In Their Interpretations of the Exodus Story, a Great Rabbi and His Great-Grandson Offered Two Opposing Conceptions of Jewish History

In Genesis 15—a passage cited in the Haggadah—God tells Abraham that his descendants will be “strangers in a land not their own,” where they will be enslaved and oppressed. The great 20th-century sage Joseph B. Soloveitchik, noting that this passage says nothing about Egypt, imagined an alternative version of the biblical narrative where this exile is instead in the land of Haran, where according to Genesis Jacob spends many of his years working for his father-in-law. In this reading, Jacob’s own actions, and those of his sons, led to the Egyptian exile; if events had gone differently, God would have led the Israelites out of Haran and immediately into a messianic era.

David Curwin points out that this approach directly contradicts an interpretation of the Haggadah given by Rabbi Soloveitchik’s great-grandfather and namesake, the renowned 19th-century talmudic scholar Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, who cites as a prooftext the Haggadah’s peculiar exegesis of the verse “On that day, you must tell your child, ‘It is because of this that God acted for me when I left Egypt.’”

The elder Soloveitchik claims that despite the simple assumption that we eat matzah because of the events of the Exodus, the essence of the commandment is the opposite: we left Egypt because of the pre-existing commandment of matzah, [conceived of by God prior to creation]. He adds that we should not tell our children that “Because I left Egypt, I perform this commandment,” but rather the opposite: “Because of these commandments, the Exodus from Egypt came about.”

These two varying approaches to Jewish history, argues Curwin, manifest themselves in the younger Soloveitchik’s embrace of Zionism.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Exodus, Haggadah, Jewish history, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Zionism


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus