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    Joseph B. Soloveitchik

picture of Joseph B. Soloveitchik  

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993) was not only one of the outstanding Talmudists of the twentieth century, but also one of its most creative and seminal Jewish thinkers. Drawing from a vast reservoir of Jewish and general knowledge, "the Rav," as he is widely known, brought Jewish thought and law to bear on the interpretation and assessment of the modern experience. For over four decades, Rabbi Soloveitchik commuted weekly from his home in Brookline, Massachusetts to New York City, where he gave the senior shiur (class in Talmud) at Yeshiva University's affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), where he taught and inspired generations of students, among them many of the future leaders of Jewish communal life. By his extensive personal teaching and influence, he contributed vitally to the dynamic resurgence of Orthodox Judaism in America.



 

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  • Man of Halacha, Man of Faith

    Joseph B. Soloveitchik

    Menachem D. Genack

    Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was a towering twentieth-century intellectual and rabbinic figure. Scion of several generations of world-famous talmudic luminaries, he was the acknowledged leader of Modern Orthodoxy and religious Zionism, giving intellectual and religious integrity to these important movements. Rabbi Soloveitchik's position in the Jewish community is best epitomized by the fact that he was usually referred to simply as "the Rav", a rabbi's rabbi. A traditional rosh yeshiva, he headed the rabbinic program at Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. A brilliant talmudic authority, the Rav also held a doctorate in philosophy
    from the University of Berlin. He tried to create a symbiosis between the Torah and contemporary thought, blazing new trails in the understanding of Torah and in the application of that understanding to the modern world.

    In this memorial volume, some of the Rav's closest students express an appreciation of his teachings and his impact on them and their contemporaries.

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  • Fate and Destiny

    Joseph B. Soloveitchik

    2 Review(s)

    One of the classics of modern Jewish thought, Kol Dodi Dofek is now translated in English and titled Fate and Destiny: From the Holocaust to the State of Israel. Rabbi Soloveitchik presents an extended theological meditation on the Holocaust and the rise of the State of Israel, a profound examination of the Jewish "covenant of faith" and the "covenant of fate and destiny" which links all Jews, religious, irreligious and non-religious.
    This covenant of faith manifests itself in shared circumstances, shared responsibility and shared activity. Fate and destiny likewise links all Jews, but while fate is thrust upon the Jews, destiny is freely chosen by the individual Jew and the Jewish people by adopting a Torah lifestyle and possesses both significance and purpose.

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  • Shiurei Harav

    Joseph B. Soloveitchik

    Joseph Epstein

    The editors of Hamevaser, Yeshiva University's Torah student monthly (now defunct), recognized the growing thirst for the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's teachings. In response, they published the original version of this conspectus, containing the first English version of the Rav's Hebrew and Yiddish discourses, with summaries of his shiurim and lectures. This volume substantially builds on that achievement, bringing together nineteen of the Rav's most illuminating works not published elsewhere. Subjects include "The Ten Commandments," "Adam and Eve," "The Unique Experience of Judaism," and "On the Love of Torah." Learn More
  • MeOtzar HoRav: Selected Writings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik # 01

    Family Redeemed

    Joseph B. Soloveitchik

    The essays in this volume focus on family relationships--between husbands and wives, parents and children. The analyses are rooted in a theory of personality which emerges from the Rav's brilliant interpretations of biblical, talmudic, midrashic, kabbalistic and halakhic texts, as well as from his command of Western philosophy and literature.

    "The lonely person yearns on the one hand to join another real person, to fill his life with the essence of another real life which has been summoned by God into his service, and, on the other hand, to create a new life to whose growth and development the lonely individual commits himself a priori fully and unreservedly.
    "Two lonely individuals with their urge to love commit themselves to creativity in order to love someone who will emerge in the course of time as a new member of the small community they founded together. This someone, as yet hidden in the recesses of the anonymity of non-being, gives purpose and meaning to the community and helps father and mother to find themselves and their exact position in the creation." ~ excerpted from Family Redeemed

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  • MeOtzar HoRav: Selected Writings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik # 02

    Worship of the Heart

    Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

    Shalom Carmy

    "Prayer, indeed, is the symbolic portrayal of a range of experiences that form the ecstatic state of mind. Is such an exalted experience something in which every human being may share; or is it confined to the religious genius - a curious and unique type of personality who is capable of attaining this ecstatic state of mind, of rapture and unification, a personality who rejects what seems clearly, logically and tangibly to be the natural order, for the sake of tending a reality which is beyond one's grasp? Is prayer only for the mystic? We, in contrast to the mystic, are all physically and mentally children of this external concrete world and therefore, if this be true, cannot make the leap from the sensuous and real into the transcendent and absolute....

    "What then does avodah she-ba-lev mean for us, with our unmystical bent of mind that tends toward the real and practical? Can we achieve the kavvanah of tefillah in our ordinary modest way though we are not able to embark upon the great and strange adventure of the spirit? Of course the answer must be formulated in the affirmative, for otherwise tefillah would be the exclusive privilege of the imaginative genius, the mystic, and, as such, would be denied to ordinary man.Such an assertion would contradict the very essence of the Halakhah, which is an exoteric discipline to be practiced by the philosopher and simpleton, the poet and the dull person alike."

    ~ Excerpted from Worship of the Heart

    The biblical command to serve God "with all your heart" is interpreted by Jewish tradition to refer to prayer. The Rav here explores the crucial interface between living religious experience and halakhic norms --the hallmark of his work. He analyzes the Amidah, the Shema, and other biblical and liturgical texts, and also considers the tension between human dependence and exaltation, the ethical and the aesthetic, the presence and absence of God, and the yearning for stability and the desire for change.

    ~ Excerpted from Worship of the Heart

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  • MeOtzar HoRav: Selected Writings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik # 04

    Community, Covenant and Commitment

    Joseph B. Soloveitchik

    Nathaniel Helfgot

    Community, Covenant and Commitment includes more than seventy private and public letters written by the Rav, where he reveals his private opinions on contemporary issues such as religious Zionism, women studying Torah, interfaith issues, and topics close to his heart in areas of communal, theological, philosophical and personal concerns, as well as a number of detailed interviews conducted with him over the span of some forty years. These correspondences, epistles, and addresses, give us a glimpse into the Rav's thought.
    The topics addressed in this volume reflect the entire panoply of concerns that confronted the Orthodox and general Jewish community as its matured and grew in the hospitable setting of the American scene. Together with that, the rise of the modern State of Israel and the challenges that this posed became a focal point of the American Jewish community as well as of the thinking of the Rav. Topics include communal policy for Jewish adoption agencies, interfaith discussions with the Catholic Church, religious and theological attitudes to the State of Israel, interdenominational activities within the Jewish community, advanced Jewish education for young women, the training of learned and professional rabbis, as well as personal issues such as why Rabbi Soloveitchik never settled in Israel.
    Each letter or communication is prefaced by a short introduction giving its historical context. The entire volume is preceded by a lengthy introduction that discusses many of the background issues addressed in the letters. 

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  • MeOtzar HoRav: Selected Writings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik # 06

    Festival of Freedom

    Joseph B. Soloveitchik

    Joel B. Wolowelsky and Reuven Ziegler

    Festival of Freedom, the sixth volume in the series MeOtzar HoRav, consists of ten essays on Passover and the Haggadah drawn from the treasure trove left by the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, widely known as "the Rav." For Rabbi Soloveitchik, the Passover Seder is not simply a formal ritual or ceremonial catechism. Rather, the Seder night is "endowed with a unique and fascinating quality, exalted in its holiness and shining with a dazzling beauty." It possesses profound experiential and intellectual dimensions, both of them woven into the fabric of Halakhic performance. Its central mitzvah, recounting the exodus, is extraordinarily multifaceted, entailing study and teaching, storytelling and symbolic performance, thanksgiving and praise.
    In these essays, the Rav explains how the resonances of the Seder extend far beyond the confines of one night. As he sets forth, the Seder teaches us about the Jewish approach to the meal, Torah study, peoplehood, and the nature of freedom. Yetzi'at Mitzrayim is not just the story of an event lying in the distant past. It is the doctrine of the Jewish people, the philosophy of our history.
    In exploring the various themes in this volume, the Rav explicates in new and creative ways nuances in the biblical and rabbinic texts associated with Passover. He presents a philosophical analysis of the nature of Jewish community and its religious experiences. In the process, he opens vistas not just on the Jewish people's past, but on its present and future.
    The editors of Festival of Freedom are Joel B. Wolowelsky, Dean of the Faculty at the Yeshivah of Flatbush and Associate Editor of the MeOtzar HoRav series; and Reuven Ziegler, Editor-in-Chief of the Virtual Beit Midrash at Yeshivat Har Etzion and Director of Research at the Toras HoRav Foundation.

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  • Kol Dodi Dofek

    Joseph B. Soloveitchik

    Rabbi Soloveitchik's unique and widely influential approach to theodicy is that in the face of catastrophe and misfortune, we cannot ask why, since that question is unanswerable. Instead we must ask how we can grow and individuals and as a community. It is not the why? that is important, but the what?
    Rav Soloveitchik grapples with the enormity of the Shoah and the miracle of the founding of the State of Israel and what our responses should be to both. He contrasts a life of fate, where one is an object, with the life of destiny, where one is the subject and acts. "We ask not about the reason for evil and its purpose, but rather about its rectification and uplifting. How should a person react in a time of distress? What should a person do so as not to rot in his affliction?" We can not try to explain the irrational hatred that prevailed in the world between 1935 and 1945, nor should we assign blame within. We must focus instead on what we can learn from that fearsome time. Rav Soloveitchik does not concentrate on theodicy but rather on going forward. He shows that the Covenant of Fate during our suffering in Egypt is completed in the Covenant of Destiny at Sinai. "Destiny joined fate" to form a unit. "A Jew who participates in the suffering of his nation and its fate, but does not join in its destiny, which is expressed in a life of Torah and mitzvot, destroys the essence of Judaism and injures his own uniqueness. By the same token, a Jew who is observant but does not feel the hurt of the nation, and who attempts to distance himself from Jewish fate, desecrates his Jewishness" (p.73).
    He uses the language of the Song of Songs, Shir HaShirim, to describe the relationship between the Jewish people and our "Beloved," Hashem. The response of the nation to "kol dodi dofek," "My Beloved is knocking" (5.2) is tragic hesitation, not arising to answer the door, excuses: "I have removed my cloak, how shall I put it on again? I have washed my feet, how shall I soil them?" (5.3). By the time the nation awakens from its sloth, "My Beloved had turned away, and was gone" (5.6).
    Rav Soloveitchik gives examples of Hashem's "knocking at our door": the United Nations resolution recognizing Israel; the miraculous victory on the battlefield when the Arab nations united against Israel and ended up ceding more land to the Jewish nation than had originally been planned; the theological implications of a Jewish government in Israel; Israel as a counterforce to assimilation and Jewish self-hatred, and as a factor in maintaining Jewish identity among the unaffiliated; Israel putting the power of self-defense in Jewish hands; Israel as a refuge for Jews"how many lives would have been saved if we had possessed a country of our own in 1939. He shows that we have not answered properly, and how we should respond.
    His essay demonstrates the need for sophistication in many fields of knowledge in order to appreciate the workings of Hashem. For example, he analyzes how problematic the events of 1948 were for Christian theology. Christian belief had been predicated on a "new" covenant superseding the "old" one between God and the Jews, a "new" testament that "fulfilled" the meaning of the "old" one (that is why Jews say the "Hebrew Bible," not the "Old Testament"). Christians could handle the Land of Israel being desolate; they believed that promises about Zion and Jerusalem should be interpreted as foreshadowing Christianity and the Christian Church. But the allegorical reading no longer applied when Zion and Jerusalem were flourishing in Jewish hands.
    Rav Soloveitchik's essay also demonstrates how Torah scholarship reveals new insights that are applicable, years after they were written, to today's challenges. Two examples speak to today's headlines:
    "The State of Israel is as isolated today as the community of Israel has been during the thousands of years of its existence. And perhaps the isolation of the State is more pronounced than in the past because it is so clearly revealed in the international arena" (p.82). Rav Soloveitchik gives the proof-text: "They plot with craft against Your people, and take counsel against Your treasured ones. They have said: Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance'" (Psalm 83.4-5). Hamas is nasty, but not original.
    Again, speaking fifty years ago to issues that preoccupy us today, Rav Soloveitchik notes that secular Zionists sin against "the covenant of a sacred community and people that finds expression in the shared destiny of a sanctified life" (p.84). We must rise "to the elevated station of a moral, religious community" from which we can draw "strength and sustenance, creative power and a renewed joy in an existence that is free and rejuvenated" (p.85). Many of the social problems that plague Israeli society, especially the malaise of the young people, come from our missing the opportunity to create the "moral, religious community."
    The essay originated in 1956 as an address in Yiddish by Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik to the Religious Zionists of America to mark the eighth anniversary of Israel's independence; after re-writing it in Hebrew, he published it in 1961. David Z. Gordon translated it into English and annotated it, Professor Jeffrey R. Woolf of Bar Ilan edited the translationTheir new version conveys the complexity, depth and poetry of Rav Soloveitchik's expression in clear, readable prose.
    Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993), was recognized as one of the leading Talmudic authorities of his generation and the acknowledged spiritual leader of Modern Orthodoxy. Though working primarily in Talmudics, he did publish several essays of a broader nature, including Halakhic Man and The Lonely Man of Faith. Learn More
  • MeOtzar HoRav: Selected Writings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik # 08

    Days of Deliverance

    Joseph B. Soloveitchik

    Eli D. Clark, Joel B. Wolowelsky and Reuven Ziegler

    "The Megillah contains two stories: the story of human happiness and fulfillment, as well as the story of human misery and distress. The reading of the Megillah is a dialectical performance. We pray to the Almighty while we read the Megillah, because we are in distress; we thank God and relate His wonders while we read the Megillah, for we have found refuge in Him; He has saved us."

    ~ Excerpted from "The Duality of Purim" Days of Deliverance

    "Hanukkah is a holiday that has general human underpinnings; it is a holiday of political victories, a holiday of the smashing of political might. Matityahu and his sons had the strength and the courage to confront the Syrian-Greek legions, to liberate the city of Jerusalem and its Temple, and to re-establish an independent Jewish kingdom. This history of dramatic bravery appeals to all, Jew and non-Jew, especially when the revolutionaries compose a small group, unorganized and poorly armed, yet unafraid of declaring war on an enemy."

    ~ "The Everlasting Hanukkah," Days of Deliverance


    Purim and Hanukkah share a rabbinic origin, a festive character, and a generally informal nature. In the essays collected here, the eighth in the series MeOtzar HoRav: Selected Writings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, both holidays serve as subtext for Rabbi Soloveitchik's classic search for religious meaning in a seemingly cold and arbitrary universe. For him, Purim and Hanukkah stand at the nexus of faith and history, of human effort and divine intervention, of solemnity and joyous celebration.

    In the Purim essays, the Rav offers not only commentary and textual interpretation, but, primarily, a rich blend of religious existentialism and Jewish historiosophy. He transforms the verses of Megillat Esther, and the Purim story as a whole, into a text about man in general and the Jew in particular. Employing classical midrash, historical analogy, a deep understanding of human nature, and a fine ear for textual nuance, he breathes vivid life into the characters and events of the Megillah, and demonstrates the story's universal and contemporaneous messages.

    In the Hanukkah essays, too, the Rav draws universal lessons from the story of the Hasmonean rebellion and victory. He applies his exegetic and homiletic skills to the account of Hanukkah in Maimonides' Code and in liturgical texts, such as Al ha-nissim and Ha-nerot hallalu. For the Rav, the spiritual core of the Hanukkah story also provides the key to explaining distinctive Halakhic features of the holiday. He views the spiritual struggle waged by Matityahu and his sons as symbolic of the battle for Jewish self-realization carried on by generations of Jews, from Jacob and Joseph in the Bible to our own day.

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  • MeOtzar HoRav: Selected Writings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik # 09

    Abraham’s Journey

    Joseph B. Soloveitchik

    Reuven Ziegler

    "To write about Abraham today would appear to be a peculiar, if not absurd, undertaking. How can an ancient figure, enveloped in the fog of mystery and (in the opinion of today's cynical man) myth, fascinate the imagination and vision of modern scholars and preachers? They confront innumerable problems of enormous magnitude and force, and face situations which captivate their fantasy with both greatness and perplexing tragedy. Why should they investigate and probe a person who emerges from the unknown historic twilight, whose contours and features are blurred and almost imperceptible to the onlooker, while there is a world full of marvels, light, and charm that wink at and tantalize us? Why watch a bubble riding on the crest of a wave disappearing at the distant horizon, while a mighty tide rolls on toward us and breaks at our feet"

    - Excerpt from Abraham's Journey .

    Abraham's Journey: Reflections on the Life of the Founding Patriarch focuses on the life of Avraham Avinu, founding patriarch of the Jewish People. Abraham was not only the first Jew, but also a historical prototype, his experiences and actions foreshadowing critical patterns in the history of his people. In addition, Abraham serves as a spiritual and ethical model to his descendants. He is a teacher, a paragon of kindness, a lonely iconoclast, a master of sacrifice, and a knight of faith. Through careful exegesis of verses, illuminating analyses of character, and insightful readings of classical commentators, the essays in this book seek both the eternal and the contemporary messages of the Abraham story.

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