How the “Soloveitchik Prayer Book” Loses Sight of J.B. Soloveitchik’s Perspective on Prayer

Published in 2011, the Mesorat HaRav Siddur is an English-Hebrew prayer book with commentary excerpted and paraphrased from the writings and lectures of the towering 20th-century thinker Joseph B. Soloveitchik, along with adjustments that align with his sometimes idiosyncratic version of the traditional liturgy. Its appeal stems in part from the desire of Modern Orthodox Jews to have a siddur more reflective of their attitudes and beliefs than more popular editions, which are increasingly seen as having a decidedly ultra-Orthodox bent. Yet, argues Yaakov Jaffe, while the volume admirably conveys many of Soloveitchik’s ideas, his overarching approach to prayer seems to get lost, and may even be at loggerheads with the book’s purpose:

Soloveitchik convey[ed] the feeling of surrender toward God and halakhah precisely through a series of differences between his liturgy and the conventional one, with the differences all pointing in the direction of withdrawal and recoil. One offering prayers before God must be . . . constantly unable even to formulate certain prayers. It is an approach to prayer that carries intense caution, even fear, lest the wrong words be uttered. And so, as much as we think about the prayers we do say, we are also constantly reminded of all the prayers we cannot utter. Permission is needed to be able to pray, and prayer without permission borders on heresy. . . .

In contrast, conventional prayer in Modern Orthodox synagogues has embraced the opposite attitude. Creativity, victory, and denominational ideology abound. Parts of the prayer service that fail to resonate are removed to the extent possible, while the parts that do resonate tend to emphasize closeness to the Creator [and therefore] become centerpieces of the service, even if they are the most daring and anthropomorphic. [For instance]: whereas for Soloveitchik the blessings that precede and follow the recitation of the Sh’ma convey the themes of divine authority, the Modern Orthodox Jew sees in them the theme of divine love. . . .

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Judaism, Modern Orthodoxy, Prayer, Religion & Holidays

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law