Explaining the Rav’s Worldview

by Aaron Howard

Among Modern Orthodox thinkers, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (the Rav) stands as one of the gedolei Torah (giants of Torah). He’s modern, in the sense that his philosophy is centered on man’s relationship with G-d. The Rav described Judaism as being “theo-centric but anthropo-oriented”; that is, G-d still is at the center of Jewish thought but, instead of dwelling on G-d’s attributes, the Rav saw man’s relationship with G-d as key. The Rav is Orthodox because his philosophy is Halakho-centric; not through philosophy or Kabbalah, but through the study and practice of Halakha does one best connect to G-d.

In his youth, the Rav studied Halakha for some 12 years. He used the Brisker method. This method “identifies two approaches to an issue, both of which are necessary to understand an issue in its entirety.” The Brisker method of study gave rise to a central component of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s mature thought – the dialectic. The dialectic is the subject of the essay, “Majesty and Humility.” It’s also the name of a new book of the Rav’s philosophy, by Rabbi Reuven Ziegler (Urim Publications/OU Press). Rabbi Ziegler is director of research and archives of the Toras HoRav Foundation, which exists to disseminate Rabbi Soloveitchik’s philosophy.

Majesty and Humility refers to characteristics of G-d and man. Just as G-d displays both majesty and humility, those who walk in G-d’s ways also display the traits of majesty and humility. Majesty refers to G-d in His infinite vastness and distance (especially in times of joy and elation). Humility refers to G-d in His nearness and relatedness (especially in times of crisis and suffering).
Continue reading “Explaining the Rav’s Worldview”

A Perfect Match

by Batya L. Ludman

While Noah took the animals in two by two and Tevye’s daughters knew the importance of finding a match, my heart goes out to the 20- and 30-somethings who want to be partnered but aren’t. The world tends to be paired; couples are described as happier and society often penalizes single people.

Being single by choice is one thing, but many would choose otherwise and it is they, or their parents, who present in my office for consultation.

Finding just the right person isn’t easy, as our high divorce statistics attest, but the problem is often twofold: finding a date and accepting a mate. While being physically in the right place at the right time is essential, women are often emotionally ready to settle down while men of similar age are students, still in the army or doing a post-army trek.

Hence, while women’s biological clock is ticking away, men are often not interested in a serious relationship.

To compound matters further, Continue reading “A Perfect Match”

Author Returns to Scandinavia to Tell of WWII Heroism and Jewish Rebirth

by Dovid Zaklikowski

A Scandinavian expatriate who witnessed the destruction of Europe from the relative safety of Stockholm returns to the city of her youth in a new book exploring the country’s history during World War II and in its aftermath.

In It Was Evening, It Was Morning, recently released by Devorah Publishing, Chana Sharfstein describes the vivid memories of meeting Holocaust survivors. From their home in the Swedish capital, Sharfstein’s father, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Zuber ministered to and cared for the throngs of Jewish refugees who entered the country following the close of World War II and found refuge in its many Displaced Persons camps.

The book tells the story of Sharfstein’s search to find those whose self-sacrifice saved many, as well as her own impressions on the rebirth of Judaism in Scandinavia, fueled in large part by Chabad-Lubavitch centers sprouting up throughout the region.

Sharfstein’s earliest memories include those of her father studying scholarly Jewish texts and of the many Jewish books in their home.

“My father possessed an extensive collection of Judaica,” she writes. He “treasured them, because Continue reading “Author Returns to Scandinavia to Tell of WWII Heroism and Jewish Rebirth”

Review of Majesty and Humility: The Thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik

OU Press takes special pride in playing a major role in the growing body of literature by and about Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchick, the Rav, and is pleased to present three new important publications.

In Majesty and Humility: The Thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rabbi Reuven Ziegler, director of research and archives at the Toras HoRav Foundation, takes on the daunting challenge of surveying the Rav’s thought and presenting his teachings and worldview in a clear and organized fashion. Writing in comprehensible language, Rabbi Ziegler takes the reader through the major tenets of the Rav’s thought and his significant writings and integrates the Rav’s life with his thought. Suitable for both the experienced student of the Rav and one looking for an introduction to his approach, Majesty and Humility offers the perfect introduction to the extensive corpus of the Rav’s works and philosophy.

The original review appeared in the Jewish Action.

A Review of The Biblical Outlook: Topics in Jewish Philosophy

by Shlomo Skinner

With Shavuot just around the corner, it seems like an appropriate time to review The Biblical Outlook – Topics in Jewish Philosophy by Rabbi Shlomo Polachek.

Rabbi Polachek’s goal is to explain Jewish philosophy untainted by non-Jewish sources.

He begins his book by writing (page 10):

“The aim of this book is to present the philosophy of Judaism. The reason for writing it is the search for a philosophy based on clear and unequivocal Jewish sources. These sources are the Biblical books along with the halachic midrashim – the exegesis of the text relating to Jewish practice as set by the sages.”

On page 14 he continues:

“The topics chosen were among the most important ones in Jewish philosophy: understanding God and His ways, and His expectations of human beings. The first chapters focus on God, the way He relates to the world and the way He is revealed to people. Afterwards we describe God’s demands of people. The last chapters discuss various aspects of the way God relates to people.”

What is Philosophy? Continue reading “A Review of The Biblical Outlook: Topics in Jewish Philosophy

The Strange Shidduch Process

The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Curesby Israel Drazin

Although there is nothing in the Bible, Talmud, and Jewish law codes that suggest that Jewish marriages should be arranged by a shadchan, a matchmaker, and in fact these documents encourage men and women to become thoroughly acquainted before marriages, many Orthodox Jewish families have recently begun to rely on shadchanim (plural of shadchan) to initiate their marriages.

Dr. Michael J. Salamon, a noted Jewish psychologist details in this important book how the shadchan practice is not based on the compatibility of the couple but on naïve, superficial, and frequently bizarre criteria that have no relevance to what truly makes a marriage successful. He proves his point by citing fascinating and informative psychological, sociological, and neurological data as well as dozens of case histories that show that a continuance of this practice is a crisis that is destroying husbands and wives and their children. He shows that many of these arranged marriages end up in unsatisfied lives, divorce, and domestic violence. He discusses the adverse affects that the process has on pre-teen youngsters who begin to prepare for the shidduch as early as ages ten and eleven, including their use of medications for weight loss and for anxiety and depression. He tells how the process has resulted in many Orthodox people leaving the fold. He cites distinguished Jewish sources that oppose the shadchan process.   Continue reading “The Strange Shidduch Process”

Abuse Among the Orthodox: Bad News, Good News

by Yoel Finkleman

First, the bad news: Sexual, physical, and emotional abuse occurs in Orthodox Jewish communities.

Next, the worse news: Though there is no evidence that such abuse occurs more frequently among the Orthodox than in other populations, two recent front-page New York Times stories are just the latest piece of evidence that Orthodox communities are often in denial and worse.  As publicized on the muckraking website FailedMessiah.com, rabbis and communal leaders, instead of supporting victims and punishing abusers, often seek to save the community from embarrassment and, in doing so, protect the perpetrators.  If children complain of being abused, their parents may silence them.  Some community leaders deny that the problem is significant.  Educators charged with children’s safety discourage victims from speaking up or pressing charges.  If victims and families do complain, their neighbors, claiming a religious prohibition on giving Jews up to secular authorities, harass them to prevent their going to the police.  Indeed, the official policy of the Haredi organization Agudath Israel of America is that school teachers or administrators who suspect abuse must ask a rabbi before going to secular authorities, despite New York State laws that prohibit them from doing so.

In the Modern Orthodox community, things are presumably better.  But Continue reading “Abuse Among the Orthodox: Bad News, Good News”

Meet Rabbi Shlomo Polachek, Author of The Biblical Outlook: Topics in Jewish Philosophy

Thursday evening, 24 Sivan,     June 14, 2012  at 7:30 P.M.

Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation in Baltimore

6602 Park Heights Avenue

The Biblical Outlook is based on a unique approach to understanding Jewish thought.  In The Biblical Outlook, readers will find interpretation of basic Jewish concepts based on:

  • clear and unequivocal Jewish sources
    • the text of the Bible alone –supplemented with Halachic exegesis from the Oral Law
    •  unlike many philosophical works, it avoids the influence of external sources

Aspects of Revelation

What is revelation? How do we encounter revelation? What are its purposes?   In this lecture, Rabbi Polachek will describe the types of revelation experiences, purposes of revelation and covenants.

Predicting the Future

The Biblical Outlook  presents a unique approach to which aspects of the future are predicted and factors influencing such predictions.

The End of Days

The Biblical Outlook presents an understanding of the process leading up to the End of Days, as well as a description of the period itself.

The Biblical Outlook  is available from Urim Publications as well as from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

About the author

Rabbi Shlomo Polachek is a graduate of Yeshiva University’s RIETS rabbinical seminary.  After aliyah to Israel, he served as a chaplain in the Israeli army reserves. He lives in Rehovot. Contact: polachek@012.net.il 212-721-7554 (New York)  443-352-3004 (Baltimore)  +972-8-936-4801 (Israel)

Beauty, Passover, and the Shidduch Scene

by Dr. Michael Salamon

The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and CuresThere is no doubt that caring for one’s appearance is important. Self-care encompasses eating well, getting a good amount of exercise and proper grooming. In fact, if someone does not take proper care of their physical needs that is often a sign of a significant depression. Not putting oneself in order is a clear indication of a problem with mood and that is a fact that no one disputes. But, there are a variety of cultural norms and expectations as well as religious doctrine that dictates what is considered proper grooming. There are also certain times of year when expectations for grooming are significantly altered.

In a prior article I stated “We (as parents) created (the shidduch crisis in part) by telling our children that they cannot make wise decisions and that they are not smart enough to handle themselves socially.” I think my original statement should be expanded to say that the crisis was created in large measure because many of us believe that not only our children are not smart enough to make decisions but we too must rely on others to make decisions for us even though they know little about us our aspirations or our lives.

In a perversion of keeping up with the Jones’s we are trying to keep up with the Goldberg’s not just in terms of house renovations or where we travel to for Pesach but also in terms of false external religious practice and appearance. If a neighbor decides that she can only wear a burkini, a full cover up swimming garment similar to a burka, to the hotel pool, despite the fact that there is no mixed swimming, then suddenly your wives and daughters have to wear a burkini as well. If another neighbor decides that the minimum amount for a Continue reading “Beauty, Passover, and the Shidduch Scene”

Majesty and Humility: The Thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by Yoel Finkelman

Anyone who has attempted to offer an introductory course in Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s philosophical writings knows just how rewarding, but also frustrating, an experience it can be. Anyone who has brought a passage from the Rav’s writings into class to make a point or raise a particular perspective, appreciates how difficult his texts are. The Rav’s philosophy has become part of the nikhsei tzon barzel of any Modern Orthodox philosophical and theological education. Modern Orthodox people can gain enormously from the depth and honesty of his religious writings. Yet, even the most intelligent and dedicated young people, and often teachers and educators as well, struggle with Rabbi Soloveitchik’s philosophical vocabulary and difficult prose. Sometimes, in teaching these texts, I get the impression that my students understand what I am saying, but they do not understand how I saw that in the texts we have read.

Based on a series of classes he prepared for Yeshivat Har Etzion’s Virtual Beit Midrash, Rabbi Reuven Ziegler’s Majesty and Humility: The Thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, offers a fine reader’s companion to Rabbi Soloveitchik’s writings. In part a summary of the major essays and books, in part a gloss and commentary, Ziegler reviews almost all of the Rav’s major philosophical essays, summarizing, providing background, defining terms, explaining the links between ideas, and contextualizing. Ziegler also offers suggestions for further reading, mostly of secondary sources, at the end of each chapter. Ziegler is uniquely qualified for this task. As the Director of Research and Archives of the Toras HaRav Foundation, he played a key role in almost all of the posthumous publication of the Rav’s writings.

Zeigler subtly manages to show thematic connections between various connected essays, such as “Majesty and Humility” and Lonely Man of Faith, without reducing one essay to the other. Similarly, he points to the way in which the theme of the autonomy of faith and religion appears in some very different essays, suggesting that Torah does not need to answer or justify itself before any particular discipline. Ziegler also identifies similarities between the various typological characters, who appear constantly in the Rav’s writings, without equating these characters to one another. For example, he points to the Rav’s celebration of the worldliness of Adam the First in Lonely Man and a similar worldliness within Continue reading Majesty and Humility: The Thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik