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Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik
Position Rosh Yeshiva
Yeshiva *R.I.E.T.S.
*Maimonides School
Personal details
Born February 27, 1903
Pruzhany, Belarus
Died April 9, 1993 (aged 90)
Boston, Massachusetts
Buried West Roxbury, Massachusetts
Nationality  United States of America
Denomination Orthodox
Parents Moshe Soloveichik & Peshka Feinstein Soloveichik
Spouse Tonya Lewitt, Ph.D. (1904-1967)

Joseph Ber (Yosef Dov, Yoshe Ber) Soloveitchik (Hebrew: יוסף דב הלוי סולובייצ'יק‎, 1903–1993) was an American Orthodox rabbi, Talmudist and modern Jewish philosopher. He was a descendant of the Lithuanian Jewish Soloveitchik rabbinic dynasty.

As Rosh Yeshiva of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University in New York City, The Rav (actually pronounced 'The Rov' In the proper Bronx accent), as he came to be known, ordained close to 2,000 rabbis over the course of almost half a century. He advocated a synthesis between Torah scholarship and Western, secular scholarship as well as positive involvement with the broader community.

He served as an advisor, guide, mentor, and role-model for tens of thousands of Jews, both as a Talmudic scholar and as a religious leader. He is regarded as a seminal figure by Modern Orthodox Judaism.



Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik was born on February 27, 1903 in Pruzhany, then Russia, next Poland, now Belarus). He came from a rabbinical dynasty dating back some 200 years: his paternal grandfather was Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, and his great-grandfather and namesake was Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the Beis HaLevi. His great-great-grandfather was Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (The Netziv). His father, Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik (note different spelling of last name), preceded him as head of the RIETS rabbinical school at Yeshiva University. On his maternal line, Rabbi Soloveitchik was a grandson of Rabbi Eliyahu Feinstein and his wife Guta Feinstein née Davidovitch, who in turn was a descendant of a long line of Kapulyan rabbis, and of the Tosafot Yom Tov, the Shelah, the Maharshal, and Rashi.

Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik
Rabbi Berel Soloveitchik
Rabbi Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveitchik
Rabbi Yosef Dov (HaLevi) Soloveitchik
author of Beis HaLevi
Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik
"Reb Chaim Brisker"
Rabbi Yitzchak Zev (Reb Velvel) Soloveitchik
"The GRIZ"
The Rov
Lifsha Soloveitchik Feinstein
Dr. Tovah Soloveitchik Lichtenstein
Lifsha Shapiro
daughter of Rav Refoel Shapiro
Rabbi Refoel Soloveitchik
Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein
Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik
Dr. Atarah Soloveitchik Twersky
Rabbi Mosheh Twersky
Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. (Yosef Dov) Soloveitchik
"The Rav"
Rabbi Dr. Isadore Twersky
Rabbi Mayer Twersky
Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik
Rabbi Dr. Ahron Soloveichik
Rabbi Dr. Haym Soloveitchik
Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik
Peshka Feinstein Soloveichik
Rabbi Dr. Shmuel Soloveitchik
Rabbi Eliyahu Soloveichik
Shulamit Soloveitchik Meiselman
Rabbi Moshe Meiselman
Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik
Anne Soloveitchik Gerber
Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik
Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik
Rabbi Shmuel Chaim Soloveitchik
Rabbi Yitzchok Soloveitchik
Rabbi Yisroel Soloveitchik
Rabbi Yisroel Gershon Soloveitchik
Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik
Rabbi Boruch Soloveitchik
Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Soloveitchik
Daughter Soloveitchik, Wife of Rabbi Shlomo Zev Karlibach

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.[1]

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.

Relations with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Rabbi Sholem Kowalsky,[2][3] Rabbi Julius Berman; Rabbi Menachem Genack; and Rabbi Fabian Schoenfeld[4] (all students of Soloveitchik) have asserted that Rabbi Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe 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."[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]



After taking up residence in that city in 1932, 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.[8] 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 renowned 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

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik succeeded his father, Rabbi Moses (Moshe) Soloveichik, as the head of the RIETS rabbinical school at Yeshiva University in 1941. He taught there until 1986, when illness kept him from continuing, and was considered the top Rosh Yeshiva (never, however, a formally recognized position at YU) from the time he began teaching there until his death in 1993. He ordained over 2,000 rabbis, many of whom are among the leaders of Orthodox Judaism and the Jewish people today. In addition, he gave public lectures that were attended by thousands from throughout the greater Jewish community as well as regular classes at other New York institutions.

Rabbi 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, Rabbi 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 secular wisdom" 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 philosophy and Jewish theology, Rabbi Soloveitchik stresses the normative and intellectual centrality of the halakhic corpus. He authored a number of essays and books offering a unique synthesis of Neo-Kantian existentialism and Jewish thought, 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. Rabbi 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, Rabbi 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. Rabbi 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 Man has become well read in the Orthodox Jewish community, but its psychology and model of Jewish law was rejected by others, such as Abraham Joshua Heschel.


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

Rabbi 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, Rabbi Soloveitchik remained steadfast in his beliefs and positions throughout the years of his leadership.

Departure from the traditional Brisker view of Zionism

Rabbi 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. The reasoning for his departure was, as Rabbi Soloveitchik put it in many personal discussions and in his book "Fate and Destiny", that the Holocaust fulfilled Herzl's forecast for Jewish existence in exile and the dangers of anti-Semitism and revealed the error of the ultra-Orthodox leadership in their strong opposition towards Zionism—the Jews clearly need a state of their own and that the establishment of the State of Israel, the ultimate purpose of the entire Zionist program, as well as its miraculous success, unmistakably testify to God’s approval. He felt that it was clear God is protecting the Jewish State. 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.

Impact on Modern Orthodoxy

Leading left-wing Modern Orthodox figures deemed that Rabbi Soloveitchik was a prototype for an ideal type of Jew, but were against what they define as "The Soloveitchik Line,"[10] and wished to establish more dynamism in Orthodoxy. These included Rabbis David Hartman, Irving Greenberg, and Michael Wyschogrod. Leading right-wing figures at Modern Orthodox institutions wished to keep Modern Orthodoxy within the boundaries which were established by Rabbi Soloveitchik. This included much of Yeshiva University's leadership, such as Rabbi Hershel Reichman, Rabbi Mayer Twersky, and Rabbi Hershel Schachter.

Relations with Agudath Israel

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" (foremost Torah scholar of the time).[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. It has been debated whether his refusal to sign was because he believed in participating in the SCA or because he was not happy with the way the ban was instituted.[15]

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 Dr. Norman Lamm,[16] Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin[17] and Rabbi Dr. Lawrence Kaplan.[18]

Debate over world view

Many of Rabbi Soloveitchik's students became leaders in the Modern Orthodox community. These students tend to espouse very distinct world views. One of the most iconoclastic yet revered is include Rabbi Prof. David Hartman of Jerusalem, whose support for pluralism has gained him serious backing in non-Orthodox streams and who has brought Rabbi Soloveitchik's thinking to non-Orthodox. The institution he founded, the Shalom Hartman Institute, is a home for serious thinkers from Orthodoxy, Conservative/Masorti, Reform and even secular scholars, and trains hundreds of Jewish community leaders annually. 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, Aharon Lichtenstein,and Zvi Kanotopsky were each Rabbi Soloveitchik's top student in their decade.[19] 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. Rabbi Simcha Krauss has the distinction of having learned in Soloveitchik's class, despite being a student in Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner's Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin.

Integration with secular society

Since his death, interpretations of Rabbi 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 Rabbi Soloveitchik's philosophy that states that a similar pragmatic approach was adopted by Rabbi Soloveitchik as well. On this view, Rabbi 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 Rabbi 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.

Criticizing himself

Rabbi 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—the emotions and the feelings. Many times he would act out of his own character and the character of the traditional "Rabbi", in hopes of expressing and transmitting the emotions. Despite all of his efforts to enrich the religious and emotional lives of his students, the Rav lamented what he saw as his failure to convey adequately the experiential side of Judaism:

"Therefore, I hereby announce that I am able to identify one of those responsible for the present situation - and that is I myself. I have not fulfilled my obligation as a guide and teacher in Israel. I lacked the spiritual energies which a teacher and a rabbi needs, or I lacked the necessary will, and did not dedicate everything I had to my goal. While I have succeeded, to a great or small degree, as a teacher and guide in the area of 'gadlut ha-mochin' - my students have received much Torah from me, and their intellectual stature has been strengthened and increased during the years they have spent around me - I have not seen much success in my efforts in the experiential area. I was not able to live together with them, to cleave to them and to transfer to them from the warmth of my soul. My words, it seems, have not kindled the divine flame in sensitive hearts. I have sinned as a disseminator of the Torah of the heart... Blame me for the mistake." ("Al Ahavat Ha-Torah," p. 420; translation based on that of Rav Lichtenstein, "The Rav at Jubilee," p. 55)

With regard to this quote, Rav Lichtenstein poignantly comments:

"That, too, is part of the Rav's legacy. Not just spellbinding shiurim, magnificent derashot, electrifying chiddushim, but the candid recognition of failure - failure which is transcended by its very acknowledgement. In his own personal vein, so aristocratic and yet so democratic, he has imbued us with a sense of both the frailty of majesty and the majesty of frailty. He has transmitted to us not only Torat Moshe Avdi, but the midrashic image of Moshe Rabbenu constructing and then dismantling the mishkan during shivat yemei ha-milu'im - whose import the Rav interpreted as the fusion of radical, almost Sisyphean frustration with ultimate hope." (ibid., pp. 55–56)

The above confession by the Rav can help us solve a riddle which has puzzled many[citation needed]. Given the esteem in which the Rav held the Lithuanian tradition of emotional reticence, why did he discuss his feelings so openly in his public teaching? The Rav writes in numerous places[citation needed] of the need to maintain one's reserve, to shield one's deepest feelings from the prying eyes of the public. This is clearly imbibed from the scholarly Lithuanian milieu in which he was raised[citation needed]. In fact, as is his wont, the Rav raises a personality he esteems into a general model, an ideal type[citation needed].


Shortly after Rabbi 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). A recent publication (The Rav: Thinking Aloud) of many verbatim audio transcripts of conversations with R. Soloveitchik on controversial topics such as the saying of hallel on Yom HaAtzmaut and birth control may help definitely resolve many of these controversies.

Relations with non-Orthodox Judaism

Rabbi Soloveitchik did not approve 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, Rabbi Soloveitchik ruled that it was forbidden to pray in a synagogue without a separation between the sexes. The 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. Rabbi 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).

Rabbi 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. Rabbi 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 Rabbi 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.

Rabbi 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 Rabbi 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).


Rabbi 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), Rabbi Soloveitchik argued that the Zionist project was a precursor of redemption.

Affiliated organizations

In his early career in America, Rabbi 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, Rabbi Soloveitchik was on the first Moetzes Chachmei HaTorah of America[20]. 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, Rabbi Soloveitchik and some of his students would spend summers near Cape Cod in Onset, Massachusetts, where they would pray at Congregation Beth Israel.[21]

Rabbi Soloveitchik's daughters married prominent academics and Talmudic scholars: his daughter Tovah (b. 1935) 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 Talner Rebbe in Boston). His son, Rabbi Dr. Haym Soloveitchik (b. 1937), 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 (1912–2009), 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[22] brought on by Parkinsons Disease). Family members cared for his every need. He died on Hol HaMoed Pesach (18 Nisan, in 1993, at the age of ninety. He was interred next to his beloved wife, Tonya Lewitt Soloveitchik, in Beth El Cemetery in the Baker Street Jewish Cemeteries, West Roxbury, Massachusetts.


Rabbi 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 impact and efficacy as well as his consistency and determination.

Current News

A documentary has been made about Rabbi Soloveitchik by Ethan Isenberg called "Lonely Man of Faith" (, and it is being screened across the U.S.

Works by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik

  • Three letters by Rabbi Soloveitchik on seating in the synagogue are contained with The Sanctity of the Synagogue, Ed. Baruch Litvin. The Spero Foundation, NY, 1959. An expanded third edition of this book is Edited by Jeanne Litvin. Ktav, Hoboken, NJ, 1987.
  • Confrontation, Tradition 6:2 p5-9, 1964. Reprinted in "A Treasury of Tradition", Hebrew Publishing Co, NY, 1967.
  • The Lonely Man of Faith, Tradition, vol. 7#2, p56, 1965. This essay was published as a book by Doubleday in 1992 ISBN 978-0385-51408-8 and reprinted by Jason Aronson in 1997.
  • Sacred and Profane, Kodesh and Chol in World Perspective, Gesher, Vol. 3#1, p5-29, 1966. This article has been reprinted with expdanded notes in Jewish Thought, Volume 3 #1, p55-82, 1993
  • Shiurei Harav—A Conspectus of the Public Lectures of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Ed. Joseph Epstein. Hamevaser, Yeshiva University, 1974.
  • The Community, p7-24 ;Majesty and Humility, p25-37; Catharsis, p38-54; Redemption, Prayer and Talmud Torah, p55-73; A Tribute to the Rebbetzin of Talne, p73-83 are all printed in Tradition 17:2, Spring, 1978.
  • Several of Rabbi Soloveitchik's responsa for the RCA Halakha commission are contained in Challenge and mission: the emergence of the English speaking Orthodox rabbinate, L. Bernstein, Shengold, NY, 1982.
  • Halakhic Man Translated by L. Kaplan, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia PA,1983
  • Fate and Destiny: From Holocaust to the State of Israel Ktav Publishing, Hoboken NJ 1992 and 2000.
  • The Voice of My Beloved Knocketh translation by Lawrence Kaplan in Theological and Halakhic Responses on the Holocaust, Eds. Bernhard H. Rosenberg and Fred Heuman. Ktav/RCA, Hoboken, NJ, 1993
  • Family Redeemed: Essays on Family Relationships, Edited by David Shatz and Joel B. Wolowelsky. Ktav, Hoboken, NJ, 2004.
  • Out of the Whirlwind: Essays on Mourning, Suffering and the Human Condition, Edited by David Shatz, Joel B. Wolowelsky and Reuven Ziegler. Ktav, Hoboken, NJ, 2004.
  • Worship of the Heart: Essays on Jewish Prayer, Edited by Shalom Carmy, Ktav, Hoboken, NJ, 2004.
  • Emergence of Ethical Man, Edited by Michael Berger, Ktav, Hoboken, NJ, 2005.
  • Community, Covenant and Commitment - Selected Letters and Communications, Edited by Nathaniel Helfgot, Ktav, Hoboken, NJ 2005.
  • Festival of Freedom: Essays on Pesah and the Haggadah, Edited by Joel B. Wolowelsky and Reuven Ziegler. Ktav, Hoboken, NJ 2006.
  • Kol Dodi Dofek, Translated by David Z. Gordon. Edited by Jeffrey Woolf, New York: Yeshiva University and Hoboken, NJ: Ktav 2006.
  • The Lord is Righteous in All His Ways: Reflections on the Tish'ah Be'Av Kinot, Edited by Jacob J. Schachter, Ktav, Hoboken, NJ 2006.
  • Days of Deliverance: Essays on Purim and Hanukkah, Edited by Eli D. Clark, Joel B. Wolowelsky, and Reuven Ziegler. Ktav, Hoboken, NJ 2006.
  • Abraham's Journey: Reflections on the Life of the Founding Patriarch, Edited by David Shatz, Joel B. Wolowelsky and Reuven Ziegler. Ktav, Hoboken, NJ 2007.
  • And From There You Shall Seek (U-Vikkashtem mi-Sham), Translated by Naomi Goldblum. Ktav, Hoboken, NJ 2008.
  • The Koren Mesorat HaRav Kinot, Koren Publishers Jerusalem & the Orthodox Union, forthcoming 2010.
  • The Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur, Koren Publishers Jerusalem & the Orthodox Union, forthcoming 2010.

Legacy of his hashkafa (worldview)

  • Rabbi Norman Lamm, A Eulogy for the Rav, Tradition 28.1 1993
  • Rabbi Walter S. Wurzburger, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik as Posek of Post-Modern Orthodoxy, Tradition Volume 29, 1994
  • Joseph Soloveitchik, article in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, Keter Publishing
  • Seth Farber, Reproach, Recognition and Respect: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Orthodoxy's Mid-Century Attitude Toward Non-Orthodox Denominations American Jewish History, Vol. 89,#2 193-214, 2001.
  • Zvi Kolitz Confrontation: The Existential Thought of Rabbi J.B. SoloveitchikKtav, Hoboken, NJ, 1992
  • Simcha Krauss, The Rav on Zionism, Universalism and Feminism Tradition 34:2, 24-39, 2000
  • Alan Todd Levenson, "Joseph B. Soloveitchik's 'The Halakhic Mind'; a liberal critique and appreciation", CCAR Journal 41,1 55-63, 1994
  • Aharon Ziegler, Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik Jason Aronson Inc., 1998.
  • Aharon Ziegler Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Vol II Jason Aronson Inc., 2001
  • Aviezer Ravitsky, Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik on Human Knowledge: Between Maimonidean and Neo-Kantian Philosophy, Modern Judaism 6:2 157-188, 1986.
  • David Hartman, Love and Terror in the God Encounter: The Theological Legacy of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik Jewish Lights Publishing, 2001
  • Jeffrey R. Woolf, 'In Search of the Rav,' BaDaD, 18(2007) 5-28.

Cooperation with non-Orthodox Jews

  • Rabbi Norman Lamm, Seventy Faces, Moment Vol. II, No. 6 June 1986-Sivan 5746
  • Rabbi Mayer E. Rabinowitz Comments to the Agunot Conference in Jerusalem, July 1998, and on the Learn@JTS website.
  • Rabbi Louis Bernstein The Emergence of the English Speaking Orthodox Rabbinate, 1977, Yeshiva University
  • Rabbi Emmanuel Rackman, letter in The Jewish Week May 8, 1997, page 28.
  • Joseph Soloveitchik Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews in the United States: Second article in a series on Responsa of Orthodox Judaism in the United States, 1954
  • Jack Wertheimer, Ed., Tradition Renewed: A History of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Vol. II, p. 450, 474, JTS, NY, 1997
  • Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement 1927-1970, Vol. II, Ed. David Golinkin, The Rabbinical Assembly, 1997

See also


  1. ^ a b Lehmann, Manfred (2003). "Re-writing the Biography of Rav Soloveitchik". Retrieved 2006-06-06. 
  2. ^ The Rebbe and the Rav
  3. ^ Interview with Herschel Schacter
  4. ^ The Rebbe in Berlin, Germany
  5. ^ The Rebbe and the Rav & The Rebbe in Berlin, Germany
  6. ^ "Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Abraham Joshua Heschel on Jewish-Christian Relations" by Rabbi Reuven Kimelman
  7. ^ A Relationship from Berlin to New York
  8. ^ An American Orthodox Dreamer: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Boston's Maimonides School, by Seth Farber, University Press of New England, 2003
  9. ^ Heschel's statement: "Ish Ha-halakhah? [Halakhic man]? Lo haya velo nivra ela mashal haya [There never was such a Jew]! Rabbi Soloveitchik's study, though brilliant, is based on the false notion that Judaism is a cold, logical affair with no room for piety. After all, the Torah does say 'Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and might'. No, there never was such a typology in Judaism as the halakhic man. There was - and is - an Ish Torah [a Torah man] who combines halakhah and aggadah, but that is another matter altogether. When I came to Berlin I was shocked to hear my fellow students talking about the problem of halakha as a central issue. In Poland it had been a foreign expression to me. Halakhah is not an all-inclusive term, and to use it as such is to restrict Judaism." Heschel, Hasidism and Halakha. Samuel H. Dresner, page 102, Fordham University Press.
  10. ^ Orthodox Judaism and Jewish-Christian Dialogue
  11. ^ Looking Before and After - YUdaica
  12. ^ Memorable Encounters by Joseph Kaminetsky
  13. ^
  14. ^ Rabbi Tendler's "Open Letter to the Moetzes of Agudas Yisrael"
  15. ^ Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik on Interreligious Dialogue
  16. ^ Let's Learn - Vol. I, No. 8
  17. ^ ,"Approaching the Avos—Through Up-Reach or Drag-Down", March 1991
  18. ^ "Two Letters and a Response" by Lawrence Kaplan and the Novominsker Rebbe
  19. ^ Lecture by Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff
  20. ^ Hapardes, September 1941, p. 16
  21. ^ Resnick, Elliot. "Beaches, Cottages ... And Shul Draw Vacationers to Onset, Massachusetts", The Jewish Press, June 18, 2008.
  22. ^ See: "Of Language And Nuance. A Conversation with the Renowned Posek and Rosh Yeshivah RAV HERSHEL SCHACHTER, shlita." Mishpacha, Issue 288, 29 Kislev 5770/December 16, 2009,p. 42.

External links




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