When One of America’s Leading Non-Hasidic Rabbis Praised the Lubavitcher Rebbe

In 1942, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik—who a year before had succeeded his father as one of the chief Talmud instructors at Yeshiva University—delivered a speech at a large communal dinner celebrating the educational institutions of the Lubavitch Ḥasidim. The speech, delivered in Yiddish to an audience made up primarily of Lubavitchers, was an encomium to their leader, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn. Besides their first name, the two sages shared much else: both were born in the Russian empire (in what is now Belarus) to distinguished rabbinic dynasties, both became revered figures in American Orthodoxy, and both spent much of their lives trying to root the religious traditions they had inherited on new soil—aiming to adapt to modernity without sacrificing the integrity of Judaism as they understood it. At the same time, they represented opposite poles: Soloveitchik was an exemplar of study-focused, cerebral, non-ḥasidic “Lithuanian” Judaism, while Schneersohn led one of the world’s largest ḥasidic movements.

The speech, newly republished through the efforts of Menachem Butler alongside an original translation by Yossel Hoizman, has at its heart a comparison of Schneersohn to Ḥanina ben Dosa, a talmudic sage and miracle-worker who lived in the latter part of the 1st century CE. Although Soloveitchik makes no reference to the contemporaneous events in Europe, both he and his audience would have been well aware of them, if not of their horrific extent:

Rabbi Ḥanina ben Dosa was known for defying laws of nature. The [talmudic tractate of] Ta’anit tells how Rabbi Ḥanina ben Dosa told his daughter: “He who endowed oil with the ability to burn will endow vinegar with the ability to burn,” and the vinegar indeed caught fire. . . . The [Talmud in the same passage] states: “Each of the goats of Rabbi Ḥanina ben Dosa brought back a bear on its horns.” . . .

However, we find yet another tale regarding Rabbi Ḥanina ben Dosa, albeit not in the Tractate Ta’anit, where all the other stories about him are recorded, but rather in Midrash Kohelet, [the oldest rabbinic commentary on Ecclesiastes]. Apparently, in the meantime some great upheaval had transpired, and Ḥanina ben Dosa, who was world-renowned for defying the rules of nature, arrived in a vicinity where they, seemingly, knew little of his legacy.

The midrash relates that once Rabbi Ḥanina ben Dosa arrived at a deserted place, and noticed a certain stone. He polished and buffed it and exclaimed “I take it upon myself to bring this to Jerusalem.” He sought to hire workers to carry it but could not find any. God dispatched five angels in a human form; Ḥanina asked them, “Would you bring this for me?” and they responded, “Gladly, provided that you will also assist us with your hand and your finger.” He places his hand and finger under the stone along with them, and they instantly found themselves standing in Jerusalem.

Read more at Torah Musings

More about: American Jewry, Chabad, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Orthodoxy, Talmud, Yeshiva University

Iran’s Options for Revenge on Israel

On April 1, an Israeli airstrike on Damascus killed three Iranian generals, one of whom was the seniormost Iranian commander in the region. The IDF has been targeting Iranian personnel and weaponry in Syria for over a decade, but the killing of such a high-ranking figure raises the stakes significantly. In the past several days, Israelis have received a number of warnings both from the press and from the home-front command to ready themselves for retaliatory attacks. Jonathan Spyer considers what shape that attack might take:

Tehran has essentially four broad options. It could hit an Israeli or Jewish facility overseas using either Iranian state forces (option one), or proxies (option two). . . . Then there’s the third option: Tehran could also direct its proxies to strike Israel directly. . . . Finally, Iran could strike Israeli soil directly (option four). It is the riskiest option for Tehran, and would be likely to precipitate open war between the regime and Israel.

Tehran will consider all four options carefully. It has failed to retaliate in kind for a number of high-profile assassinations of its operatives in recent years. . . . A failure to respond, or staging too small a response, risks conveying a message of weakness. Iran usually favors using proxies over staging direct attacks. In an unkind formulation common in Israel, Tehran is prepared to “fight to the last Arab.”

Read more at Spectator

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria