Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Moral Issue

"The aftermath of Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and the attack on the Palestinian refugee camps by Lebanese Christians, left a moral stain on Israel. In the Knesset there was a demand for a thorough inquiry into the massacres and a clarification if Israel was in any way responsible. The left wing political parties were in favor of the inquiry. The right wing parties were opposed to it. Mizrachi joined them in opposing any inquiry. Rav Soloveitchik was informed of the position taken by Mizrachi. A vote was scheduled for a Sunday. The Rav called Rabbi Friedman at the Jewish Agency and instructed him to call Israel in his name and to demand that Mizrachi vote for the resolution. The Rav said that it is not a political issue but a moral one and Mizrachi had to act morally. So insistent was the Rav that he told Rabbi Friedman to call Israel on Shabbat to convey his message! The call was an halachic order by the Rav to Rabbi Friedman. The call was made on Shabbat. Mizrachi voted for the inquiry." (Orthodoxy Awakens, The Belkin Era and Yeshiva University, Victor Geller, p. 258)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

On Zionism

It seems to me, the blog owner, that Rabbi Soloveitchik, though known for being a Zionist, was one of the least Zionistic Zionists, certainly when it came to halacha and to advising people. He wasn't one of these dogmatists that saw living in Eretz Yisroel as an imperative or even a wise choice for anybody. He also did not hesitate to criticize Zionist leaders and their dogma. I refer you to these quotes:
"It is ridiculous to tell a young man, who does a good job, or has prepared or trained himself to do a good job [here in the U.S., that he must instead go to ארצ ישראל]. "Good job" means to spread Torah, or to lead an exemplary life which serves as an example to others through personal contact - there are many ways to convert and educate Jews. I am not giving up on American Jews. If I feel that in my town, or in my village, I will accomplish a lot, and when I come to Eretz Yisrael so I or my influence will be reduced to zero, my place is here, not there. Some who went to Eretz Yisrael achieved the same objectives they would have in the Diaspora. But only some! I know of many who fail. They don't admit it. It's nice on their part not to admit it." (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Rav Thinking Aloud, pp. 242-3).
"Now there is an official public opinion which is molded not by religious, but by secular, Jews. People used to accuse us Orthodox Jews that we are intolerant. We are very tolerant, in comparison to Zionists. Let somebody try to say anything not in agreement with Begin -- אחת דתו להמית. You can say a lot not in agreement with Moshe Rabbeinu, but you must not deny Begin's theories. I am not joking. I can't yield to that. I am not a politician." (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Rav Thinking Aloud, pp. 239-40)
“Ich halt [I hold] that Brisk is more anti-Zionist than Satmar. For a simple reason I’ll tell you. To Chabad and Brisk, yahadus is identified with Torah, with knowledge, with a conceptual system. As such, it is universal. You cannot say ‘On that spot of land there is a covenant between God and his people, and in another geographical spot there is no covenant.’ The Torah is the center.”121 He added, “This is Rav Chaim. This is Chabad also....” (David Holtzer, The Rav Thinking Aloud, Transcripts of Personal Conversations with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, p. 175.)

“Emotionally, I feel Zionism – religious Zionism – has replaced Torah.” (David Holtzer, The Rav Thinking Aloud, Transcripts of Personal Conversations with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, p. 175.)

“Eretz Yisrael is important, but not the central nerve. The central nervous system is still Torah.” (David Holtzer, The Rav Thinking Aloud, Transcripts of Personal Conversations with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, p. 173.)

“To say Judaism has existed throughout the ages for one purpose only, namely to establish the State of Israel, is sheer madness, for to equate Judaism with statehood is blasphemy. This mistake is being made by Jews today in Israel.” (David Holtzer, The Rav Thinking Aloud, Transcripts of Personal Conversations with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, p. 178.)

R’ Soloveitchik said that his father, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik, used to say “leumi’is [Nationalism (לאומיות ) or Zionism] is apikorsis.” (David Holtzer, The Rav Thinking Aloud, Transcripts of Personal Conversations with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, p. 174.)

R’ Soloveitchik  believed that the State of Israel was a positive development as it prevents assimilation. (One can argue that it may prevent intermarriage, but that it promotes cultural and ideological assimilation and actually prevents religious observance as it replaces religion with secular nationalism. Additionally, there are more than a million gentiles in the State of Israel that are assumed to be Jews but are not, so actually there is massive intermarriage.) However, he did not see the state in messianic terms with eschatological significance. In other words, he believed that one should not say that the state had any connection to the redemption. He considered such a notion “stupidity.” (David Holtzer, ed., The Rav Thinking Aloud, p. 217.)

"Question: Is there any validity to hakamas ha'medinah as far as geulah or shivas tzion is concerned?

No. Yimay ha'Moshiach? No. Since it contributed greatly to the survival of our people it is very important. This itself is important. But all this stupidity - aschalta d'geulah, geulah - I am against it." (David Holtzer, ed., The Rav Thinking Aloud, p. 217.)

R’ Soloveitchik did not say any prayer for the state during tefillah. (Arnold Lustiger, ed., Rosh Hashana Machzor with commentary adapted from the teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (New York: K’hal Publishing, 2007), p. 439.)   He objected to the Israeli Yom HaShoah/Holocaust day commemoration, asserting that “all expressions of aveilus should take place on Tisha b’Av, not a separate Yom Ha’Shoah.” (David Holtzer, ed., The Rav Thinking Aloud, p. 244.)  He was not enthusiastic about recitation of Hallel on Israeli Independence Day and forbade the recitation of a bracha on it. (Yitzchok Levine, “Rav Soloveitchik and Saying Hallel On Yom Ha’atzmaut,” April 20, 2010, Matzav.)

He did not believe that the Ramban actually said that mitzvos performed outside of Eretz Yisroel are only a “prologue” or an “introduction” to those performed in Eretz Yisroel. (David Holtzer, ed., The Rav Thinking Aloud, pp. 229-31.)

He said in a speech before the American Mizrachi party, “… if the State of Israel will become a secular kingdom without Torah, without sanctity, without the Sabbath, without Jewish education, without family purity, a State in which Jewish uniqueness will be erased, then the price we are paying for her in blood and tears is too heavy.” (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Rav Speaks: Five Addresses on Israel, History, and the Jewish People (New York: Judaica Press, 2002), pp. 138-9.)

However, R' Soloveitchik could indulge in what seems to this writer romanticism about Zionism. I don't criticize a giant of his magnitude easily, but I can follow the lead of other giants of the generation who were critical of R' Soloveitchik for his Zionism. 

For example. Witness his thoughts on David Ben Gurion as depicted in an article by Jeffrey Saks:

When Wiesel asked him who was responsible for this state of affairs, the Rav would not answer, but stated that it was unfortunate that David Ben-Gurion, then Prime Minster, didn't appreciate the potential of Judaism-as-religion to draw young Jews to Israel, and encourage self-sacrifice on its behalf. This despite the fact that he Rav saw in Ben-Gurion someone with a "religious connection," albeit one that was generally not properly articulated. "In my eyes," said the Rav, "he is a religious Jew -- even though he doesn't know it himself.” (Jeffrey Saks, "Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik and the Chief Rabbinate, Biographical Notes," BDD 17, Sept. 2006)

This assessment of DBG is so far from reality that it does not qualify as "judging someone for the good."  Here's the Wikipedia depiction of DBG:

....David also described himself as an irreligious person who developed atheism in his youth and who demonstrated no great sympathy for the elements of traditional Judaism, though he quoted the Bible extensively in his speeches and writings. (Wikipedia, “David Ben Gurion”)

And then there's the assessment of someone who knew him, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who considered Ben Gurion "to have hated Judaism more than any other man he had met". (Wikipedia)

What about concessions with the Orthodox. Why did he do that?

Ben-Gurion was aware that world Jewry could and would only feel comfortable to throw their support behind the nascent state, if it was shrouded with religious mystique. That would include an orthodox tacit acquiescence to the entity. Therefore, in September 1947 Ben-Gurion decided to reach a status quo formal agreement with the Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party. (Wikipedia)

In other words, he was conning the religious community. 

Let DBG speak for himself: "Since I invoke Torah so often, let me state that I don't personally believe in the God it postulates ... I am not religious, nor were the majority of the early builders of Israel believers." That's pretty clear. Why not take him at this word? This was a man who lead the public to sin. About such a person the Mishnah says, "One who causes the community to sin, is not given the opportunity to repent. ... Jeroboam the son of Nebat sinned and caused the community to sin, so the community's sin is attributed to him; as is stated, "For the sins of Jeroboam, which he sinned and caused Israel to sin" (I Kings 15:30). (Avos 5:18)

It is pretty far fetched to call a denier of God a religious man. Was he so shaken by antisemitism in Europe that he was motivated non-the-less to help the Jewish people?

For many of us, anti-Semitic feeling had little to do with our dedication [to Zionism]. I personally never suffered anti-Semitic persecution. Płońsk was remarkably free of it ... Nevertheless, and I think this very significant, it was Płońsk that sent the highest proportion of Jews to Eretz Israel from any town in Poland of comparable size. We emigrated not for negative reasons of escape but for the positive purpose of rebuilding a homeland ... Life in Płońsk was peaceful enough. There were three main communities: Russians, Jews and Poles. ... The number of Jews and Poles in the city were roughly equal, about five thousand each. The Jews, however, formed a compact, centralized group occupying the innermost districts whilst the Poles were more scattered, living in outlying areas and shading off into the peasantry. Consequently, when a gang of Jewish boys met a Polish gang the latter would almost inevitably represent a single suburb and thus be poorer in fighting potential than the Jews who even if their numbers were initially fewer could quickly call on reinforcements from the entire quarter. Far from being afraid of them, they were rather afraid of us. In general, however, relations were amicable, though distant. (Memoirs : David Ben-Gurion,1970, p. 36 in Wikipedia)
Not a believer in God or Torah. Not motivated by antisemitism. Could he nevertheless have been a lover of Jews? Witness this quote from Ben Gurion: "If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Israel, then I opt for the second alternative." (Attributed to Ben-Gurion pre-War 1939 by Martin Gilbert in "Israel was everything" in The New York Times 21 June 1987) Sounds like he was a megalomaniac who lived for political ambitions to an extent so alarming that all obligations to look for the good in him are off the table.

During the first weeks of Israel's independence, he ordered all militias to be replaced by one national army, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). To that end, Ben-Gurion used a firm hand during the Altalena Affair, a ship carrying arms purchased by the Irgun led by Menachem Begin. He insisted that all weapons be handed over to the IDF. When fighting broke out on the Tel Aviv beach he ordered it be taken by force and to shell the ship. Sixteen Irgun fighters and three IDF soldiers were killed in this battle. Wikipedia

Religious person?  

And what about his treatment of the Arabs? We are all so used to fearing and hating them, but perhaps they have some valid gripes. In DBG's own words:
Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves ... politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves... The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country. (David Ben Gurion)
Did he only want his little piece of land and be happy to allow the Arabs theirs?
The present map of Palestine was drawn by the British mandate. The Jewish people have another map which our youth and adults should strive to fulfill: from the Nile to the Euphrates. (David Ben Gurion)
 But here's what happened in Lydda after he ordered the expulsion of 50,000 Arabs:
From Lydda, the inhabitants left on foot, some being stripped of money and jewelry by the IDF troops at checkpoints on the way out....During the following days, suffering from hunger and thirst, dozens probably died on the way to Ramallah. An Israeli trooper later described the spoor of the refugee columns, "to begin with [jettisoning] utensils and furniture and in the end, bodies of men, women, and children, scattered along the way. Old people sat beside their carts begging for a drop of water -- but there was none." Another soldier recorded vivid impressions of how "children got lost" and how a child fell into a well, and presumably drowned, ignored as his fellow refugees fought over water. "Nobody will ever know how many children died" in the trek, wrote the legion's commander, John Glugg. (Israeli historian Benny Morris, "1948", p. 290)
250 men, women, and children died that day.

Safe to say, Rabbi Soloveitchik was was not quite accurate on the subject of David Ben Gurion. And what about his thoughts on his uncle, the Brisker Rav. Again we return to Jeffrey Saks:
In addressing his uncle’s anti-Zionism, the Rav explained: “They said of him [Reb Velvel] that he was opposed to the State of Israel. This is not correct. Opposition to a State emanates from adopting a position regarding a political body, which is itself a political act. My uncle was completely removed from all socio-political thought or response. What may be said of him is that the State found no place within his halakhic thought system nor on his halakhic value scale. He was unable to ‘translate’ the idea of a sovereign, secular State to halakhic properties and values.” It is not that Reb Velvel was an anti-Zionist, per se, but that, as a halakhic matter the secular State of Israel did not register on his radar screen. Upon reaching the disappointing conclusion that there was no way to integrate the State into the a priori ideals of the halakha, Reb Velvel was forced to retreat and ignore (not oppose) the State. At this point in his presentation, we must pay close attention to the Rav’s words: “This disappointment led to my uncle separating himself from the most important event in modern Jewish history [i.e., the establishment of the State].  (Jeffrey Saks, The Rav Between Halakhic Men and Lachrymose Lubavitchers)
Talk about spinning a yarn. The Brisker Rav was consumed with opposition to the State. The Brisker Rav in commenting on how the Satmar Rebbe said the founding of the State violates the Talmudic rule of Three Oaths said, just three? It violates every precept in the Torah. The Brisker Rav was completely anti-Zionistic as was his father, Rav Soloveitchik's grandfather, Rav Chaim Brisker. The biography by Shimon Meller dedicates more than 100 pages to the topic of the Brisker Rav's anti-Zionism. The Brisker Rav was asked if we should daven for the Zionists. He said, we should say the bracha in the Amidah concerning the heretics. He said the entire purpose of Zionism was to eradicate the Jewish religion. To call him neutral on the topic is as inaccurate as calling David Ben Gurion religious. And side note, I believe the most important events in modern Jewish history would be the emancipation and the haskalah drawing 90% of Ashkenazic Jewry from Torah observance (the State did the same to Sephardim), the Holocaust which arguably served as a punishment for that, and the rebuilding of Torah after the Holocaust. That Rav Soloveitchik would place the state at the top of the list is pretty alarming.

The Brisker Rav said two things are certain. Zionism is idol worship and all Jews in Israel are entrapped by Zionism. 

Additionally, Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote, "about three thousand five hundred years ago our av zaken Abraham walked behind his flock on those sandy trails and, by traversing the land, endowed it with kedushah. Centuries later, a prophet and king named Dovid played the harp and sang beautiful hymns to God. The hills of our ancient homeland, which echo with ancient melodies and fiery word, are worth the sacrifice of our youth." (Darosh Daresh Yosef, pp. 104-106)

This to me is a regrettable statement. Only Hashem via prophets and the urim v'tumim can send men to war. We don't sacrifice boys to conquer sandy trails.

I think to R' Soloveitchik's credit he'd accept this critique from me. He believed in open discourse and free debate. He didn't hesitate to form his own views and go his own way. He didn't hesitate to criticize where necessary. He had thick skin.

Obviously, since I made an entire web site for him, I am in aware of this great man. He is my melamed. But I disagree with him on Zionism. And I believe he would accept my disagreement and not think any the less of me. To the contrary, I suspect it would please him that I am not a robotic follower. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

My Soloveitchik Tour

More than a decade ago, shortly after I had taken my first serious look at the religious thought of Rabbi Soloveitchik and found my entire understanding of life being revamped for the good, I went to Brookline, Massachusetts for a "Soloveitchik tour." I visited the Talner shul and strolled through the halls of the Maimonides School where I was stunned by the sight of his shtender. "JBS" it said on the embroidery in understated fashion. "That's where he stood, where he davened?" I whispered to an empty room, to the walls. It was a question. I couldn't believe it. Up to that point, the Rav had not been a real person to me. And that was a problem because his outlook is not dominant in the Orthodox Jewish world. It isn't even necessarily dominant at Yeshiva University. I needed the Rav to feel real to me so that I could pursue his perspective and counter the prevailing winds with confidence.

I was aware of and a little embarrassed by the irony of my trip. Here I was looking for concrete relics of a philosopher. Was this one of the dichotomies of life of which he often spoke? I wondered if the Rav would have understood. After reading his talks on the importance of making Judaism a living experience I concluded that he would have.

The trip ended with a visit to the cemetery on Baker St. in West Roxbury. Since I am a Cohen, my wife generously offered to hunt around the sizable cemetery to find the graves of the Rav and Rebbetzin. B'chesdas Hashem, they sit near the road from where I could see them. My wife and I both walked away in tears. I still draw inspiration from the memory of that afternoon.

Many people had the privilege of knowing the Rav in real life. Some are family, some are students. They could ask him the questions that troubled their minds. They could enjoy a Yom Tov with him. They could watch him daven on Yom Kippur. Can you imagine such a sight? Every year I try. They could hear a shiur from his very own lips. They could watch him formulate thoughts, propose arguments, and rejoice in the rendering of chidush in real time!

I will never have that privilege. I can never ask him a shilah. I rely on his students to conjecture what he might have said about this or that. Many times the this or that have been pressing concerns, major questions of faith, life decisions. I often suspect that those on whom I rely fail to get it quite right. I never had the pleasure of hearing the Rav utter my name. Does he know my name now that he sits in the Olam ha-Emes? I wonder about this sometimes. And I do what I can to make him real to me. For those who knew him, this may seem shallow. But that's easy for them to say. They had the privilege of knowing him.

Am I trying to turn him into a Chassidic Rebbe? So what if I am. The main thing that makes me a Chassid is my following of his rule that I should think for myself. I carved out my own derech and the Rav helped me to get there. But first I had to make him real.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Arrival of Rabbi Soloveitchik in America: A Documentary Report - Linked Article from

by Yisrael Kashkin and Jeffrey Saks

"Having married Tonya Lewitt in 1931, the young Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, his wife, and newly-born daughter left Berlin where he had been studying since 1926. In immigrating to the United States he was following in the footsteps of his father, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik, who had been the Rosh Yeshiva of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary since 1929.

"During a period of restrictive immigration to America, following the Immigration Act of 1924 which limited the number of immigrants..." cont.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

the price we are paying

"… if the State of Israel will become a secular kingdom without Torah, without sanctity, without the Sabbath, without Jewish education, without family purity, a State in which Jewish uniqueness will be erased, then the price we are paying for her in blood and tears is too heavy." 

(The Rav Speaks, trans. from Yiddish addresses delivered by the Rav at Mizrachi Conventions, 1962-1967, p. 79, in. Insights of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, pp. 138-9).

Friday, April 28, 2017

Recording of Samuel Belkin

Recording from

This is news to me. I had never heard his voice before. Pretty exciting. Excellent English.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Linked Article: Who’s AK?: The Need for Open Dialogue (YU Commentator) By: Yehuda Greenfield

By: Yehuda Greenfield

“It’s funny how they called the rosh yeshiva ztz”l, the Rosh Yeshiva, while they called Reb Yoshe Ber, the Rav,” Rav Reuven Feinstein said in his much-imitated, wispy voice. “Really, it was the rosh yeshiva ztz”l who was the Rav, a poisek, and Reb Yoshe Ber was the Rosh Yeshiva.”

I was in eleventh grade, sitting in a chumash shiur given by my own rosh yeshiva, Rav Reuven Feinstein. He was saying a story about his father, Rav Moshe Feinstein, and a man unknown to me, Reb Yoshe Ber.

“Who’s Reb Yoshe Ber?” I asked my chavrusa later, during seder.

read more

(Source credit: R' Jeffrey Saks)

Friday, February 3, 2017

New Book: Rav and rebbe

"6 x 9; Hardcover Color Cover; 400 pgs; 550 endnotes; 50 pics & docs; New Interviews; Addendums; Bibliography; Glossary; Index; natural paper; made in the USA The two great Jewish sages of the past century, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik - The Rav - YU and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson - The Rebbe - Chabad grew up in Russia. They both studied at the University of Berlin and each became a leading figure in post-Holocaust Judaism in America. Read now, for the first time ever, about their unique relationship and respect for each other. Understand that although the Rav was a father-figure for Lithuanian Judaism and the Rebbe, the world's greatest Chasidic master, nevertheless their message was universal." To purchase email 


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What do we mean by תלמוד תורה כנגד כולם?

DH: What do we mean by תלמוד תורה כנגד כולם?

Rabbi Soloveitchik: It is not that this mitzvah is equal to all the mitzvos, but rather that it brings the person to do all the other mitzvos. The whole purpose of the limud is that it comes to asiah and asiah is the ikur.

The Rav Thinking Aloud, p. 69