sentence in the paragraph. I, along with many others, have been infuriated by the Chareidi leadership's various efforts to delegitimize other Torah obsevant movements and their efforts to validly convert people to our nationality. It is his conclusion which is so bizarre and off base that I cannot help but question his mental status.
Open membership to the Jewish people based on a declaration of adherence? Is he serious? And the Jewish people would cease to exist if this approach, which is rejected by all Jewish movements except so-called secular Judiasm and the left side of the Reformers, is not adopted?
"Judaism belongs to every Jew," Adam Bronfman declares. According to him one does not have to belong to a certain religious denomination, believe in God or attend prayers. "Many of the Israelis who define themselves secular are in effect detached from their people's tradition. In Hillel we enable them to create a connection with their tradition in various ways."
Yes, Judaism belongs to every Jew. Mr. Bronfman is quite correct in that regard. But the right to become Jewish does not therefore belong to any person. It is one thing to reach out to those who are already Jewish and work towards bringing them back to the faith of our fathers. For this I said: kol hakavod. It is quite another thing to say that anyone who has a momentary hankering for gefilte fish can simply announce "I wanna be Jewish!" and join the club.
As Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, zt"l, notes (somewhere) in his commentary on the Chumash, Judaism is not a religion, but rather a nationality. Because of our nearly 2000 years of exile, we have forgotten we are not Canadians, Americans, French, Germans, who happen to be of the Jewish religions. Instead we are Jews who happen to hold citizenship in various countries but who's primary citizenship remains that of Judaism.
The government of Canada demands certain things before it will confer citizenship on an immigrant to the country. Simply showing up at the border and announcing "I wants to be a Canad-jun, eh?" is not acceptable. Does Mr. Bronfman get infuriated about this?
Furthermore, an American who does not vote, doesn't particularly hold capitalism in high regard and doesn't like apple pie is not stripped of his citizenship despite his failure to follow the major values of his country.
Mr. Bronfman seems to be taking the path of other great Jewish political leaders and philanthropists who, after a lifetime of positive achievements, seem to relish in attack their own people and heritage. It's a strange syndrome but one that should be regarded with paternalistic sympathy rather than outrage.

P.S. For my sarcastic take on this article, check out the scholarly Daat Torah blog.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Gazans Deprived of Rights

So says the United Nations, that guardian of Israel's safety and integrity.

What rights are the Arabs in Gaza deprived of?

The right to kill Jews without any interference from Israeli authorites, of course. Poor things.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Why the New NRP WIll Fail

In The Jerusalem Post there's a feature on the replacement party for the National Religious Party (Mafdal) that was recently created. I've recently commented on this blog about my disappointment with this turn of events but the article now serves to reinforce my cynicism fotr the future of the National Religious Movement.
Put simply, the problem with the Mafdal is that it doesn't function as an organ of the movement because the movement itself is dysfunctional. As the article details:
NRP MEMBERS from the religious Right and Left have clashed over a variety of issues over the years from the permissibility of electing female MKs to the intervention of rabbis in political matters.
A recent example was a Knesset vote on an amendment that changes the way rabbinical courts decide divorces. The bill was aimed at aiding agunot, women who cannot remarry because their recalcitrant husbands refuse to give them a writ of divorce. It received strong backing from women's rights groups, including the religious Zionist Emunah. And it was aggressively opposed by the haredi rabbinic and political establishment.
The NRP was split. Party chairman Zevulun Orlev, who is identified with the more moderate stream, supported the bill. So did liberal rabbis such as Cherlow and Shlomo Riskin. However, most NRP MKs opposed it, voting like the haredi MKs.
The left-right religious rupture is not the only divisive element within religious Zionism. There is also an ethnic, socio-economic split. Historically, the NRP has drawn electoral strength from various strata from predominately Sephardi development town residents to middle- to upper-class, predominately Ashkenazi professionals and businessmen.

What unites each of the Chareidi parties is a commitment to greater goals: more money for their institutions, exemption from the draft, control of religious affairs. A simple platform, perhaps, but one that most Chareidim seem to be able to agree on. In contrast, the Mafdal in recent years, as a reflection of Religious Zionism is general, doesn't seem to know what it stands for, other than a doggedly persistent support of the pioneers of Yesha.
The problem is that there is a major difference between the National Religious and Chareidi communities. The latter are insular and demand a high degree of unity amongst their members. The former are far more integrated into the surrounding society and therefore have a wide range on opinions on all matters from economics to politics to religion. There is no official National Religious position on the settlements, as the group Realistic Religious Zionists, is happy to point out. There are the Chardal on the right, Meimad on the left and everything in-between. As a result, one party cannot possibly hope to represent more than a small sample of the Religious Zionist community:
POLITICAL SCIENTIST Menachem Friedman, an expert in religious political parties and himself a religious Zionist, argues that the NRP has lost its political justification. "Today there is no need for the NRP," he said. "If you are right-wing in your political views, there is the Likud. If you are haredi in your religious outlook, there is Shas or United Torah Judaism. The NRP never offered an alternative theology that could seriously compete with the haredim. There was always a feeling that religious Zionists were subordinate to the more authentic version of Judaism practiced by the haredim.
It is the last sentence that is the most damning. With the creation of the State of Israel, Religious Zionism should have established itself as the dominant form of Torah observance in the country. Instead, distracted by infighting and conflict with the government over the future of the country, the Chareidim have reasserted themselves as the definitive form of Judaism.
Unfortunately the current leadership of the Mafdal seems more interested in their political survival than acknowledging the deep trouble the movement they represent is in. It is time for Religious Zionism to go back to its first principles and decide on a uniform package of values to represent the movement. Only then can it expect to energize its supporters and reassert itself as a dominant form of Torah observance.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Pushing the Bounds of Orthodoxy

One of the problems troubled the Modern Orthodox movement is its lack of structure. As noted elsewhere, it is too often defined in the negative. It is not Chareidi and it's not heterodox. What it is, however, is harder to define.

There are those who who this nebulous definition to push the boundaries of acceptable Torah observant behaviour in order to satisfy their personal inclinations and desires. Too often these initiatives are undertaken in order to minimize the conflict that many in the Modern Orthodox community undergo when Jewish law and practice conflict with the values of the surrounding secular society.

One of the areas that is pushed most is that of tefilah, prayer. Davening is traditionally a male-dominated affair as women lack the obligation of tefilah b'tzibur that is incumbent upon males. However, we live in a society that strives towards full egalitarianism (except in divorce court, for some odd reason, but I'll save that for a different rant) and this discordance can be quite troubling for the observant Jew who wants to be traditional but also in sync with current values and mores.
The answer for some has been to try and push the boundaries of egalitarianism within the Jewish prayer service. For example, under the guidance of Tova Hartman of the Hartman Institute, the Shirah Hadashah congregation in Israel has created all sorts of innovations and even a mini-guidebook to explain the halachic basis of the liberties they have taken with expanding the role of women within the conventional prayer service. I've previously reviewed this booklet and shown how it abuses the halachic process in order to come to a pre-determined set of answers.
Now comes news from Toronto courtesy of The Canadian Jewish News that another group of pioneers are greating an egalitarian Orthodox minyan called the Partnership minyan. Now, this isn't the first foray of Modern Orthodoxy into egalitarian practice. For decades, many MO synagogues had something called family seating in which married couples and young children sat together while older singles sat in separate wings. With only one exception, these synagogues all left Orthodoxy to join the Conservative movement.
Despite the impressive curriculum vitae of some of its founders, this Partnership minyan misses the point of halachic davening in several major areas, especially that of Krias HaTorah.
With reference to other parts of the service, there is much debate amongst the authorities about the obligations incumbent upon women. This is important to review as some Orthodox egalitarian congregations encourage women to lead certain parts of the service based on certain assumptions.
Krias Shema, for example, is a time-bound positive injunction which implies women are exempt from reciting it, but the Rambam holds that women are obligated to accept the yoke of Heaven upon themselves daily implying that they should say it to fulfill the mitzvah. As for Pesukei D'zimrah, the Mishnah Berurah considers it an adjunct to the Amidah which women are obligated to say and therefore holds that they have to pray that too. However, in his Shaar HaTziun commentary, he questions that assumptom. The Aruch HaShulchan and Kaf HaChayim seem to compromise by saying that women can say pesukei d'zimrah but are not obligated to. However, this would lead to a problem for the Shirah Hadashah congregation which explicity allows women to lead that part of the service. If pesukei d'zimrah is obligatory upon men and not upon women, how can someone who is not obligated (the potential chazanit) fulfill the requirement for those who can (the men)?
The next issue in terms of women leading services comes from the issue of kol ishah (Berachos 24a). Like se'aros ishah, there has been much discussion amongst some modern poskim (see Seridei Eish 2:8, Tzitz Eliezer 5:2 for examples). The most lenient position seems to be that of the German poskim who allowed women to sing zemiros with men. However, it seems clear that a solo chazanit leading services in a shul was not what they had in mind when they permitted this. Thus for a woman to lead services, especially during pesukei d'zimrah where much of the singing is simply the shaliach tzibur moving from paragraph to paragraph, there would be a problem permitting this. The only way around would be to have her read the relevant parts out loud instead of sing them but when contrasted with the ability of the male prayer leaders to sing the same sections, the result would be a highling of the inequality, not a blurring which is clearly the Partnership's intention.
The basis for the belief that women can have aliyos in Torah observant shuls comes from a very suggestive baraisa (Megillah 23a): "The Rabbis taught: All (who go to read the Torah) count towards the seven (who are called up), even a child, even a woman. However, the Sages said: a woman should not read from the Torah out of consideration for the dignity of the congregation (k'vod hatzibur)." This ruling is brought almost verbatim by the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 282:3) and the Rema, far from disputing it, only qualifies it by noting that since the baraisa uses the word "even" it implies that women and children can have some of the aliyos but not all of them. Even then, he does not set an upper limit so theoretically according to his ruling, women could take six of the seven aliyos.
Rav Yehuda Herzl Henkin in Bnei Banim vol. 4 specifically addresses the question of women getting aliyos. He notes that during the time of the gemara, only the first and and last called to the Torah recited the berachos on the reading. A woman is not obligated to read the Torah and therefore her recitation of the berachah would not fulfill the obligation of the men listening but that only meant she couldn't go up for the first and last aliyos. The middle ones which were free of blessings before and after would be fine. However, he brings two opinions from the Meiri. The first notes that since nowadays each person recites the blessing over the Torah, a woman would not be able to have an aliyah. However the second states that since only the first aliyah is d'oraisa (since Moshe established it) and the remainder are only d'rabbanon, the concern with a woman not fulfilling the men's obligations would only apply to the first aliyah.
There are some halachos that are theoretically possible but impossible to do in practice. For example, one who is eating seudas shlishis at the end of Pesach (assuming the holiday ends on a Saturday night) might, in theory, be able to draw the meal out until chometz is permitted and then eat some bread. Yet because the meal was begun during the holiday, he would be able to mention the holiday of Pesach in his bentching despite having eaten bread! However, this is not possible in a practical way since he must daven Maariv and make havdalah before he can rebuy his chometz and doing so would mean bentching beforehand.
Similarly, while the baraisa permits women to have aliyos, getting them to the bimah would be problematic. The Chasam Sofer (Ch.M. 190) notes that the main reason for avoiding the mixing of men and women in shul is to prevent unseemly thoughts that would lead to the congregation's prayers being rejected. This begs the question: how does the woman get through the men's section and stand on the bimah without mingling with the surrounding men?
(Interestling, the Maharam paskens that in a congregation where all the men are kohanim, a kohen should take the first two aliyos and the rest should be given to women, but this is certainly an exceptional situation. Rav Henkin notes that this negates the concern of peritzus with the woman going up to the bimah with the men. He further brings references from the Rishonim that show that peritzus is not a consideration in preventing women from having aliyos)
On the other hand, the Levush says that "nowadays" (back 450 years ago or so) men and women commonly mingle leading to a habituation that would negate the possibility of unseemly thoughts. (It's interesting to note that the Aruch HaShulchan uses the same reason to permit the reciting of Krias Shema in the presence of a married woman who does not cover her hair) But looking at the context of his remarks, he was talking about a seudas mitzvah which is not as stringent a situation as public prayer. Thus this source cannot provide support for a woman walking through the men's section to stand for a prolonged period of time on the bimah.
Other potential lenient sources are the Mishpetei Uziel and the Igros Moshe who both permit mingling during gatherings. However, they limit their permissiveness to small groups, not fixed congregations.
In terms of the assumptions the partnership group makes to get around these problems, the logic seems quite flawed. For example:
The minyan’s mission statement reads, in part, that the community “follows the approach of those Orthodox rabbis who have argued that the dignity of human beings (kavod ha-briyot) is a crucial halachic value that permits us, and in fact obligates us, to expand the roles of women.”
How does kavod habriyos obligate an expansion of the roles of women in the prayer service? That women have no public roles during prayer is not a humiliation or denigration of the gender that they should need to have their kavod defended in the first place. In other words, the Partnership seems to have made up a problem and found those "Orthodox rabbis" who have a solution to it. But I would contend that the problem doesn't exist in the first place.
Halachic values do evolve, Rabbi Lockshin said. As an example, he said that in halachic literature there is no expectation that a parent will support a child beyond the age of eight or 10, but rabbis in Israel agreed unanimously to change the age until which parents must support their children.
But this also makes no sense when you recall that this minyan is basing itself on a baraisa to permit many of their innovations. In other words, they're not looking at forward evolution but at grabbing at rituals that may have existed centuries ago. I doubt, however, that they are interested in many other unobserved laws, like those of selling one's daughter into marriage or a thief into six years of slavery, things we just don't do anymore today. The article mentions that Prof. Lockshin avoids the obvious comparison with Conservatism but I can think of another reason why: his new group seems to be picking and choosing when it comes to setting their values.
He based part of what he said on an article by Rabbi Mendel Shapiro titled Qeri’at ha-Torah by Women: A Halakhic Analysis, which appeared in the Edah Journal, a modern Orthodox publication, in 2001. (Links to Rabbi Shapiro’s article and other sources can be found at
The Edah article “has led to some serious changes in the way people are thinking,” Rabbi Lockshin said.

Perhaps this is the greatest article in the world. I haven't read it so I can't say. However, I am not aware of Rav Mendel Shapiro being a posek with any authority. Unlke the world of modern academia where anyone with a degree can write an opinion, the system of halachah is simply not run that way. Grabbing at any halachic opinion without consideration as to whether it has any authority behind it is not a proper way to run a Torah observant group.
Jay Nathanson, a 37-year-old father of two young daughters who was at the meeting, said it’s important for him not to have them excluded. As well, he told The CJN, “it’s crucial for me to raise my [six-year-old] son in a community where every possible effort is made to treat women with as much dignity and respect as is feasible within the rigid confines of traditional halachah.”
This for me is the real crux of the matter. The real gut check of the observant Jew comes when he is told he, or she, cannot do something. There are limits. Not just anyone could offer a sacrifice in our holy Temple (may it be speedily rebuilt). Not just anyone could be king. Not just anyone could serve as a judge. Merit, while important, is not the only criteria for certain social positions within klal Yisrael and a major test of a person's faith is his or her acceptance of those limitations. If this man's two daughters will feel excluded by Torah Judaism because they cannot participate in services, if their fealty to God is entirely predicated on their getting what they want regardless of reigning halachic norms, then how loyal will they be in the first place?
Finally there is the issue of minhag to be considered. The rituals and conduct of k'lal Yisrael during davening are not routines performed without intelligent thought. Each community has its own customs as to how to handle different services and situations. The people of Israel in general have customs that are considered universal amongst all who call themselves Torah observant and it is a great sin to disparage these customs or abandon them on the assumption they have become obsolete.
One quick example will suffice. Would any Torah observant person seriously suggest abandoning the concept of Yom Tov Sheni because we now have a fixed calender? The gemara in Beitzah urges us to be careful with the customs we inherit from our ancestors.
The fourth chapter of Pesachim brings this into greater detail. The mishnayos in this chapter demonstrate multiple cases of varying customs in different places and the respect to be shown by people visiting a locale in terms of regional behaviours. Based on this, one might think that bringing egalitarian innovations into an exisiting shul might be considered improper but that creating a new congregation would avoid the problem since it could create its minhagim from scratch.
But to this, the gemara in Pesachim 51b writes about multiple cases of chachamim going to different places, engaging in behaviour that is technically permitted by halachah and then stopping when the locals complain that "we've never seen such things". The gemara continues that the Sages could have protested and pointed out that their behaviours were perfectly legal but they did not because "we've never seen such things" is a reason to forbid a particular action.
If this is so, what can be said about the innovations of allowing women to lead certain parts of the service or receive aliyos to the Torah? The practice of restricting these roles to men is certainly no local custom but one that has been adopted for centuries (at least) by the entire Torah world. To create a new congregation that allows these changes to the ritual would inevitably run afoul of the gemara's protest: we've never seen such things!
In conclusion, the words of the Rav seem especially relevant. (From "Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik" Volume 3, by Aharon Zeigler, p.19-21)
"Our bond and closed with Hashem comes from our performance of His Divine commandments which have intrinsic meaning. The objective fact of the mitzvah is primary and not the subjective emotions of the one performing the mitzvah... The absence of kavanah (emphasis and feeling of job) definitely indicates something lacking in the Divine servce. But the exhilaration is an outgrowth of the mitzvah, not its goal. We to the mitzvot because they are Divine commandments from Hashem... Any uplifting feelings must come from the satisfaction of having served the Will of hashem inthe prescribed manner He has commanded us. Women therefore can acquire the same satisfaction and exhilaration by performing the mitzvot they are commanded and need not seek closeness to hashem through mitzvot they have not been commanded."

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Yes He's Religious, But What Religion Is He?

It is not my intention to comment in a lengthy fashion on homosexual marriage. I see the matter thusly: in a secular amoral society, there is no compelling reason that a marriage cannot be defined as the union of any two people. Without a Divine anchor for its values, nothing demands that society define marriage in a way that excludes a small segment of its population.
The only real hypocrisy of the matter for me is the attitude of the gay lobby when it comes to redefining marriage. In the same breath as they demand freedom for any two people to wed, they also protest against polygamy and incest. This is completely irrational. If a marriage can consist of two people, why not three or more? Why does close blood relationship disqualify a union if any two consenting adults can join up otherwise?
What does bother me is how non-observant Jewish leaders wrap themselves in their self-determined flag of "Jewish values" and condemn those who speak out against gay marriage for religious reasons. If one wants to support gay marriage because in a secular society there's no reason to bar it, fine. But to say that one supports it because one's Jewish religious values demand it is deceptive and erroneous.
As I've noted before, what separates Jewish values and those in the secular liberal realm is the difference between responsibilities and rights. America has its Bill of Rights. Canada has its Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But the Torah is about limitations for it is through that which we withhold ourselves from that we raise our level of sanctity. The glory of man doesn't come from ploughing through life in a hedonistic fashion but rather from elevating oneself from the material and towards the spiritual.
It is this regard that the Conservatives and Reformers completely misunderstand the essential nature of Judaism and Torah. For the Reformers, Judaism is secular liberalism with an impotent godhead, one which grants automatic approval for any desires and values, as long as they are politically correct. Conservatism is virtually identical except that it still pretends to grant this state of religious anarchy an "halachic" imprimatur.
For observant Jews, the process is different. We do not demand God approve of our values but try to adopt His as our own. As a result, it is possible for an observant Jew to be deeply conflicted. He may have a gut feeling, or have been influenced by secular culture, into believing certain values are "right" only to find out that the Torah opinion of them is completely different. His ability to overcome his feelings and accept the Torah's opinion over his own is what sanctifies his behaviour and proves his Divinely granted free will.
The article referenced above displays this twisted thinking in all its glory. Note carefully how the author moves from his revulsion over gay bashing to opposition over gay marriage. The moral he is imparting is quite clear: if you're a good Jew you're against gay bashing. And since you're against gay bashing, you must also support gay marriage.
The thrust of one such passage should not override an overarching biblical ethos that teaches us that God loves and affirms the full humanity of each human being.
Except that does not mean that God, in spite of His infinite love for us, automatically approves of anything we want. The unnatural connection between opposing gay marriage and being in favour of violence against them must be challenged. In my community, after a prominent gay cafe owner was attacked a few years ago, our rav attended the protest against this assault held afterwards. This was fully in consonance with Jewish values. We cannot tolerate a society in which any person (other than confirmed communists and those guys who check the parking meters) can be attacked with impunity and without fear of the law. That does not mean, however, that we must approve of the values these people hold. I am against gay bashing but I cannot say that gay marriage is approved of by real Jewish values.
In response to his final assertion:
I see no reason why religious believers like me have any less right than my more fundamentalist brothers and sisters to speak for religion in the public square. Votes against same-sex unions discriminate against gays and lesbians and run counter to the ethos of love that the Bible teaches. It also discriminates against those of us whose religious beliefs mandate us to perform same-sex weddings.
I fully agree. I just don't think religious believes like him should mislead people by saying they are expressing Jewish values.

The 23rd Obsession

There are 22 Muslim states in the world, covering a very large area of territory along with a good chunk of the world's supply. One might think that any reasonable person might consider that to be sufficient for anyone's ambitions. Yet we read over and over again about the obesession the rest of the world has with creating a 23rd Arab state, and on an oil-free patch of land to boot!

Like Bill Clinton before him, George W. Bush has tried, in the final year of his president, to midwife into existence something that has never existed, contrary to the imaginations of the Arab propaganda machine, in the history of the world: a country called Palestine.

Just like Clinton, Bush failed to grasp the actual mechanics behind the push for this new country and why his efforts were guaranteed to fail.

One must remember a few things in order to truly understanding how the Middle East works:

1) The people of any given country, or wanna-be country, have no actual say or influence on how their country runs. Actual decision making always falls on the chief thug/dictator/monarch of the country and his close, personal friends/advisors. The entire populace might want something but if the leader doesn't, it won't happen.

2) The so-called Palestinian leadership isn't interested in the establishment of a Palestinian state. Neither are any important leaders in the Arab world. They interested in the destruction of Israel and any steps that lead towards a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Arab problem are therefore seen as negative by this leadership.

3) Arab states are generally run as incompetent kleptocracies. If it wasn't for oil and the international drug trade, they'd all be broke. In order to keep their people from figuring this out, it has become de rigeur for the Arab leadership to blame all their problems on Israel. We can't afford good health care because of Israel. We can't advance to First World status because of Israel. Israel, Israel, Israel, it's all the Jews' fault!

As a result, Arafat's decision to torpedo the Camp David initiative in 2000 despite being offered 99.5% of what he had demanded without being forced to make any commitments in return, other than recognize Israel as a peaceful neighbour, failed. Had Camp David succeeded, how could the Arabs then turn around and blame Israel for all their problems?

The next sure sign which was ignored by all the peaceniks came after the retreat from 'Aza. When asked by the press why his people were still shelling southern Israel with rockets despite the Israelis having pulled out, Chief Thug Abbas simplied replied: When we said withdrawal, we meant to the 1947 partition boundaries, not the 1967 armistice lines.

Ehud Olmert, in his final days of power, is desperately trying anything to dismember Israel as a final show of revenge against the country which never really appreciated his self-perceived genius. But it is George W. Bush who will ride into the sunset unfulfilled as his promises of a 23rd Arab state by the end of 2008 fail to materialize.

In truth, they will never materialize, because the Arabs don't want one!

(Thank you to Brooklynwolf for spotting a factual error in this post)

Gedolim Who Matter Part 3 - The Rav

From his Wikipedia entry:
Early years, education, and immigration
Rabbi Soloveitchik was educated in the traditional manner at a Talmud Torah, an elementary yeshiva, and by private tutors, as his parents realized his great mental powers. According to a curriculum vitae written and signed in his own hand,[1] in 1922 he graduated from the liberal arts `Gymnasium' in Dubno. Thereafter he entered in 1924 the Free Polish University in Warsaw where he spent three terms, studying political science. In 1926 he came to Berlin, Germany and entered the Friedrich Wilhelm University. He passed the examination for supplementary subjects at the German Institute for Studies by Foreigners and was then given full matriculation at the University. He took up studies in philosophy, economics and Hebrew subjects, simultaneously maintaining a rigorous schedule of intensive Talmud study.
According to the CV, among his "highly honored" teachers in university, "Geheimrat", were Professor Dr. Heinrich Maier and Professor Dr. Max Dessoir, along with Professor Dr. Eugen Mittwoch and Professor Dr. Ludwig Bernhard. He studied the work of European philosophers, and was a lifelong student of neo-Kantian thought.
He wrote his Ph.D. thesis on the epistemology and metaphysics of the German philosopher Hermann Cohen. Contrary to most biographies, which erroneously state that in 1931 he received his degree, he actually passed his oral doctor's examination on July 24, 1930, but graduated with a doctorate only on December 19, 1932. Documents exist to support this assertion, possessed and publicized by the late Manfred Lehmann.[2]
In 1931 he married Tonya Lewitt (1904-1967), who had earned a Ph.D. in education from Jena University.
During his years in Berlin, Rabbi Soloveitchik became a close disciple of Rabbi Hayyim Heller, who had established an institute for advanced Jewish Studies from an Orthodox perspective in the city. He also made the acquaintance of other young scholars pursuing a similar path to his own. One such figure was Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner who would become the rosh yeshiva of the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin also in Brooklyn, New York. Both of them developed a system of thought that bridged the Eastern European way of traditional scholarship with the new forces of modernity in the Western World. Among the other personalities with whom he came into contact were Professor Alexander Altmann, Rabbi Dr.Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg, Rector of the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary, and Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz.

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Relations with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Rabbi Sholem Kowalsky,[3];[4] Rabbi Julius Berman; Rabbi Menachem Genack; and Rabbi Fabian Schoenfeld[5] (all students of Soloveitchik) have asserted that Rabbi Menachem Schneerson and Rabbi Soloveitchik met for the first time while they both studied in Berlin. They met many times at the home of Hayyim Heller. Rabbi Soloveitchik told Rabbi Sholem Kowalsky he "was a great admirer of the Rebbe."[6]
Rabbi Zvi Kaplan states that Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner recalled sitting with Rabbi Schneerson and Rabbi Soloveitchik at a lecture on Maimonides at the University and when the speaker asked R' Schneerson for his opinion on something, R' Schneerson deferred to R' Soloveitchik. R' Soloveitchik's daughter Dr. Atarah Twersky recalls R' Soloveitchik saying that R' Schneerson visited her father in his apartment and the former asked the latter why he was studying in Berlin if his father-in-law was opposed to it. According to R' Soloveitchik's son Rabbi Dr. Haym Soloveitchik, Rabbi Soloveitchik only saw R' Schneerson pass by in Berlin.[7] The two would become more acquainted in New York.
Rabbi Herschel Schacter, who studied with Rav Soloveitchik's father, accompanied him to the Lubavitcher Rebbe's farbrengen on Yud Shevat 5740/1980. R' Schachter described that occasion in an interview.[8]
Soloveitchik would refer to himself as "The Soloveitchik of Boston". He pioneered the Maimonides School, one of the first Hebrew day schools in Boston in 1937. [9] When the school's high school was founded in the late forties, he instituted a number of innovations in the curriculum, including teaching Talmud to boys and girls studying in classes together. He involved himself in all manner of religious issues in the Boston area. He was at times both a rabbinical supervisor of kosher slaughtering – shechita – and gladly accepting invitations to lecture in Jewish and religious philosophy at prestigious New England colleges and universities. His son-in-law, Rabbi Professor Isadore Twersky was an internationally known expert on the writings of Maimonides and succeeded Professor Harry Austryn Wolfson to the Nathan Littauer chair of Jewish History and Literature at Harvard University.
New York
Joseph Soloveitchik succeeded his father, Rabbi Moses (Moshe) Soloveichik, as the head of the RIETS rabbinical school at Yeshiva University in 1941.
Soloveitchik advocated more intensive textual Torah study for Jewish women at the Stern College for Women, giving the first class in Talmud inaugurated at Stern College. With his enlightened outlook, he attracted and inspired many young men and women to become spiritual leaders and educators in Jewish communities worldwide. They in turn went out with the education of Yeshiva University to head synagogues, schools and communities, where they continue to influence many Jews to remain committed to Orthodoxy and observance.

Philosophy and major works
Torah Umadda synthesis
During his tenure at Yeshiva University in addition to his Talmudic lectures, Soloveitchik deepened the system of "synthesis" whereby the best of religious Torah scholarship would be combined with the best secular scholarship in Western civilization. This has become known as the Torah Umadda - "Torah and Science" the motto of Yeshiva University. Through public lectures, writings, and his policy decisions for the Modern Orthodox world, he strengthened the intellectual and ideological framework of Modern Orthodoxy.
In his major non–Talmudic publications, which altered the landscape of Jewish theology, Soloveitchik stresses the normative and intellectual centrality of the halakhic corpus. He authored a number of essays and books offering a unique synthesis of Kantian existentialism and Jewish theology, the most well-known being The Lonely Man of Faith which deals with issues such as the willingness to stand alone in the face of monumental challenges, and Halakhic Man.[1][2] A less known essay, though not less important is "The Halakhic Mind - An essay on Jewish tradition and modern thought" written in 1944 and published only 40 years later, without any change as the Author himself stresses. [published by Seth Press, distributed by Free Press - ISBN 0-68-486372]
The Lonely Man of Faith
In The Lonely Man of Faith Soloveitchik reads the first two chapters of Genesis as a contrast in the nature of the human being and identifies two human types: Adam I, or "majestic man", who employs his creative faculties in order to master his environment; and Adam II, or "covenantal man", who surrenders himself in submission to his Master. Soloveitchik describes how the man of faith integrates both of these aspects.
In the first chapter, Adam I is created together with Eve and they are given the mandate to subdue nature, master the cosmos, and transform the world "into a domain for their power and sovereignty." Adam I is majestic man who approaches the world and relationships--even with the divine--in functional, pragmatic terms. Adam I, created in the image of God, fulfills this apparently "secular" mandate by conquering the universe, imposing his knowledge, technology, and cultural institutions upon the world. The human community depicted in Genesis 1 is a utilitarian one, where man and woman join together, like the male and female of other animals, to further the ends of their species.
In chapter two of Genesis, Adam II, on the other hand represents the lonely man of faith - bringing a "redemptive interpretation to the meaning of existence". Adam II does not subdue the garden, but rather tills it and preserves it. This type of human being is introduced by the words, "It is not good for man to be alone" - and through his sacrifice (of a metaphoric rib) he gains companionship and the relief of his existential loneliness - this covenantal community requires the participation of the Divine.
Halakhic Man
In Halakhic Man Soloveitchik propounds the centrality of halakha in Jewish thought. His theological outlook is distinguished by a consistent focus on halakha, i.e., the fulfillment and study of the divine law. He presents the halakha as the a priori basis for religious practice and for the theological foundation for Jewish thought. Soloveitchik emphasizes halakha's "this-worldly, here-and-now grounding", as opposed to religious approaches that focus on the nature of the transcendent realm. This work argues that Jewish piety does not, therefore, fit familiar models of Western religiosity, and presents a phenomenology of this religious type. Here, "Halakhic man", as a result of his study of Torah and his observance of the commandments, develops a set of coherent attitudes towards intellectual activity, asceticism, death, esotericism, mysticism, creativity, repentance, and providence. He also underscores the necessity for individual self-creation as the divinely assigned task of the human being.
Halakhic Mind
Halakhic Mind is a four part analysis on the correlation between science and philosophy historically. Only in its fourth and last part the Author introduces the consequences on the Halakha of the analysis performed in the previous three parts.
Other views and controversy
Soloveitchik became a "lightning rod" of criticism from two directions. From the religious left, he was viewed as being too connected to the Old World of Europe, while for those on the religious right, he was seen as legitimizing those wanting to lower their religious standards in the attempt to modernize and Americanize. Despite this criticism, Soloveitchik remained steadfast in his beliefs and positions throughout the years of his leadership.
Departure from the traditional Brisker view of Zionism
Soloveitchik was proud of his connections to the Soloveitchik rabbinic dynasty, speaking fondly of his "uncles" and chiding them from time to time in public. To his relatives and namesakes who now lived in Jerusalem where they had established their own branch of the anti-Zionist Brisk Yeshiva, he was respected for his genius in Talmudic scholarship which few could challenge or disparage. However, Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik (the "Brisker Rov") and his followers still viewed him as their wayward cousin who had departed from the family Haredi tradition. At the same time, recent research published by Shlomo Pick has indicated that his father, Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik maintained a close relationship with Religious Zionist (Mizrahi) circles in Warsaw, prior to the father's departure for Yeshiva University and the son's departure for the University of Berlin in 1923.
Modern Orthodox View of
The most left-wing Modern Orthodox figures feel that Rabbi Soloveitchik was a prototype for an ideal type of Jew, but are against what they define as "The Soloveitchik Line,"[10] and wish to establish more dynamism in Orthodoxy. These include Rabbis David Hartman, Irving Greenberg, and Michael Wyschograd. Leading right-wing figures at Modern Orthodox institutions wish to keep Modern Orthodoxy within the boundaries which were established by Rabbi Soloveitchik. This includes much of Yeshiva University's leadership, such as Rabbi Hershel Reichman, Rabbi Mayer Twersky, and Rabbi Hershel Schachter.
The Agudah's View of
After Rabbi Soloveitchik left Agudath Israel, the organization's leadership was mostly quiet when it came to public statements involving Rabbi Soloveitchik. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who was Rabbi Soloveitchik's cousin, maintained very warm and profoundly respectful relations with him. They corresponded and spoke (at least) on the eve of every Jewish holiday. Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner referred to him as a gadol hador.[11] Rabbi Aaron Kotler, whose public policy in relation to American Jewry was far more right-wing than Rabbi Soloveitchik's, was introduced by Rabbi Soloveitchik at a Chinuch Atzmai dinner[12] and this later became famous as an instance of unity among the Orthodox leadership. Agudath Israel's mouthpiece, the "Jewish Observer" also mentioned Rabbi Soloveitchik as one of the greatest rabbis of the generation when detailing a cable which was sent by various gedolim to former Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol requesting the government to put a stop to Christian missionary activity in Israel. In May 1993, Rabbi Nisson Wolpin penned an obituary for Rabbi Soloveitchik in the "Jewish Observer."[13] The article was criticized for being titled "Zecher L'bracha" ("May his memory be a blessing") as opposed to the usual "Zecher Tzaddik L'bracha" (May his righteous memory be a blessing), for being a mere page long as instead of the Jewish Observer's usually comparatively long obituaries, for the obituary not being mentioned in the table of contents, and portraying Rabbi Soloveitchik as not clarifying his views enough. Rabbi Moshe David Tendler wrote a scathing attack on Wolpin's piece, which was published both in The Community Synagogue of Monsey's newsletter and the Algemeiner Journal.[14]. Rabbi Soloveitchik did not sign Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's proposed ban on interfaith dialogue, instead he published a pathbreaking essay expounding his views on the subject, entitled "Confrontation." He also did not sign the ban by America's foremost rabbis against participating in the Synagogue Council of America, albeit it has been debated whether it was because he believed in participating in the SCA or because he was not happy with the way the ban was instituted.
It is important to note that, despite the Agudah's comparative silence on Rabbi Soloveitchik and his stances, the Jewish Observer has often criticized the Rabbinical Council of America in which he served and his more modern students, including Rabbi Norman Lamm,[15] Rabbi Shlomo Riskin[16] and Rabbi Lawrence Kaplan.[17]
Debate over world view
Many of Soloveitchik's students became leaders in the Modern Orthodox community. These students tend to espouse very distinct world views, often attributing their own views to Rabbi Soloveitchik himself. Those furthest on the left include David Hartman and Irving Greenberg, whose espousals of pluralism have earned them serious delegitimization. The institutions they founded, the Shalom Hartman Institute and the CLAL respectively, are considered to be outside the fold of acceptable Orthodox thought. Rabbis Avi Weiss and Saul Berman, who represent liberal Modern Orthodox institutions such as Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Edah, are somewhat further to the right of Greenberg and Hartman[citation needed], but still very liberal in comparison to most Orthodox thinkers (Rabbi Weiss has classified this approach as "Open Orthodoxy"). Many students of Rabbi Soloveitchik represent a centrist approach to Modern Orthodoxy (which Rabbi Norman Lamm has coined "Centrist Orthodoxy") such as Rabbis Aharon Lichtenstein, Shlomo Riskin, Lawrence Kaplan, and Norman Lamm. This is the mainstream approach to Rabbi Soloveitchik's thought; the Torah UMadda Journal, Tradition magazine, the Rabbinical Council of America, Efrat, Teaneck, Yeshiva University, Bnei Akiva, the Orthodox Union, and various post-high school yeshivot and seminaries in Israel (i.e. Yeshivat Har Etzion) are largely, if not mostly (but almost never monolithically) populated by "Centrist Orthodox" Jews. Further to the right in the spectrum of Orthodoxy lie Rabbis Yehuda Parnes and Abba Bronspiegel, both of whom resigned from teaching positions in Yeshiva University to join right-wing alternative Lander College. Some of Rabbi Soloveitchik's students even identify themselves and Rabbi Soloveitchik's teachings with the Haredi world, such as Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, Rabbi Soloveitchik's nephew and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Toras Moshe in Jerusalem; Rabbi Mosheh Twersky, The Rav's grandson and a teacher at Toras Moshe; Rabbi Michel Shurkin, also a teacher at Toras Moshe; and Rabbi Chaim Ilson, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Derech Hatalmud in Jerusalem.
Top Students
Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff believes that Rabbis Chaim Ilson, Hershel Schachter, Aaron Lichtenstein, and Zvi Kanotopsky were each Soloveitchik's top student in their decade.[18] Additionally, Rabbi Yosef Granofsky--Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Ohr David--has noted that many considered Rabbi Hershel Reichman to be the top rabbinical student while the former attended YU. While Lichtenstein leans more towards centrist Orthodoxy, most of the rest tend to be right-leaning forces at Modern Orthodox institutions or completely Haredi.
Integration with secular society
Since his death, interpretations of Soloveitchik's beliefs have become a matter of ongoing debate, somewhat analogous to the long-standing debate about Samson Raphael Hirsch. Some Haredim and some on the right wing of Modern Orthodoxy believe that Hirsch only wanted Jews to combine an observant Jewish lifestyle with learning the surrounding gentile society's language, history, and science, so that a religious Jew could earn a living in the surrounding secular society. It should be noted, however, that this is not by any means a universally held opinion among right-wing Orthodox Jews (see, for example, the writings of Rabbi Shimon Schwab and the biography of Rabbi Hirsch by Rabbi Victor Klugman). There exists a fringe position among scholars of Soloveitchik's philosophy that states that a similar pragmatic approach was adopted by Soloveitchik as well. On this view, Soloveitchik did not approve of Jews learning secular philosophy, music, art, literature or ethics, unless it was for either the purpose of obtaining a livelihood or outreach.
In contrast, most scholars believe that this understanding of Soloveitchik's philosophy is misguided. This issue has been discussed in many articles in Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought, published by the Rabbinical Council of America[citation needed]. In this view, both Hirsch and Soloveitchik believed that it was permissible for Jews to learn secular philosophy, music, art, literature and ethics for their own sake and even encouraged this[citation needed].
His son-in-law, Professor Isadore Twersky pointed out in a eulogy published in the journal Tradition in 1995 that Rabbi Soloveitchik's philosophy could be paraphrased as follows: "When you know your [Jewish] Way--your point of departure and goals--then use philosophy, science and the humanities to illumine your exposition, sharpen your categories, probe the profundities and subtleties of the masorah and reveal its charm and majesty; in so doing you should be able to command respect from the alienated and communicate with some who might otherwise be hostile or indifferent to your teaching as well as to increase the sensitivity and spirituality of the committed." Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, on the other hand, believes that Rabbi Soloveitchik's sole purpose of allowing secular study was for purposes of outreach.
Own criticism of his students
Soloveitchik stated that although he felt that he successfully transmitted the facts and laws of Judaism to his students, he felt that he failed in transmitting the experience of living an authentic Jewish life. He stated that many of his students "act like children and experience religion like children. This is why they accept all types of fanaticism and superstition. Sometimes they are even ready to do things that border on the immoral. They lack the experiential component of religion, and simply substitute obscurantism for it....After all, I come from the ghetto. Yet I have never seen so much naïve and uncritical commitment to people and to ideas as I see in America....All extremism, fanaticism and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist." (A Reader's Companion to Ish Ha-Halakhah: Introductory Section, David Shatz, Yeshiva University, Joseph B. Soloveitchik Institute).
Shortly after Soloveitchik's passing, Rabbi Norman Lamm, President of Yeshiva University, in a eulogy for the Rav delivered on April 25, 1993, urged his auditors to "guard...against any revisionism, any attempts to misinterpret the Rav's work in both worlds [the world of Torah and the world of Madda(Science)]. The Rav was not a lamdan who happened to have and use a smattering of general culture, and he was certainly not a philosopher who happened to be a talmid hakham, a Torah scholar.... We must accept him on his terms, as a highly complicated, profound, and broad-minded personality.... Certain burgeoning revisionisms may well attempt to disguise and distort the Rav's uniqueness by trivializing one or the other aspect of his rich personality and work, but they must be confronted at once." (Lawrence Kaplan Revisionism and the Rav: The Struggle for the Soul of Modern Orthodoxy, Judaism, Summer, 1999).
Relations with non-Orthodox Judaism
Soloveitchik did not approve of a number of practices of Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism. He believed that where these denominations differed from Orthodox Judaism, the non-Orthodox groups were in significant error. He compared religious dialogue with Reform and Conservative leaders to dialogue between Pharisees and Karaites, considering it ridiculous. One of the major differences was in regard to the use of a mechitza in the synagogue, a divider between the men's and women's sections. Consistent with the traditional rabbinic understanding of this issue, Soloveitchik ruled that it was forbidden to pray in a synagogue without a separation between the sexes. This effect of this was to prohibit prayer in any Reform synagogue and in many Conservative synagogues. His responsum on this question was also directed at the small number of Orthodox synagogues that were adopting mixed-sex seating. He was vociferous on this issue. Soloveitchik believed that Reform and Conservative rabbis did not have proper training in halakha and Jewish theology, and that due to their decisions and actions they could not be considered rabbis as Orthodox Jews traditionally understood the term. He was a lifelong critic of all forms of non-Orthodox Judaism. On the other hand, in practice he often granted non-Orthodox rabbis some level of validity (see examples below).
Soloveitchik developed the idea that Jews have historically been linked together by two distinct covenants. One is the brit yi'ud, "covenant of destiny", which is the covenant by which Jews are bound together through their adherence to halakha. The second is the brit goral, "covenant of fate", the desire and willingness to be part of a people chosen by God to live a sacred mission in the world, and the fact that all those who live in this covenant share the same fate of persecution and oppression, even if they do not live by halakha. Soloveitchik held that non-Orthodox Jews were in violation of the covenant of destiny, yet they are still bound together with Orthodox Jews in the covenant of fate.
In 1954 Soloveitchik issued a responsum on working with non-Orthodox Jews, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews in the United States: Second article in a series on Responsa of Orthodox Judaism in the United States. The responsum recognized the leadership of non-Orthodox Jews in Jewish communal institutions (but not their rabbis in the Orthodox sense of the term), and concluded that participation with non-Orthodox Jews for political or welfare purposes is not only permissible, but obligatory.
The Haredi Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Yisroel countered with a ruling that such cooperation with non-Orthodox Jews was equivalent to endorsement of non-Orthodox Judaism, and thus was forbidden. In 1956 many Yeshiva leaders, including two rabbis from his own Yeshiva University, signed and issued a proclamation forbidding any rabbinical alumni of their yeshivot from joining with Reform or Conservative rabbis in professional organizations.
Soloveitchik declined to sign the proclamation, maintaining that there were areas, particularly those relating to problems that threatened all of Judaism, that required co-operation regardless of affiliation. His refusal emboldened other Modern Orthodox rabbis, and the Rabbinical Council of America and Union of Orthodox Congregations then joined the Synagogue Council of America, a group in which Orthodox, Reform and Conservative denominations worked together on common issues. (The Synagogue Council of America ceased operating in 1994.)
In the 1950s Soloveitchik and other members of the Rabbinical Council of America engaged in a series of private negotiations with the leaders of Conservative Judaism's Rabbinical Assembly, especially with Rabbi Saul Lieberman; their objective was to found a joint Orthodox-Conservative beth din that would be a national rabbinic court for all Jews in America; it would supervise communal standards of marriage and divorce. It was to be modeled after the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, with only Orthodox judges, but with the expectation that it would be accepted by the larger Conservative movement as legitimate. Conservative rabbis in the Rabbinical Assembly formed a Joint Conference on Jewish Law and devoted a year to the effort.
For a number of reasons, the project did not succeed. According to Orthodox Rabbi Bernstein, the major reason for its failure was that the Orthodox rabbis insisted that the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly expel Conservative rabbis for actions they took before the new Beit Din was formed, and the RA refused to do so (Bernstein, 1977). According to Orthodox Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, former president of the RCA, the major reason for its failure was pressure from right-wing Orthodox rabbis, who held that any cooperation between Orthodoxy and Conservatism was forbidden. In an account prepared in 1956, Rabbi Harry Halpern of the Rabbinical Assembly's Joint Conference wrote that negotiations between the Orthodox and Conservative were completed and agreed upon, but then a new requirement was demanded by the RCA: that the RA "impose severe sanctions" upon Conservative rabbis for actions they took before the new beth din was formed. The RA "could not assent to rigorously disciplining our members at the behest of an outside group." Per Halpern, subsequent efforts were made to cooperate with the Orthodox, but a letter from eleven Rosh Yeshivas was circulated declaring that Orthodox rabbis were forbidden to cooperate with Conservative rabbis (Proceedings of the CJLS of the Conservative Movement 1927-1970 Vol. II, pp.850-852).
Until the 1950s, Jews of all denominations were generally allowed to use the same communal mikvaot (ritual baths) for the purposes of converting to Judaism, observing the rules of niddah in regard to laws of marital purity, kashering dishes, etc. However the Orthodox movement increasingly denied the use of mikvaot to non-Orthodox rabbis for use in conversions. According to Rabbi Walter Wurzburger, Rav Soloveitchik counselled Orthodox rabbis against this practice, insisting that non-Orthodox have the option to use mikvaot (Wurzburger, 1994).
Soloveitchik was accepted as the pre-eminent leader of politically conscious pro-Zionist modern Orthodox Judaism; out of respect for this, many leaders and politicians from Israel sought his advice and blessings in state affairs. He was reputedly offered the position of Chief Rabbi of Israel, such as by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, but he quietly and consistently refused this offer. Despite his open and ardent support for the modern State of Israel, he only visited Israel -- then called Palestine -- once, in 1935, before the state was established. Rabbi Yosef Blau has pointed out that Rabbi Soloveitchik's non-messianic Zionism was philosophically similar to that of Rabbi Yitzchak Yaacov Reines (see Tradition 33.2, Communications). Rabbi Moshe Meiselman believes that Rabbi Soloveitchik joined Mizrachi as part of a plan to help Zionistic Jews become more observant. As against that "pragmatic" interpretation, it should be pointed out that, in an essay entitled Kol Dodi Dofek (the voice of my beloved knocking), Soloveitchik argued that the Zionist project was a precursor of redemption.
Affiliated organizations
In his early career in America Soloveitchik joined with the traditional movements such as Agudath Israel of America and the Agudat Harabanim - the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of North America. In fact, Soloveitchik was on the first Moetzes Chachmei HaTorah of America[19]. However, he later removed himself from the former organizations, and instead joined with the Mizrachi Religious Zionists of America (RZA) and became Chairman of the centrist Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America's (RCA) Halakhah Commission (the other two members are the time were Rabbis Hayyim Heller and Samuel Belkin).
Family and last years
During the 1950s and 1960s, until his wife's death, Soloveitchik and some of his students would spend summers near Cape Cod in Onset, Massachusets, where they would pray at Congregation Beth Israel.[20]
Soloveitchik's children married prominent academics and Talmudic scholars: his daughter Tovah married Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel (with a PhD from Harvard University); his daughter Atarah married the late Rabbi Dr. Isadore Twersky, former head of the Jewish Studies department at Harvard University (who also served as the Talner Rebbe in Boston). His son Rabbi Dr. Haym Soloveitchik is a University Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University. His siblings included Dr. Samuel Soloveitchik (1909-1967), Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik (1917-2001), Mrs. Shulamith Meiselman (b. 1912), and Mrs. Anne Gerber (b. 1915). His grandchildren have maintained his heritage and also hold distinguished scholarly positions.
As he got older he suffered several bouts of serious illness (Alzheimer's Disease). Family members cared for his every need. He passed away on Hol HaMoed Pesach (18 Nisan, in 1993, at the age of ninety. He was interred next to his beloved wife, Tonya, in Beth El Cemetery in the Baker Street Jewish Cemeteries, West Roxbury, Massachusetts.
Soloveitchik unfailingly captured the adoration of his students. Known by all as "The Rav", he became arguably the greatest leader of Modern Orthodoxy in the twentieth century, often espousing innovative positions on educational, political, and social issues within the Orthodox world. His ordination of over 2,000 Orthodox rabbis at Yeshiva University, during forty years at its helm, attests to his power and efficacy as well as his consistency and determination.
Why he inspires me:
All movements need a founder, a man with a vision of what the movement should be and who is the living embodiment of those values. Within the community of Modern Orthodoxy, the Rav fills that role. His preternatural genius, combined with his ability to appreciate and combine the finest of Western intellectualism with the holiness of Torah knowledge created a temple for Modern Orthodoxy to use in its growth and development.
In short, the Rav represented the idea that one could be a deep talmid chacham capable of impeccable religious practice and embrace elements of the Modern world at the same time, in opposition to the reigning Chareidi doctrine of secular rejection.
If Modern Orthodoxy has stumbled as a philosophy and not reached its potential, it is because the Rav's example has not been followed. There is also the matter of how some of his students could so twist his legacy as to use it to justify innovations that have removed them from mainstream Orthodox practice. But then, the Reformers think that the Rambam wrote his Moreh Nevuchim just for them. Perhaps this is a consequence of the Rav's greatness and the inability of some to realize his true depth and direction.
But even more than that was the Rav's unfaltering commitment to intellectual honesty in his religious observance. His weltehschau... (can't spell the damned word to save my life!) could not be contained by the ideology of the Agudah and rather than compromise to fit in, he chose to stand alone. Despite the loss of honour that resulted in certain circles, this decision only added to his greatness and ability to teach the next generation of American observant leaders.