Thursday, July 20, 2023

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and the Problem of Biblical Criticism

 Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and the Problem of Biblical Criticism (

By Aryeh Sklar

Did the Rav, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, deal with the major theological issues that result from the conclusions of Biblical criticism?[1] On the face of it, he did not. In fact, he seemed generally unconcerned with the historical-critical method that so dominates academia. In part based on this supposed fact, Moshe Sokol and David Singer declare that the Rav should not be considered truly “Modern Orthodox.”[2] This should be surprising to anyone who knows the Rav’s legacy as a great Modern Orthodox leader who courageously confronted the challenges of modernity – modern-day Maimonides. Sokol states boldly, “In my judgment this is the myth of R. Soloveitchik, a myth which for good sociological reasons found enormous currency amongst many Modern Orthodox Jews, who required an authority figure to make sense of and to some degree justify their participation in modernity.”

Sokol suggests several reasons why he thinks the Rav did not deal with these issues.[3] Firstly, he contends, the Rav had a philosophical orientation that did not care too overly much about history and texts, but instead about abstract categories.[4] Sokol’s second suggestion is that the Rav understood all too well the potential religious problems inherent in the study and discussion of Biblical criticism, and decided therefore not to confront it at all. He suggests that this ties into what he believes is a third reason, that the Rav sees the religious “man-child” as an ideal. After all, the Rav has stated:

The adult is too smart. Utility is his guiding-light. The experience of God is not a businesslike affair. Only the child can breach the boundaries that segregate the finite from the infinite. Only the child with his simple faith and fiery enthusiasm can make the miraculous leap into the bosom of God.[5]


 Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and the Problem of Biblical Criticism (