Joseph B. Soloveitchik on Tradition, Authority, and Historical Change

Focusing on a speech given by the 20th-century sage in 1975, Jeffrey Woolf analyzes Soloveitchik’s understanding of the halakhic authority of tradition, and his response to those who would say that Jewish law must change to keep up with a changing world:

The Torah, [according to Soloveitchik], has its own methodological and axiological integrity. It stands on its own two feet, and does not need to be validated by any source outside of itself. It is by no means . . . static, but it is internally stable and consistent.

It was precisely this deeply held axiom that prompted Soloveitchik’s passionate reaction to [those] who maintained that the rulings [of the talmudic sages] were conditioned upon a specific historical reality [and thus lose their validity if that reality changes. For them], halakhah becomes eminently malleable and can be freely adapted according to the will (or whim) of the interpreter. Soloveitchik forthrightly condemned the subjugation of Judaism to external systems of values, coercing it to conform thereto in violation of its textual and interpretive tradition. . . ..

At the same time, Soloveitchik definitely did not advocate a blind, . . . fundamentalist stance toward the outside world and its culture. . . . [He believed] that one should courageously enlist the full panoply of Western culture for the explication and enhancement of Judaism. Judaism, in Soloveitchik’s model, creatively engages and interacts with other systems of thought and value. It is enriched and our appreciation of it is deepened by that interaction. It does not, however, subordinate itself to them, or make its validity contingent on them. . . .

This is not to suggest . . . that changes in social and historical circumstances do not affect halakhah. Obviously, they do. However, the interaction between them (and the pace of that interaction) is predicated upon the tools that tradition itself provides.

Read more at Torah Musings

More about: Halakhah, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Tradition

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict