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

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

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy