Volume 7 Number 56

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

The Jerusalem Yom Iyun in memory of the Rav
         [Warren Burstein]
Yom Iyun for R. Soloveitchik
         [Eli Turkel]


From: <warren@...> (Warren Burstein)
Date: Fri, 21 May 93 12:59:52 -0400
Subject: The Jerusalem Yom Iyun in memory of the Rav

I want to thank Anthony Waller and mail-jewish for letting me know about
the Yom Iyun in Jerusalem.

I did not take notes, but I something I heard at the Yom Iyun reminded
me of the article by Harold Gellis in v7n46 about Julius Berman's
hesped, which mentioned the Rav's reaction to Haolam Hazeh's
misreporting (or perhaps simple fabrication) of his response to the
commission of inquiry into Sabra and Shatila.

Rabbi Louis Bernstein said that the Rav instructed him to call the
leaders of the National Religious Party in Israel, and to tell them that
if they did not support an investigation into the incident, that he (the
Rav) would resign as head of Mizrachi.

I think that previous articles which have already expired on my system
mentioned the Rav's running for Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv in the 1930's.
Rabbi Bernstein said that two reasons for the Rav's failure to get the
job were his association at the time with Aguda, and a conflict with a
noted Sefaradi Chacham (whose name I did not record), but R. Bernstein
came up with a variety of conflicting versions of the Rav's conflict
with the Chacham.


From: <turkel@...> (Eli Turkel)
Date: Sun, 23 May 93 12:19:47 +0300
Subject: Yom Iyun for R. Soloveitchik

     This past thursday (May 20) there was a Yom Iyun for R.
Soloveitchik held at Heichal Shlomo in Jerusalem. organized by the RCA.
I will attempt to summarize the talks.  There were 4 talks: the first 2
were personal while after supper there was a talk by R. Rabinowitz on
the Rav's Torah and by R. Lichtenstein on the Rav's philosophy. My
personal comments are in brackets.  They also announced that several
Young Israel rabbis in Israel are travelling to Volozhin and they will
hold another Yom Iyun in the hall of the old Volozhin Yeshiva which has
recently been returned by the government to the jewish community.

1.   Rabbi Eliezer Bernstein

      I am leaving out some of the haredi bashing. In 1935 was the Rav's
only trip to israel for the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv. One reason he lost
was that he was opposed by his great-uncle R. Meir Berlin (Bar Ilan)
because the Rav was an Agudist [I heard that R. Meir berlin supported
the Rav's application]. During that visit the Rav met with R. Kook
shortly before R. Kook's passing. Later the Rav moved to Mizrachi and
was offered the position of presidency of the world Mizrachi
organization.  He turned it down partially on the advice of his mentor
R. Hayim Heller.  Bernard Bergmann became president instead ! In 1948
Mizrachi was offered the opportunity to bring 18,000 Jews to israel on
condition that 900 Polish gentiles also come. Then Agudah opposed the
move while the Rav backed the Mizrachi stance of doing it. The Rav
joined Mizrachi because he opposed the imposition of religious
legislation which he felt only created more hatred. He only favored laws
stressing education. [I suspect some of this is anachronistic]. The Rav
also opposed Agudah on participation in organizations with non-orthodox
groups. The Rav felt that Jewish unity towards the gentile world was of
great importance. All this on condition that the questions of Jewish
faith are discussed with these organizations. He met with Ben Gurion and
Begin. Under pressure he met with some cardinal. He had three questions
for the cardinal. Would the vatican recognize Israel - yes. Would the
vatican recognize Jerusalem as the capital - a hesitant yes. Would the
vatican agree to the rebuilding of the Temple -no and the discussion
ended. The Rav did not accept the position of chief rabbi of Israel
because he felt the position was to politicized.  The Rav was a
rationalist and opposed Messianism. He felt that the western wall (kotel
ha-maravi) was not worth a single jewish soul.

    The Rav personally called Hammer and Burg (of the Israel Mizrachi
party) to say that he would resign from the party if they voted against
the enquiry into the events in sabra and Shatilla.

2.  R.Moshe Gorelik

       The Rav was intellectually honest and never repeated a shiur.  He
once gave a 2 hour shiur on a Milchamot (Ramban) which all the best boys
in the shiur thought was particularly brilliant. The next day in shiur
the Rav was very upset because none of the students had found the flaw
in the shiur. The Rav himself stayed up to 2am revising his logic and
proceeded with a whole new shiur on the Ramban. The Rav insisted that in
his school, Maimonides, that there be an equal education for both boys
and girls.  The Rav gave the first talmud shiur in Stern to inaugurate
their program in Talmud. The were several boys who volunteered to help
the Rav during his stays in YU from Boston. The Rav once had an argument
with them who would take out the garbage. The boys insisted it was not
right for the Rosh yeshiva to take out garbage was the Rav insisted it
was his job. They finally compromized and each one held one side of the
garbage bag to bring it out. Once the Rav went to a hospital to check
out the kitchen. afterwards he insisted on visiting every patient in the
hospital both Jewish and non-Jewish. Though he encouraged secular
studies in YU he stressed the primacy of learning Torah. He once spent
shabbat in NY at a local host.  The host showed off the paintings on his
wall to the Rav and afterwards said that the Rav probably couldn't
understand the significance of these paintings. The Rav countered that
in fact the host did not really appreciate the paintings and proceeded
with a discouse of the history of art.  He opposed "modern orthodoxy"
because they were not committed enough to Torah learning.  The Rav said
there are 3 levels of Jews. 1. Those with a jewish identity 2. those
that observe mitzvot 3. those that learn Torah.

3. R. Rabinowitz (Rosh Yeshiva in Maale Adumim)

    Though not a student of the Rav he will give an example of the Rav's

a. In Berachot 57 there is a discussion of how many people are needed
for a minyan. Rav Huna says 9 and the Torak Ark (Aron haKodesh). The
Gemara objects that the ark is not a person. The question is to explain
the disagreement. The Baal Shem Tov explains that every person is like a
Torah.  Hence with the ark we have 9 Torahs and their ark which gives a
total of 10.  The Gemara objects because each person needs to be a
Mentsch (?) in addition to being a sefer Torah and so the ark doesn't
qualify. The Rav had a different explanation. He felt that 10 people for
a minyan have no significance by themselves. What 10 accomplishes is
that they become a representative for all of Israel. Rav Huna felt that
this connection is through the Torah and so the ark can be used as one
of the 10. The gemara objects that we still need 10 people to represent
the community and the ark doesn't help.  The Rav many times talked about
the connection between the individual and the whole.

b. Kibbud Shabbat: The Rambam says that in preparing for shabbat one
washed oneself, wrapped in tzizit, waiting, and with the proper attitude
(koved rosh).  The Rav points out that similar laws are given about
prayers. Praying means being in fron of G-d and hence the essence of
Shabbat is that one is in G-d's presence. The Rambam says that that
there is kiddush and havdallah on Yom Tov because they are also called
shabbat. The Rav explained that shabbat has two laws. One is that they
are holy by themselves and second that the Jews instill holiness in
shabbat through kiddush and havdala.  Yom Tov is holy only through the
Jews and so is connected with shabbat only through the second
characterization of shabbat. In Musaf prayers we use the phrase Az
Misinai (we were commanded in Sinai). But shabbat was given to the Jews
before Sinai in Marah ? The Rav answers that only the first law of
shabbat that it comes by itself each 7th day comes from marah but the
second characterization which makes it like Yom Tov comes from Sinai.

c. Alter - The Rambam says that the dimensions of the alter are exact
and that we needed 3 prophets to tell us the size, the place and its use
without a Temple. However, later in the same chapter the Rambam says
that the size of the alter is not important (me-achev). The Rav answers
that there are 2 laws in the alter. As an alter by itself the size is of
less importance (le-chatchila). However, the alter is also part of the
Temple and in this capacity it needs to be exact. If it is the wrong
size then it affects everything else in the Temple. The completeness of
the Temple is more than the sum of its parts. So too there exists the
individual, the community and all of Israel (klal yisroel). One needs to
be complete within one self and also to be part of the larger whole.

4. R. Aharon Lichtenstein (Rosh Yeshiva in Alon Shvut, son-in-law of the
   Rav and one of his main students).

   R. Lichtenstein gave a sweeping overview of the Rav's philosophy. The
lecture overwhelmed many in the audience and I will do my best. It
lasted about an hour and a quarter. I got the impression that he could
have easily expanded it to a year long course.

   R. Lichtenstein pointed out that the Rav never had a system of
philosophy and he (R. Aharon) was doubtful that one existed. the Rav was
best with particular facets rather than trying to coordinate and
integrate. His early interests were in neo-Kantism and the philosophy of
science. He is most famous for his later works which stress human
concerns and man as a spiritual being. Ish ha-halakhah, u-bekashtem
misham and Halakhic Mind were written in the early 1940's in the
transition period and contain elements of both approachs (though the
later 2 were published only many years later). The later works were
strictly humanistic. The Rav's philosophy is not a strict philosophy but
rather a combination of philosophy, derush and mussar.  Though he
disagrred with the mussar movement (based on the tradition of Volozhin)
he agreed that an unexamined life was not worth living. He was mainly
concerned with universal concerns and was in the Rambam's camp against
Yehuda ha-levi.

     The Rav's main goal was the harnessing of halakhah for hashkafa.
He sought to explore how Judaism, through Halakhah, reflects on the human
condition, maximizes our potential and challenges us with regard to
ourselves, the community, the world and G-d. He assumed as a taken that
Halakhah enables us to deal with the world. (This is connected with the
known arguments about reasons for mitzvot - taamaei hamitzvot). The rav
completely rejected any rationalization of mitzvot in terms of immediate
help, i.e. comfort, peace of mind, psycholgy, health etc. On the
contrary Halakhah creates difficulties and crises but in an ultimate
sense it is for our good on this earth (tov lach). When he met with Ben
Gurion they did not discuss politics but instead the Rav explained this
to Ben Gurion. Lebowitz feels that Halakhah is merely mechanical and has
no inner meaning. The Rav opposed this.

     The Rav dealt at length on the relationship between the individual
and the community and Knesset Israel. However the quintessimal concern
is with the individual. Top priority is one's own growth however
recognizing the dangers of egocentrism and the importance of Hessed [R.
Kook stressed the community over the individual]. Compared with R. Kook
the Rav's philosophy was more a-historical. Kol Dodi Dofek is not a
personal piece. The covenental community began with Abraham's meeting
with G-d. Interpreting the world can be viewed and integrated on a
religious basis. The Rav did not stress the argument from design. One
sees a design in the world because one believes in G-d and not
vice-versa. Rather the world is an order waiting to be imprinted by
Halakhah. Through Halakhah a new world awaits us. The creative
entreprise is crucial both in science and in learning. At the time of
Sputnik some Jews objected to studying and going to outer space. The Rav
thought the objections were ridiculous.  He abhored superficiality in
any part of life. The world is waiting to be formed. Kodesh and Chol
refer to continuity. This similar to much in R. Kook however the Rav was
not a mystic.

    The Rav appreciated the dynamics of the process, per se. There is a
midrash he quoted about a group that was drawing water with a leaky
bucket. Someone objected that it was a waste of time. A wise man
countered that in the meantime we have cleaned the bucket. ---- Halakhah
is demanding and can lead to conflicts. However, its very limiting us
can be liberating and energizing.  He stressed the importance of
learning Torah for its own sake without applications but at the same
time recognized the importance of the fruit.  This conflict already
appears in Ish ha-halchah. Halakhah should not be rationalized. There is
no answer to the question of good and evil instead we should just learn
how to react to catastrophes through halakhic norms.

     Later in life there was a counterbalance to this triumphic
approach.  Possibly due to his surgery for cancer in 1959. Now the
Lonely man of Faith is mighty but humble, there is value even in
failure. Moshe Rabbenu erected and took apart the tabernacle (mishkan)
every day during its dedication.  Why? To teach us that even the
tabernacle is transient. However with each taking apart there was to be
more creativity tomorrow. The Rav never lost his admiration for
creativity. U-bekashtem Misham (originally called godly man - Ish
ha-elokim) stresses more the yearning of man rather than the strict law
of Ish ha-halakhah. The Lonely man of Faith (published by Doubleday) was
meant for a more general audience.

     Mitzvot were given by G-d to purify man. However, once the Torah
was given the motzvot have importance by themselves and not in how they
contribute to the world. Why do we blow shofar on Rosh Hashana? Because
the Torah says so !! If so why do many people give reasons? The Rav
answers that these reasons describe some ultimate goal but our
observance is not dependent on these ultimate goals. There is no such
thing as an irrelevant topic in the Gemara.

     The Rav's brother (Samuel) once commented that sometimes the Rav
spoke of the greatness of the Vilna gaon and sometimes of the greatness
of the ordinary Jew. Indeed this conflict existed within the Rav. The
Rav took pains to stress that within the soul of the cold Litvak lay a
vibrant man.  The ordinary Jew reacts emotionally rather than
intellectually. There are differences between an Gadol and an ordinary
jew but ultimately they are similar. The ordinary Jew cannot become the
Ish-halakhah. If he takes it too personal than it can be
counterproductive as it is unreachable for most people. Instead it
should remain as a vision as as a source of inspiration.  The Rav was
always a seeker in torah to create and to implement.

Eli Turkel


End of Volume 7 Issue 56