Volume 8 Number 38

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

R' Rakeffet's Lectures on the Rav: #2
         [Jonathan Baker]
R' Rakeffet's Lectures on the Rav: #3
         [Jonathan Baker]


From: <baker@...> (Jonathan Baker)
Date: Mon, 19 Jul 93 19:18:48 -0400
Subject: R' Rakeffet's Lectures on the Rav: #2

The following is a summary of a lecture delivered by Rabbi Aaron
Rothkoff-Rakeffet at Lincoln Square Synagogue on 14 June 1993.
It is posted by permission of Rabbi Rakeffet (who said it's in
the public domain, but that I should try to quote him accurately)
It is the second of a series of six lectures by Rabbi Rakeffet

Last week we talked about Brisk and Berlin, this week we're going
to talk about Boston and New York.

Rav Moshe Soloveitchik, the Rav's father, was a strong Mizrachi- ite in
Warsaw, at a time when it was very difficult to be a Mizrachi-ite in
Europe.  So when Dov Revel asked Rav Moshe to come to New York to become
the new Rosh Yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in
1929, it was not too difficult to decide to go.

When the Rav finished his PhD at Berlin in 1932, then, he had no family
left in Poland, so he went to New York.  He taught for a while at the
Chicago Theological College, and then, by chance, a position opened up
in the Boston rabbinate, and he went there.  At that time, most
synagogues did not have regular paid rabbis; a rabbi would serve several
synagogues, and earned his living from hashgacha fees and Sisterhood
collections.  It may not have paid well, but he thought he could do

In 1937, he opened the Maimonides School, which was the first day school
in New England.  It was a huge struggle with the baalebatim in the area
to provide funds for the school, as they associated "Jewish day schools"
with the Old World, but the school has thrived for the past 56 years.

Relevant quotes from the Rav:

"In 1936, there were perhaps 2 or 3 young men, under 40, who knew of the
existence of Abbaye and Rava.  Now there are hundreds, [and in our time

"Don't bring a proof from Maimonides about mixed classes.  The times
were very different then.  You have to understand, I had no choice:
either have mixed classes, or there would have been no Maimonides."
[Thus, it's unfair to criticize Maimonides for having mixed classes.]

In 1935, the Rav applied for the Chief Rabbinate of Tel Aviv.  He didn't
get the job, mostly because he was viewed as too young.  On the boat
over to Israel, he grew a beard and mastered Modern Hebrew, because
nobody would have taken him seriously without a beard.  He was supported
by Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, the last great Rav in Vilna.  Reb Chaim
Ozer sent a letter to the Chazon Ish, who was living in Bnei Brak at
that time, urging him to support "the great, learned, Heaven-fearing
teacher, the young Rav Joseph Dov Soloveitchik."  When the works of the
Chazon Ish were published, the editors were so embarassed by this letter
supporting the Rav, (who had become a supporter of the State of Israel)
that the version of the letter in that book replaces the name "Joseph
Dov Soloveitchik" with an ellipsis.  This is an example of the
revisionism of the Right, that we have to watch out for.

The Rav had many good talmidim in Boston.  He conducted his classes
without clocks, as shiurim had been conducted in Brisk - he could teach
all night, as it says in the Haggadah "until the students came to say,
'vu darft men zogn kris-shma.'"

Why did the Rav commute for over 40 years, sometimes by car, by train or
by plane?  By 1941, he had become thoroughly Americanized.  He had
become a Boston Brahmin.  He never liked New York.  Relevant quotes:
"New York is a zoo."  "I get on the plane, the door closes, and the
crazies are left behind, in New York."

Rakeffet tells a story about how American the Rav was: He would give
shiur on Tuesdays at YU (RIETS).  One year, on Thanksgiving week, he was
to be mesader kidushin at a wedding in Boston on Tuesday, so he
scheduled the shiur for Wednesday.  At the shiur, they realized they
would need to meet the next day, Thursday, so the Rav insisted that they
meet at 9 AM.  The future Rabbi Rothkoff asked why, with some amount of
chutzpah, for questioning his Rav.  The Rav answered, "I have to be at
my sister's house at 2 PM, so I have to take an early plane."

In 1941, the Rav became Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS, in his father's place,
over much opposition to one so young.  Here he finally found his place,
as a teacher of the best and the brightest, involved in the "masa
umatan" of teaching, giving over the methods of Brisk to a new
generation in the United States.  He became the master teacher of the
generation.  In class he spoke pure Talmud, with the ever present
Mishneh Torah, occasionally responsa, but never his philosophy, or the
Moreh Nevuchim: he was the master rebbe.

In 1944, he published the essay "Ish HaHalachah", Halachic Man.  Why did
he do this at this time?  To establish himself, to tell the world who he
was, philosophically.  He wrote it in Hebrew, his "mother tongue", so to
speak, for writing.  We found out many years later that he wrote out his
shiurim in pure Hebrew, page after page, even if he was going to deliver
them in Yiddish or English.  Halachic Man shows strong influences from
Kant and from Hermann Cohen.  The essay may have been in Hebrew, but
expressed universal ideas.  In later years, his philosophic writings
became exclusively Jewish, with extensive articles on prayer,
repentance, mitzvot, etc., which reflected the interests of his
students.  But here, at the beginning of his career, he discussed
universal ideas.

There was a major difference between the talmidim of the 1950s and 60s
and the talmidim of the 70s.  Nowadays, they all wear black suits and
beards, most of whom have gone to college, but that's it for secular
education.  In the 50's, everyone had PhD's.  Back then, if you wanted
Litvishe learning, you could go to Lakewood, and learn with the great
Reb Aharon Kotler.  If you went to YU, it was to get the Rav's hashkafa.
He could only recall one student at that time who affiliated with Agudat
Yisrael; today, he's a Conservative chazzan.  By the 1970s, YU was the
*only* place to get real Torah.  Rabbi Rakeffet is jealous of the
students in the 70s: in his time, the Rav was harsh, intolerant of
imperfection in his students, he expected them all to be sharp and on
the ball all of the time.  After Tonya died, he began to understand
human weaknesses, and became much more involved with his students, even
those who were not the brightest.  All students need love and respect.

Rabbi Rakeffet tells a story: A young rabbinical student, who worked at
Lincoln Square at some point in the past, was going to meet a date, when
he met his Rebbe.  The Rav asked him why he was wearing white socks, and
told him he shouldn't be wearing white socks, it's not sufficiently
dressed up.  "Come back to my apartment, I'll give you some dark socks.
They go back, and look in the sock drawer, and there are both white and
dark socks.  The student asks why there are white socks, if the Rav
never wears them.  "Tonya always paired my socks.  Even when it was
getting hard for her to see, she wanted to pair my socks.  So I bought
some white socks, so she could pair them and not get them mixed up."

The Rav had a long relationship with the Rabbinical Council of America
(RCA), and was close with the late Rabbi Israel Klavan, the head of the
RCA.  The Rav made certain decisions that became the bedrock of Modern
Orthodoxy.  We will briefly present three of them.

1) In the 50s, the mechitza was vanishing from American synagogues, even
in Brooklyn there were synagogues with separate seating but no mechitza.
In 1954, the Rav issued a ruling that one does not fulfill the mitzvah
of hearing the Shofar in a synagogue without a mechitza.  If that's what
is available, it is preferable to daven at home.  This turned the tide,
until today all Orthodox synagogues have mechitzot.

2) In 1956, Moe Feuerstein (sp?), who was associated with the O-U in
Boston, was invited to speak at Temple Emanu-El.  He felt somewhat
uncomfortable about it, and asked both the Rav and Rav Aharon Kotler
(who was his father's rebbe).  Before the RCA could rule about it, a
group of 11 roshei yeshiva led by Rav Kotler issued a proclamation
reaffirming Samson Raphael Hirsch's "Austricht": that one should not sit
with Reform and Conservative Jews.  Rav Soloveitchik refused to sign.
Normally, rabbinic silence indicates consent, but not here.  His silence
indicated his rejection of their position.  His position was, that on
Halachic matters (klapei peninim) we cannot work together with them, as
they reject Halacha ab initio.  But on political issues (klapei chutz),
we must cooperate, to show the unity of Israel, of the Jewish people.
This position is NOT reflected in the Jewish Observer, or Artscroll
publications, or other Agudat Israel-influenced things.

This position is in accord with the Rav's great-great-great-
grandfather, the Netziv (Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin), who had written
120 years before in Teshuvah 44 in his Mashiv Davar that we cannot
divide Jewry due to Reform.  We must instead reach out and educate the
other Jews.  This is exactly the ideal of NCSY (National Conference of
Synagogue Youth, the O-U's youth arm).

3) In the mid-60s, the Pope tried to get a big ecumenical conference
together between Christians and Jews, to try to reconcile their
differences.  Most American rabbis were raring to go, even most Orthodox
rabbis.  The Rav held firmly that there must be no dialogue with
Christians.  This ended the Orthodox participation in the conference: a
short article, "Confrontation," in Tradition magazine, which argued that
since the belief systems are totally incompatible, there can be no real

The Rav's public lectures in Yiddish were to cry for, pure, beautiful
and deep.  But in 1960, Danny Greer came to him and told him that he was
withholding his teaching from a large group of possible talmidim.  When
the Rav asked what he meant, Greer told him, people like himself.  He
had gone to Harvard, was intelligent, but didn't understand Yiddish.  So
the Rav told him to come to his next lecture, which would be in English,
and there would be a quiz afterwards.  The Rav delivered the lecture in
clear English, for two hours.  Greer went to him at the end and asked
for the quiz.  The Rav said, "Don't worry about it, I'm too tired to
give it to you."

Then there was something about why we say Adon Olam both at the
beginning and end of the service: because we know that we haven't really
davened properly, so we should begin again, so we say Adon Olam again.


From: <baker@...> (Jonathan Baker)
Date: Mon, 19 Jul 93 19:18:51 -0400
Subject: R' Rakeffet's Lectures on the Rav: #3

The following is a summary of a lecture delivered by Rabbi Aaron
Rothkoff-Rakeffet at Lincoln Square Synagogue on 21 June 1993.
It is posted by permission of Rabbi Rakeffet (who said it's in
the public domain, but that I should try to quote him accurately)
It is the third of a series of six lectures by Rabbi Rakeffet

The Rav and the State of Israel

In the 1920's, contrary to their claims, Agudat Israel did not exist in
the United States.  America was viewed as a place to go to lose one's
Yiddishkeit.  If you went to America, it was 100:1 that you would not
stay religious.  By the late 30's, European refugees brought Agudat
Israel to the U.S.  It originated in Europe in 1919, claiming that "Any
Zionist cannot be a good Jew, and cannot join Agudat Israel."  The idea
was that by gathering Jews together in conventions and retreats, their
faith could be strengthened in the face of modernity.

Initially, it had few members, but when they convinced the Gerer Rebbe
to join, all his Hasidim followed, giving the movement great strength.
Rabbi Silver brought the movement to America in 1937.  The Rav then
became active in it, because Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, the rav of
Vilna, had told him to establish Agudat Israel in America.

In 1940, Rav Soloveitchik gave a hesped for Reb Chaim Ozer, which was a
gem of Agudah ideology.  He stated that rabbis must rule the Jews both
spiritually and temporally.  He showed this via the Choshen, one of the
garments of the High Priest.  This was the breastplate which held the
Urim and Tumim, the gems which would light up showing how the Kohen
Gadol should rule in political and criminal matters.  Just as the Kohen
Gadol was in charge of the religious life of Israel, so he was in charge
of the political life of Israel.

During that period, the Zionists were organizing huge anti-Hitler
rallies and protests.  The rabbis of Agudat Israel forbade people from
participating in these rallies, for fear that such noise would only
serve to enrage Hitler, and encourage him to kill more Jews.  This
hesped was Rav Soloveitchik in support of this pure Agudat Israel

Why did the Rav support Agudah if his father was Mizrachi?  In part, it
was youthful rebellion, as the Rav confessed in 1955.  Rakeffet's theory
is somewhat different: Agudah in Berlin was the organization for young
Jewish intellectuals, where the Neo- Orthodox were fully integrated into
German society.  So it was the only real social group the Rav could

In 1946, the Rav became the honorary president of Mizrachi.  Why the
switch?  The Rav gave a drasha in the 1950's which has since become the
foundation of Rakeffet's philosophy.  This was the only drasha ever
refuted by Rav Shach, in the 3rd volume of his collected works.

The drasha was on the theme of Joseph and his brothers.  It was
published in Hebrew in "Chamesh Drashot", and in English as "The Rav
Speaks."  What was the nature of the conflict between Joseph and his
brothers?  They all knew they would have to go to Egypt eventually, as
had been foretold to Abraham.  Joseph wanted to prepare against that
eventuality, but his brothers did not, thinking themselves safe in
Canaan, the land of their fathers, with plenty of good grazing for the
flocks, etc.  As the events turned out, Joseph went down to Egypt and
prepared the way for his brothers to come down, working his way into the
government, preparing a place for them to live and thrive when they
could no longer live in Canaan.

This is exactly the argument between Mizrachi and Agudah: Agudat Israel
was content with Vilna and the other European centers of Torah.  But if
Mizrachi had not prepared the way, built up the Land and State of
Israel, there would not have been anyplace for the refugees from Hitler
to go.  The Shoah would have killed Judaism.

But the Rav goes further than this.  He spoke of the Tanur shel Achnai
story, where Rabbi Eliezer keeps trying to bring Divine proof of his
position, but the Sages say that "The Torah is not in Heaven."  The
result of this event was that Eliyahu met God and asked Him what He had
thought at that time.  God laughed and said "My children have defeated
me, my children have defeated me."

This story always brought tears to the Rav as a child.  This idea, that
the Torah is not in heaven, is beautiful, and is true with respect to
Halacha.  But in Hashkafa, there are no rules, no logic, only the
attempt to divine what God really wants.  The only way to find out what
God wants is in hindsight: after something happens, only then can you
know what God intended.  This is how we see Divine Providence and its
workings, and by seeing this, we know what God wanted.  Divine
Providence showed that Joseph was right, that they had to prepare.  Thus
he sees that Mizrachi's ideas must be right, because if there had been
no chalutzim, no yishuv (religious settlement in Jerusalem), there would
have been no place for the survivors to go.  This is why the Rav became
a Mizrachi-ite.

The Rav gave a speech to the YU Alumni in 1956 on Yom Ha'Atzma'ut which
has become his most widely read paper.  It is required reading in the
Israeli religious public schools.  We are speaking, of course, of "Kol
Dodi Dofek", (The voice of my beloved is knocking).  Perhaps you know
the story from Shir Hashirim.  The boy comes and knocks at his
girlfriend's house, and wakes her up.  She says that she's asleep, could
he come back later?  She finally goes to see him, and he's gone, and she
spends the rest of her life looking for him, and never finds him.  It is
a story of opportunity knocking, and it only knocks once, and then it's

This speech is the most messianic the Rav ever got.  He writes of six
"knocks" which we must listen to and learn from, in relation to the
State of Israel, essentially six miracles:

1) Political: The issue of recognizing the State of Israel was the only
time the United States and the Soviet Union ever agreed on anything in
the United Nations.  In fact, countries were racing to see which would
be first to recognize Israel.

2) War: Israel's weak, ragtag, amateur army defeated the professional
armed forces of SIX Arab nations, just like in the Chanukah story.

3) Theological: The Catholics used to teach in their schools that the
Jews forfeited their right to Israel by denying Jesus.  Our taking
Israel back has proved that wrong.

4) Sociological: Israel's existence has saved millions of Jews from
assimilation.  Among Reform and Conservative Jews, the State of Israel
gives them an identity which they did not feel from the religious
aspects of Judaism.  The Six Day War saved 3-1/2 million Jews from
assimilation, Soviet Jews.  This war was the first war ever televised in
Russia.  Seeing the Israelis hold their own and defeat the Arabs gave
the Russian Jews an identity.  Ask any of the refuseniks or emigres.

5) Attitudes: We stopped turning the other cheek whenever somebody
attacks Jews.  Now Jews have a state, which will speak up and perhaps
retaliate when Jews are attacked.  Jewish blood is no longer valueless.

6) Inclusion: The first act of the State of Israel after declaring
independence was to abolish the White Paper (which restricted Jewish
immigration to Israel under the British), and establish the right of
return, that any Jew anywhere could become a citizen: "Israel absorbs us
like a mother taking her children into her bosom."

On 5 Sept 1972, an interview was published in the newspaper Ma'ariv with
the Rav.  He told the interviewer: during World War I, in Minsk, a
student asked Reb Chaim Brisker whether, with all the Jews dying it
would indicate the coming of the Moshiach?  Reb Chaim said emphatically
No!  The student asked why not?  Reb Chaim said that we should not try
to justify the deaths of Jews.  Better there should be no Moshiach and
that Jews should live.  The Rav extrapolated from this that we should
not sacrifice Jewish lives for Israel, since living in Israel is not a
yehareg- ve'al-ya'avor (die rather than violate) mitzvah.

We see a Hegelian dialectic in the Rav's hashkafah here.  Rav Kook and
the Gush Emunim took a pure thesis position, he was a lechatchila (ab
initio) Zionist.  Jews should live in Israel in a Jewish state.  The
Rav, on the other hand, had as his thesis the Agudah position.  The
antithesis was the Holocaust.  The synthesis was that one should support
Israel, but that one should also save Jewish lives.

Oddly enough, the Soloveitchiks in the United States are staunch
Zionists, but those who went directly to Israel from Poland are
virtually Neturei Karta.  At one point, someone told him his
granddaughter (by Rav Aaron and Tovah Lichtenstein) whom he had never
seen, looked just like his late wife.  The Rav cried at that, and
resolved to go visit Israel.  The RCA looked into the possibility and
ramifications, with all the speeches he would have had to give at
various institutions.  They found that if the Rav went to Israel, his
own relatives would have been compelled to demonstrate against him.  He
decided not to go, rather than cause a machloket (dispute) within his
own family.

In closing, the Rav said something very interesting about Shir Hamaalot.
How do we interpret the second and third verses, Az yomru bagoyim,
Higdil H' laasot im eleh, Higdil H' laasot imanu hayinu smechim.  (Then
they said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things with
these."  The Lord has done great things with us, and we are made happy.)
What is this repetition about?  Think about it.  Add a little
punctuation.  Before Israel, the goyim would say Higdil H' laasot im
eleh?  Is God magnified by working with these lowly Jews?  Now we can
say to them, Higdil H' laasot imanu, hayinu smechim!  God is magnified
by working with us, and we are happy!


End of Volume 8 Issue 38