Joseph B. Soloveitchik

Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik
The Rav

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik of Yeshiva University
Position Rosh Yeshiva
Personal details
Born February 27, 1903
Pruzhany, Grodno Governorate, Russian Empire (present-day Belarus)
Died April 9, 1993(1993-04-09) (aged 90)
Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
Buried West Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
Nationality American
Denomination Orthodox
Parents Moshe Soloveichik and Peshka Feinstein Soloveichik
Spouse Tonya Lewit, Ph.D. (1904–1967)

Joseph Ber Soloveitchik (Hebrew: יוסף דב הלוי סולובייצ׳יק Yosef Dov ha-Levi Soloveychik; February 27, 1903 – April 9, 1993) was a major American Orthodox rabbi, Talmudist and modern Jewish philosopher. He was a scion of the Lithuanian Jewish Soloveitchik rabbinic dynasty.

As a Rosh Yeshiva of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University in New York City, The Rov (variantly spelled The Rav), as he came to be known, ordained close to 2,000 rabbis over the course of almost half a century.

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.


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), and his great-great-great-great grandfather was Rabbi Chaim Volozhin. 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, 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.

Early years, education, and immigration

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. In 1924 he entered 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, bearing the title "Geheimrat" (literally: Privy Counselor), were Professor Dr. Heinrich Maier (1867–1933) 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, as he had requested an extension to allow him to expand his thesis. Documents exist to support this assertion, possessed and publicized by the late Manfred Lehmann.[1]

In 1931, he married Tonya Lewit (1904–1967), who had earned a Ph.D. in Education from Jena University.

During his years in Berlin, Soloveitchik became a close disciple of Rabbi Hayyim Heller,[2] 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.


In 1932, Soloveitchik emigrated to America and settled in Boston, where he referred to himself as "The Soloveitchik of Boston". He pioneered the Maimonides School, one of the first Hebrew day schools in Boston in 1937.[3] When the school's high school was founded in the late 1940s, 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

Joseph Soloveitchik succeeded his father, 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 was the first occupant of the Leib Merkin Distinguished Professorial Chair in Talmud and Jewish Philosophy at RIETS.

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.

Rav 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. Rabbi Meir Kahane was highly influenced by his lectures.[4]

Relations with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Rabbis Herschel Schacter, Sholem Kowalsky,[5][6] Julius Berman; Rabbi Menachem Genack; and Rabbi Fabian Schoenfeld[7] (all students of Soloveitchik) have asserted that Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe and Soloveitchik met for the first time while they both studied in Berlin. They met many times at the home of Hayyim Heller.[2] Soloveitchik told Kowalsky he "was a great admirer of the Rebbe."[8] Schoenfeld quoted Soloveitchik as having told him that while both he and Schneerson were studying at the University of Berlin, "I can testify that he never missed going to the mikva one single day."[9] In 1964, Soloveitchik paid a lengthy visit while Rabbi Schneerson was mourning the death of his mother. Their conversation during this visit lasted approximately two hours. Soloveitchik later visited again following the death of Rabbi Schneerson's mother-in-law.[10] In 1980, accompanied by his student Herschel Schacter, Soloveitchik visited Schneerson at Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn on the occasion of a celebration marking the 30th anniversary of his leadership. The visit lasted close to two hours after which Soloveitchik told Schacter his opinion of Schneerson; "He is a gaon (genius), he is a great one, he is a leader of Israel."[11]

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. {{Citation needed}} 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, 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.[12][13] 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 978-0-684-86372-6]

The Lonely Man of Faith

4 books of Joseph B. Soloveitchik

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 Man has become well read in the Orthodox Jewish community, but its psychology and model of Jewish law was rejected by most of non-Orthodox Judaism; one of the most prominent critiques is from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who wrote:

"Ish Ha-halakhah? {Halakhic man}? Lo haya velo nivra ela mashal haya {There never was such a Jew}! 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. 'Torah' is the more comprehensive word.[14]

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. His highly original use in all of the foregoing works of categories and concepts drawn from existentialism and other schools of secular modern philosophy is analyzed in some depth in the writings of Fr. Christiam M. Rutishauser, S.J.

Departure from the traditional Brisker view of Zionism

Soloveitchik was proud of his connections to the Soloveitchik rabbinic dynasty, speaking fondly of his "uncle" Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik (the "Brisker Rov"). To his relatives and namesakes who now lived in Jerusalem where they had established their own branch of the Brisk Yeshiva, he was respected for his genius in Talmudic scholarship which few could challenge or disparage, despite their very differing views on Zionism (the "Briskers" in Jerusalem being staunch anti-Zionists). See the paragraph on "Zionism" below for a discussion of Soloveitchik's Zionist viewpoint. Recent research published by Shlomo Pick indicates that his father, Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik maintained a close relationship with Religious Zionist (Mizrachi) 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

Modern Orthodox Jews consider Rabbi Soloveitchik to be the paradigmal Modern Orthodox Jew, based on Soloveitchik's focus on secular studies and world culture, and his Zionism (see paragraph on Soloveitchik's Zionism below). However, some of Soloveitchik's opinions on these issues are vague and Soloveitchik's students have taken many different stances on these matters. In any case, most Modern Orthodox institutions today, including Yeshiva University, have connections to Rabbi Soloveitchik.

Relations with Agudath Israel

After Soloveitchik left Agudath Israel, the organization's leadership was mostly quiet when it came to public statements involving Soloveitchik. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who was 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 " ( a foremost Torah scholar of the time).[15] Rabbi Aaron Kotler, whose public policy in relation to American Jewry was far more right-wing than Soloveitchik's, was introduced by Soloveitchik at a Chinuch Atzmai dinner[16] and this later became famous as an instance of unity among the Orthodox leadership. Agudath Israel's mouthpiece, the "Jewish Observer" also mentioned 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 Soloveitchik in the Jewish Observer.[17] The article was criticized 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 Soloveitchik as not clarifying his views enough. Rabbi Moshe David Tendler, a son-in-law of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, wrote a scathing attack on Wolpin's piece, which was published both in The Community Synagogue of Monsey's newsletter and the Algemeiner Journal.[18]

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.[19]

Despite the Agudah's comparative silence on 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,[20] Rabbi Shlomo Riskin[21] and Rabbi Dr. Lawrence Kaplan.[22]

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.

One of the most iconoclastic is Rabbi Prof. David Hartman of Jerusalem, whose support for pluralism has gained him serious backing in non-Orthodox streams and who has brought Soloveitchik's thinking to the 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 Irving Greenberg and Hartman, but still very liberal in comparison to most Orthodox thinkers (Rabbi Weiss has classified this approach as "Open Orthodoxy").

Many students of Soloveitchik represent a centrist approach to Modern Orthodoxy (which Lamm has coined "Centrist Orthodoxy") such as Rabbis Aharon Lichtenstein, Shlomo Riskin, Benjamin Blech, Lawrence Kaplan, and Lamm. The Torah UMadda Journal, Tradition magazine, the Rabbinical Council of America, Efrat, Yeshiva University, Bnei Akiva, the Orthodox Union, and various post-high school yeshivot and seminaries in Israel (i.e. Yeshivat Hakotel and 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. A few of Soloveitchik students identify themselves and Soloveitchik's teachings with the Haredi world, such as Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, Soloveitchik's nephew and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Toras Moshe in Jerusalem; Rabbi Mosheh Twersky, one of Soloveitchik's grandchildren 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.

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 operate in the surrounding secular society. However, this is not 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 Eliyahu Klugman). Similarly, some scholars of Soloveitchik's philosophy maintain that an eclectic pragmatic approach was adopted by Soloveitchik as well. According to this view, Soloveitchik did not approve of Jews learning secular philosophy, music, art, literature or ethics, unless it was for purposes of obtaining a livelihood or outreach.

In contrast, liberal leaning 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. According to this view, Soloveitchik believed that it was permissible for Jews to learn secular philosophy, music, art, literature and ethics for their own sake and encouraged this.

Professor Yitzchak Twersky, a grandson of The Rav, pointed out in a eulogy published in the journal Tradition in 1996 that 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."

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, Lamm, in a eulogy for Soloveitchik 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 was a lifelong critic of all forms of non-Orthodox Judaism, including Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism. He believed that these denominations were in significant error where they differed from Orthodox Judaism. 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 mixed seating in the synagogue. 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 (mi-d'orayta, a Pentateuchal prohibition) and without the use of a mechitza, a divider between the men's and women's sections (mi-derabbenan, a rabbinical prohibition).[23] 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. 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. However, in practice he sometimes granted non-Orthodox rabbis some degree of validity with respect to communal affairs (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 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 some 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, ritually cleansing dishes, etc. However the Ultra-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 the pre-eminent leader of politically conscious pro-Zionist modern Orthodox Judaism. Out of respect for his stature, many leaders and politicians from Israel sought his advice and blessings in state affairs. Reputedly, he was offered the position of Chief Rabbi of Israel by Prime Minister Ben Gurion but quietly declined. 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 written that Soloveitchik's non-messianic Zionism was philosophically similar to that of Rabbi Yitzchak Yaacov Reines (see Tradition 33.2, Communications).

On Yom ha-Atzma’ut (Israel's Independence Day), 1956, Soloveitchik delivered a public address at Yeshiva University entitled: Kol Dodi Dofek; The Voice of My Beloved Knocks. The address, which has become a classic of religious Zionist philosophy, enumerates, and elaborates upon, the instances of God's tangible presence in the recent history of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. It also issues a clarion call to American Orthodoxy to embrace the State of Israel and commit itself and its resources to its development.

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.[24] 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 in 1967, Soloveitchik and some of his students would spend summers near Cape Cod in Onset, Massachusetts, where they would pray at Congregation Beth Israel.[25]

After the passing of his wife in 1967, Soloveitchik began giving additional lectures, open to the public, during the summer months in Boston.

Soloveitchik's daughters married prominent academics and Talmudic scholars: his daughter Tovah married the late Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein, former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel (who had a PhD in English Literature 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 Soloveichik (1909–1967), Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik (1917–2001), Mrs. Shulamith Meiselman (1912–2009), and Mrs. Anne Gerber (1915–2011). 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[26] preceded by Parkinson's Disease).

Family tree

Works by Joseph Soloveitchik

Legacy of his hashkafa (worldview)

Cooperation with non-Orthodox Jews

Further reading

See also


  1. 1 2 Lehmann, Manfred (2003). "Re-writing the Biography of Rav Soloveitchik". Retrieved June 6, 2006.
  2. 1 2
  3. An American Orthodox Dreamer: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Boston's Maimonides School, by Seth Farber, University Press of New England, 2003
  4. Kahane, Libby (2008). Rabbi Meir Kahane: His Life and Thought Volume One:1932-1975. Israel: Urim Publications. p. 31. ISBN 965-524-008-8. Meir had great love and admiration for Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik of Yeshiva University and went to hear his lectures from time to time, especially his famous memorial lectures.
  5. The Rebbe and the Rav
  6. Interview with Herschel Schacter
  7. The Rebbe in Berlin, Germany
  8. The Rebbe and the Rav & The Rebbe in Berlin, Germany
  13. Heschel, Abraham Joshua, Dresner, Samuel H, ed., Heschel, Hasidism and Halakha, Fordham University Press, p. 102.
  14. Looking Before and After – YUdaica
  15. "Memorable Encounters" by Joseph Kaminetsky
  16. Photos&
  17. Rabbi Tendler's "Open Letter to the Moetzes of Agudas Yisrael"
  18. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik on Interreligious Dialogue
  19. Let's Learn – Vol. I, No. 8
  20. "Approaching the Avos—Through Up-Reach or Drag-Down", March 1991.
  21. "Two Letters and a Response" by Lawrence Kaplan and the Novominsker Rebbe.
  22. Susan Grossman, Rivka Haut, Daughters of the King: Women and the Synagogue A Survey of History, Halakhah, and Contemporary Realities,p. 132 note 8
  23. Hapardes, September 1941, p. 16.
  24. Resnick, Elliot. contentid=33340&mode=a&sectionid=17&contentname=Beaches%2C_Cottages_..._And_Shul_Draw_Vacationers_To_Onset%2C_Massachusetts&recnum=12&subid=20740 "Beaches, Cottages ... And Shul Draw Vacationers to Onset, Massachusetts", The Jewish Press, June 18, 2008.
  25. 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.
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