Joseph B. Soloveitchik on Jewish Law and America’s Promise

Oct. 19 2018

It has been a quarter-century since the death of Joseph B. Soloveitchik, one of the leading rabbis of post-World War II America and the talmudist, theologian, and sage who did the most to shape Modern Orthodoxy in the U.S. Drawing on the particular traditions of the Lithuanian rabbinic elite, among whom he was raised, Soloveitchik’s philosophical writings attempt to explain Judaism in the language of early 20th-century German thought. Mark Gottlieb summarizes their principles:

To his own Modern Orthodox community, Soloveitchik held out a spiritual ideal comprising equal parts subjective emotion and strict adherence to objective law (halakhah). In one of his early works, Halakhic Man (1944), he draws a sharp contrast between purely subjective religiosity, shorn of commandments and the law, and the fullness of the halakhic way of life. . . .

Soloveitchik thus saw in Orthodox Judaism, with its embodied form of religious life and attention to the totality of human existence, the ultimate response to the great chasm in philosophy between objective and subjective, inner and outer, that had bedeviled modern thought from Descartes to Heidegger. Far from the regressive purview of a despised people, halakhah becomes for Soloveitchik the master key to the intellectual problem that had plagued European culture for half a millennium.

Gottlieb also notes Soloveitchik’s complex attitude toward America, the country in which he settled in 1932. His thoughts remain relevant today:

Soloveitchik loved America, his adopted home, and believed in its promise. A small example: most years in the third week of November, he cut short his schedule of daily Talmud lectures in New York to return to Boston for Thanksgiving dinner—hardly common practice among Lithuanian-trained heads of yeshivas. . . .

More significantly, America was connected in Soloveitchik’s mind with human dignity, for him a supreme religious value—a potent expression of the human will to imitate God and to partner with him in improving creation. Writing in the 1960s, Soloveitchik saw America’s victory over the Soviets in the “space race” as a symbol of this dignity, a testament to the power of human ingenuity and ambition directed toward a noble universal cause.

Yet he was realistic in diagnosing America’s spiritual pathologies, and reserved some of his most incisive criticism for the problems arising from its hyperextended forms of freedom, individual conscience, and creativity—values he championed, albeit dialectically, more than any Orthodox Jewish thinker in the 20th century.

Read more at First Things

More about: American Jewry, Halakhah, Jewish Thought, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Modern Orthodoxy, Religion & Holidays

American Aid to Lebanon Is a Gift to Iran

For many years, Lebanon has been a de-facto satellite of Tehran, which exerts control via its local proxy militia, Hizballah. The problem with the U.S. policy toward the country, according to Tony Badran, is that it pretends this is not the case, and continues to support the government in Beirut as if it were a bulwark against, rather than a pawn of, the Islamic Republic:

So obsessed is the Biden administration with the dubious art of using taxpayer dollars to underwrite the Lebanese pseudo-state run by the terrorist group Hizballah that it has spent its two years in office coming up with legally questionable schemes to pay the salaries of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), setting new precedents in the abuse of U.S. foreign security-assistance programs. In January, the administration rolled out its program to provide direct salary payments, in cash, to both the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

The scale of U.S. financing of Lebanon’s Hizballah-dominated military apparatus cannot be understated: around 100,000 Lebanese are now getting cash stipends courtesy of the American taxpayer to spend in Hizballah-land. . . . This is hardly an accident. For U.S. policymakers, synergy between the LAF/ISF and Hizballah is baked into their policy, which is predicated on fostering and building up a common anti-Israel posture that joins Lebanon’s so-called “state institutions” with the country’s dominant terror group.

The implicit meaning of the U.S. bureaucratic mantra that U.S. assistance aims to “undermine Hizballah’s narrative that its weapons are necessary to defend Lebanon” is precisely that the LAF/ISF and the Lebanese terror group are jointly competing to achieve the same goals—namely, defending Lebanon from Israel.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, U.S. Foreign policy