Volume 6 Number 98

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

R. Soloveitchik
         [Rick Turkel]
Rav's Hesped
         [Moshe Raab]


From: <turkel@...> (Rick Turkel)
Date: Mon, 19 Apr 93 09:28:31 +0300
Subject: R. Soloveitchik

     With the recent passing of Harav Soloveitchik zz"l I wanted to
give a short biographical sketch for those not familar with his career.
I am sure that in the near future someone (not artscroll) will come out
with a book on his life and works. I have also heard that a few years ago
Rabbi Rakefet (Rothkoff) gave a talk in Rehovot about R. Soloveitchik's life. 
If anyone has notes on that or other aspects I would be interested in 
receiving them.  What I write is based on various stories that I have heard 
and I cannot vouch for all of them.  Rav Soloveitchik was born on Febuary 27, 
1903 (30th shevat) in Pruzhan, Poland. His father was R. Moshe Soloveitchik 
the eldest son of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik who was famous for introducing a 
new method into the learning of Gemara. Other ancestors were R. Yosef Dov 
Soloveitchik (Beis - Halevi, after whom he was named) and R. Berlin (Netziv) 
both of whom headed the yeshiva of Voloshin at various times. Though 
they eventually split up, R. Chaim Soloveitchik married the grandaughter 
of the Netziv. R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik was also a  descendent of R. Chaim 
Volozhin. On his maternal side R. Soloveitchik's grandfather was R. Elijah 
Feinstein and hence he was cousins with both R. Moshe Feinstein and R. 
Michal Feinstein of Bnei Brak.

    In his youth R. Soloveitchik studied mainly with his father. There is
a story that as a young child he had a tutor who was a chabadnik. R.
Moshe Soloveitchik complained to his father that the young boy didn't know
any Gemara and didn't seem to have a head for studies. On a visit, R.
Chaim Soloveitchik tested his grandson and saw that indeed he understood
nothing in the Gemara. He then tested him on Tanya (the sefer of the first
Lubavitcher rebbe) and the grandson knew pages by heart. He then advised
that they change tutors. In any case R. Soloveitchik flourished and for
his bar Mitzva speech was giving original pieces of Torah.

    At the age of 22, already a known scholar, he moved to Berlin and
attended the university there first majoring in math and physics eventually
changing to philosophy and received his Ph.D. in philosophy 6 years later.
Again rumor has it, that he chose as his Ph.D. topic the Morah Nevukhim 
of Maimonides but he know more than all the professors and no one could 
judge itand so instead he wrote a thesis about Hermann Cohen.  He also 
met together with other religious boys in Berlin at the time.  His mentor 
was R. Chaim Heller and his comrades were R. Hutner (later Rosh Yeshiva 
of Chaim Berlin) and R. Sheneerson (present Lubavitcher Rebbe).
There is also a story that he was introduced to Nechama Lebowitz but could
not find her in the library because she was hidden behind a stack of books
that she was studying. He received his Ph.D. in 1931 and a year later
moved to Boston where he later helped found the Maimonides school. About
the same time his father moved to the U.S. and became the Rosh Yeshiva of
Yeshiva University. In 1940 his father passed away and a year later his son
took over as Rosh Yeshiva. He remained as Rosh Yeshiva for over 40 years.
He ordained about 2,000 students. In 1936 he came to Israel (his only
visit) to apply for the position of chief rabbi of Tel Aviv but lost
the contest to R. Amiel. It is said that at it his derasha in Tel Aviv
that Chaim Nachman Bialik was in attendance. As a youngster Bialik
had learned in Volozhin in the days of R. Soloveitchik's great-great-
grandfather, the Netziv. (It is immortalized in the poem Ha-matmid).
Bialik is reported to have been astounded at the difference between the 
two and very impressed with the Rav.  There have been numerous rumors as 
to why he never returned to Israel even though a daughter and her family 
live in Israel and his son studied in Israel and has spent many years in 
Israel. The two major reasons that I have heard was either that he felt 
that one should not visit Israel and then leave or that he felt he would 
have to visit Heichal Shlomo to see the chief rabbis but on the other hand 
his uncle (Rav Velvele) had pronounced a Herem against entering Heichal 
Shlomo.  After R. Herzog passed away R. Soloveitchik was requested to 
become chief rabbi of Israel but refused and R. Unterman was then chosen.  
Again two reasons are offered about his refusal to accept the position of 
chief rabbi either because he didn't wish to mix religion and politics 
or else because of opposition from the Israeli branch of the Soloveitchik 
family. In spite of differences of opinions the Rav was a very family 
oriented individual.

    Though his father was active in Mizrachi (and ostracized by the rest of the
family) R. Soloveitchik joined Agudah when he came to the U.S. He was
a member of the Moetzet Gedolei HaTorah of America. I have seen a picture
of him delivering the main speech at the first annual dinner for the Lakewood
Yeshiva. They claim that R. Aharon Kotler was crying and trying to stop
R. Soloveitchik because of R. Soloveitchik's praises of R. Kotler. After
the holocaust, R. Soloveitchik decided that the only future lay with 
the establishment of a state of Israel and he left Agudah and became the
spiritual head of Mizrachi (1946). In the book "chamesh derashot" are five
lectures he gave (in yiddish) to the Mizrachi on how he struggled with
the decision to back Israel knowing full well his family's position. The
book has since been translated to English (see also his Kol Dodi dofek). 
In the 50's he also became head of the Halacha committee for the 
Rabbinical Council of America (RCA).

   He continued to live in Boston and flew every week to NY for 2-3 days
to give shiurim. When I went to YU (mid 1960s) he gave 2 shiurim a day
one to the semicha students and one the the college students each one
lasting 2-3 hours. The college shiur had about 70 students packed in the
room. By the end of the 60's he gave up the college shiur and only taught
the semicha shiur. During his stay in NY he also gave a weekly shiur in Moriah 
on masekhet Berakhot which went for many years and had a steady audience. 
During the summers he was in Cape Cod where he continued giving shiurim
to those students who came out special to be with him.  He also gave 
a yahrzeit shiur (in yiddish) in honor of his father and there were 
about 2,000 people attending (For those familar with YU, the entire 
main auditorium with an overflow crowd and speakers in the Bet Medrash 
- in those days no remote TV just sound). These shiurim lasted for several
hours and combined Halakha and aggadata. The Halakha portion of many of
these shiurim have been published in two volumes "Shiurim Le-Zecher
Abba Mori". In addition to his other great talents R. Soloveitchik was
a great lecturer which is rather unusual .He also gave an annual shiur 
on Teshuva between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur for the RCA also with 
several hundred attendees. His public derashot were usually in Yiddish 
but his Gemara shiurim were in English. He explained that he was more 
comfortable in yiddish but that the highest priority was that the
students completely undertand the Gemara and not miss out on some thought
because they didn't understand the yiddish.

   He met his wife, Tonya Lewit, in Berlin were she was studying. 
She had a doctorate in eductaion from Jena University.  Rumor has it 
that when someone called the house asking for Dr. Soloveitchik she would 
answer "which one?" (can't verify the story).  His wife passed away in 1967 
and thereafter R. Soloveitchik gave a yahrzeit shiur in her honor, in English.
Many women attended these shiurim. A little later his mother passed 
away and was included in this special shiur. In the early 1980's 
R. Soloveitchik became ill and stopped giving public shiurim and his 
place as Rosh Yeshiva at YU was taken by his brother R. Aaron Soloveitchik.

   He is survived by a son Chaim Soloveitchik who has a Ph.D. from
Hebrew University in Jewish history. At times he has given shiurim and
lectures in both YU and Hebrew University. The papers say that R. Chaim 
Solveitchik is presently a rabbi in Riverdale. He is a faculty member 
(and past dean) of Revel Graduate Scool at YU. The Rav's oldest
daughter is married to Prof. Twersky in the department of Jewish History
at Harvard and the younger daughter is married to R. Aharaon Lichtenstein
Rosh Yeshiva of Har Etzion in Alon Shvut (who also has a Ph.D. in
English literature from Harvard). His daughter, Tova, was also one of
the founders of the political party, Meimad.

    R. Soloveitchik wrote only a few extended articles,  e.g. Confrontation,
Lonely Man of Faith (English), "Ish Haemuna" (Hebrew - translated into English 
as Halakhic Man) and Kol Dodi Dofek, U-bekashtem me-sham (Hebrew). In 1986 
there also appeared a book "Halakhic Mind" which he wrote in the 1940's 
but never published. However, many of his lectures and shiurim have been 
published by students and I own 15 books of his works and there are probably 
others.  Most of the works are available in both English and Hebrew.

    Rav Soloveitchik was unusual in that he was a giant in both Talmudic
learning and in Jewish Philosophy. His shiurim and his Yahrzeit shiurim in
particular were classics in terms of "Brisker Torah". On the other
nand he was one of a handful of gedolim who was comfortable in western culture 
in general and in philosophy in particular. His article "Lonely Man of Faith"
was dedicated to his wife (interestingly, the Hebrew translation left out
this dedication). There are stories of love letters that he wrote to Tonya.
This article in particular addresses the conflicts of being both a scientist
and a religious Jew and I would highly recommend it to readers of this
mailing list. I am also constantly amazed at the quality of the English that
the Rav uses in spite of the fact that he learned English relatively late
in life. As distinct from Maimonides in Moreh Nevukhim , R. Soloveitchik 
bases his philosophy on Halakha, see for example the last chapter of 
Halakhic Mind. In many ways R. Soloveitchik was the greatest person to
combine all these diverse fields since Maimonides.

   I consider myself as very fortunate in being able to have attended his
shiurim for several years. I know he made a tremendous impact on the
lives of those who attended his shiurim. I would be grateful for any
additions or correction to the above information.



From: Moshe Raab <72167.1444@...>
Date: 18 Apr 93 22:55:10 EDT
Subject: Rav's Hesped

Does anyone have access to the Hesped for the Rav given by Rav Aaron? If
so, could you publish it? [If anyone from the list went to the Hesped
and can give a summary, that would also be useful. Mod.]

Moshe Raab


End of Volume 6 Issue 98