A Great Jewish Historian’s Controversial Analysis of American Judaism, Three Decades Later https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/religion-holidays/2022/02/a-great-jewish-historians-controversial-analysis-of-american-judaism-three-decades-later/

February 15, 2022 | Haym Soloveitchik
About the author:

One of the leading scholars of medieval Jewish law and the scion of a great rabbinic dynasty, Haym Soloveitchik may be best known for his 1994 essay, “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy,” which analyzes the changes that he witnessed in American Orthodox Judaism during his own lifetime. Put simply, halakhah was for the older generation a “mimetic” tradition, passed on when children imitate the practices of their parents, grandparents, and teachers. But in the wake of the momentous changes of the 20th century, it became a textual tradition, whereby people look to the holy books and the scholars who interpret them for guidance in everyday behavior.

Soloveitchik here revisits the essay, and the reactions to it, in a rare interview with David Bashevkin. To explain his views, he turns to a subject on which he has done intensive research: the prohibition on yayin nesekh, or wine consecrated to be used as libations to pagan gods. This rule expanded over time—not just by rabbinic fiat, but also by popular zeal—into a blanket ban on any wine produced by a Gentile.

Soloveitchik notes that, overall, the textual approach has led to greater scrupulousness, with the constant introduction of sometimes-obscure stringencies (humras). By contrast, despite the carefulness of their observance, Orthodox Jews today have less of a sense of God’s immediacy. For instance: a century ago, a Jew would pray with deep, heartfelt emotion for his parnasah (livelihood), feeling it entirely in God’s hands, while today even ḥaredi Jews are more likely to attribute success or failure to material and economic factors. (Audio, 80 minutes. The interview itself begins at 30:40.)

Read more on 18forty: https://18forty.org/podcast/rabbi-dr-haym-soloveitchik-the-rupture-and-reconstruction-of-halacha/