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.

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Read more at First Things

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

The Palestinian Authority Is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

Jan. 31 2023

On Thursday, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials announced that they had ceased all security cooperation with Israel; the next two days saw two deadly terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. But the PA has in the past made numerous threats that it will sever its ties with the Israeli government, and has so far never made good on them. Efraim Inbar poses a different set of questions: does cooperation with Palestinian leaders who actively encourage—and provide financial incentives for—the murder of Jews really help Israel protect its citizens? And might there be a better alternative?

The PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seems unable to rule effectively, i.e., to maintain a modicum of law and order in the territories under his control. He lost Gaza to Hamas in 2007, and we now see the “Lebanonization” of the PA taking place in the West Bank: the emergence of myriad armed groups, with some displaying only limited loyalty to the PA, and others, especially the Islamists, trying to undermine the current regime.

[The PA’s] education system and media continue propagating tremendous hostility toward Jews while blaming Israel for all Palestinian problems. Security cooperation with Israel primarily concerns apprehending armed activists of the Islamist opposition, as the PA often turns a blind eye to terrorist activities against Israel. In short, Abbas and his coterie are part of the problem, not of the solution. Jerusalem should thus think twice about promoting efforts to preserve PA rule and prevent a descent into chaos while rejecting the reoccupation of the West Bank.

Chaos is indeed not a pleasant prospect. Chaos in the territories poses a security problem to Israel, but one that will be mitigated if the various Palestinian militias vying for influence compete with each other. A succession struggle following the death of Abbas could divert attention from fighting hated Israel and prevent coordination in the low-intensity conflict against it. In addition, anarchy in the territories may give Israel a freer hand in dealing with the terrorists.

Furthermore, chaos might ultimately yield positive results. The collapse of the PA will weaken the Palestinian national movement, which heretofore has been a source of endemic violence and is a recipe for regional instability in the future.

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Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror