Understanding the Complex Thought of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik

March 11 2021

Without a doubt, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was one of the greatest Jewish religious thinkers of the previous century, as well as one of the greatest talmudists—and remains an iconic figure for American Modern Orthodoxy. His student Shalom Carmy provides an outline of his multifaceted theology, beginning with his third major philosophic work:

And You Shall Seek from There, drafted in Hebrew in the 1940s, published in 1978, explores the relationship with God implied by [his previous] two works. Rabbi Soloveitchik here analyzes two poles of religious existence: on the one hand, the quest for God via “natural consciousness,” which includes the variety of philosophical, scientific, aesthetic, and mystical avenues; on the other hand, “revelational consciousness,” when God confronts human beings by revealing His will to them. At the highest level, the human quest for God and revelation come together in imitatio Dei, the imitation of God and cleaving unto God by identifying with His will. At this stage, the faithful and creative student of Torah overcomes the tension between the desire for autonomy and the otherness of the commanding God.

Soloveitchik [also] came to identify with and advocate religious Zionism. Many of the loudest voices in religious Zionism are inclined to eschatological interpretations of Zionism, viewing the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel as a harbinger of ultimate redemption. Soloveitchik, by contrast, justified the value of Israel primarily in terms of the security and welfare it can provide the Jewish people.

This emphasis may very well have practical implications as well. Soloveitchik and those closest to his way of thinking have looked askance at what they see as a tendency toward placing the state beyond criticism and overreliance on military might. . . . These views are still in the minority among Israeli religious Zionist politicians and activists but have gained a wider audience with the immigration to Israel of rabbis educated by Soloveitchik.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Biblical Mind

More about: Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Judaism, Religious Zionism

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship