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

July 28 2021

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.

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Read more at Torah Musings

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

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter