Scholarly Man of Faith – review

Yaakov (Jack) Bieler ● Jewish Book Council

This col­lec­tion of aca­d­e­m­ic papers on the teach­ings of Rab­bi Joseph P. Soloveitchik devel­oped from a joint con­fer­ence that took place in 2012 at Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty in New York and Bar Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty in Tel Aviv. (A com­pan­ion vol­ume of Hebrew-lan­guage papers from the con­fer­ence is forth­com­ing.) Reflect­ing the Torah U’madda (Tora­hand sec­u­lar knowl­edge) poly­math that R. Soloveitchik him­self embod­ied, the papers rep­re­sent many dis­ci­plines, all viewed from both a Jew­ish and sec­u­lar per­spec­tive, includ­ing phi­los­o­phy, hermeneu­tics, his­to­ry, and literature.

In a wide-rang­ing essay, Dr. David Shatz notes that while it is com­mon­ly believed that R. Soloveitchik pub­lished rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle dur­ing his life­time, this view is erro­neous; in fact, the Toras HoRav Foun­da­tion has been sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly issu­ing vol­umes of R. Soloveitchik’s talks, devel­oped from audio tapes and man­u­scripts, that have enabled schol­ars and layper­sons alike to delve deeply into and com­ment on his ideas. Many of the papers in this vol­ume draw upon these writ­ings. Shatz also spec­u­lates as to why R. Solove­ichik has attract­ed much greater inter­est since his pass­ing in 1993, par­tic­u­lar­ly among non-Ortho­dox and even non-Jew­ish schol­ars. Shatz’s ency­clo­pe­dic sum­ma­ry of the many arti­cles that have been pub­lished con­cern­ing R. Soloveitchik’s writ­ings pro­vide a won­der­ful resource for those who wish to study these mat­ters fur­ther. Oth­er notable essays include Ephraim Kanarfogel’s dis­cus­sion of R. Soloveitchik’s uncan­ny knowl­edge of lost Ger­man Tosafist Halachic mate­r­i­al, and Shi­ra Weiss’s paper apprais­ing the influ­ence on R. Solove­ichik of the medieval thinker Judah HaLevi.

Aca­d­e­m­ic papers are not writ­ten for the casu­al read­er, and some of the ter­mi­nol­o­gy and cita­tions in this vol­ume can prove daunt­ing. How­ev­er, read­ers seek­ing to seri­ous­ly engage with these thought­ful pre­sen­ta­tions of R. Soloveitchik’s vast and eru­dite con­tri­bu­tions to mod­ern Jew­ish thought are sure to benefit.

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