Reading Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s Philosophy as Memoir

March 2 2017

In The Last Rabbi, William Kolbrener, a scholar of Milton, uses literary criticism and psychoanalysis to understand the philosophical works of the great 20th-century luminary. (Interview by Alan Brill).

Soloveitchik writes in [his theological treatise] Halakhic Man of what he considers to be the primary Jewish imperative, for man to “create himself.” Seen from this perspective, Soloveitchik’s philosophical writings serve as a kind of spiritual memoir, the means by which he creates himself through writing. Halakhic Man, for example, is about his father, his uncle [both distinguished rabbis], but also about himself, as he at once declares allegiance to his ancestors but also asserts independence from some of the traditions they represent. Repentance or t’shuvah is critical for Soloveitchik—throughout his works—as a form of story-telling about the self, one which allows for constant self-critique and continued self-construction.

Recognition of failure plays an important role in Soloveitchik’s emotional journey, and in the stories he tells about himself. Where, in childhood memories, failure is embarrassing or even shameful, later in his life both failure and suffering are transformed, retroactively becoming marks of distinction, indeed of existential chosenness. . . .

Indeed, I call him the “last rabbi” because of [his] self-perceived (and self-represented) failure as a teacher, his ostensible inability to communicate [what he calls the] “Torah of the heart” [alongside the more cerebral teachings]. While engaging his students intellectually, he was not able, he confesses, to solicit “growth on the experiential plane,” or to bestow his “personal warmth on them.” That is, Soloveitchik may have emphasized creativity and self-creation to such an extent, may have become so much the individual, that he transformed himself into the last rabbi.

Read more at Book of Doctrines and Opinions

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


Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship