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

July 19 2017

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


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount