Rabbi Cardozo’s critique of Rav Yoseph Dov Soloveitchik has spawned a far-reaching discussion on the legacy of “the Rav”. I would like to add my two cents to the discussion in brief.
In the realms of Lomdus, Machshava, and Jewish Philosophy Rav Soloveitchik made enormous contributions (perhaps this was not underscored enough in Rabbi Cardozo’s essay).
Personally, I am most taken by Rav Soloveitchik’s dazzling Drashot and philosophical essays. Rav Soloveitchik as a darshan and orator was unparalleled (this is something that is entirely lost on those who just read Halakhic Man etc.).
It is highly lamentable that many people in the religious world are only familiar with Halakhic Man and the Lonely Man of Faith, (and if you’re Zionist Kol Dodi Dofek and the Chamesh Drashot) and are not really familiar with his brilliant Derashot (Chamesh Drashot, Al Hateshuva, Noraos Harav, Yemei Zikaron etc. etc,) and Lomdus (Reshimot Shiurim). His Lomdus (Shiurim le-zecher aba mari, 2 volumes (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 2002); Reshimot Shiurim, 6 volumes, ed. H. Reichman; Sefer Harere Kedem, 3 volumes, ed. Michel Zalman Surkin (Jerusalem, 2000-2013); Shiurei Harav, 6 volumes, Shiurei Ha-Grid, 3 volumes, ed. Yair Kahn (Jerusalem, Mosad Harav Kook, 2004- 2013) etc. and the numerous articles that appear in Torah periodicals such as Ohr Hamizrach, Beit Yitzchak, and Mesorah etc.) is even lesser known and is only studied by a select few (Talmidei Chachamim in YU circles or secret admirers of Rav Soloveitchik in the Chareidi world).
My first exposure to Rav Soloveitchik’s thought was when I read his transcribed Teshuvah Drashot entitled Al Ha-Teshuavh. They are breathtakingly dazzling and brilliant! Listening to Rav Soloveitchik’s Teshuva Drashot and Yahrtzeit Shiurim (especially in Yiddish) is an intellectually stimulating and exhilarating experience second to none!
Many of these recording are available here:
Similarly the opening of his ובקשתם משם in Hebrew is one of the most exquisite lyrical expressions of the religious experience that I have ever read. “U’bikashtem Mi-Sham” was first published in Ha-Darom, vol. 47, 1978, pp. 1-83, reprinted in Ish ha-hHalacha: Galuy ve-Nistar (Jerusalem: Elinor Library, 1979), pp. 115-235. An English translation was published years later, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, And from There You Shall Seek, trans. Naomi Goldblum (NJ: Ktav Publishing House, 2009).
In addition, Rav Soloveitchik made major contributions with his Lomdus (although I would say that as a Darshan/philosopher he was more original and creative because there weren’t many people capable of doing what he did, whereas in his Lomdus and Gemara Shiurim he was part of a school of thought (the Brisker Derech) which has other exponents as well).
Although Rav Soloveitchik did not author books of responsa like classical poskim, he did deal extensively with Halachic issues, mostly on an abstract level in his numerous lectures and shiurim on Talmudic and halachic concepts, but he also issued rulings in practical Halacha (Halacha le-ma’ase). For a recent study, see Avraham Munitz, “A Study of Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik’s Halakhic Responsa,” Netuim: A Journal for the Study of Torah She’be’al Peh 20 (2016), 233-271. See also Isaac Boaz Gottlieb, “On Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s Halachic Approach,” [Hebrew] in Shana B’Shana (1994), 186-197.
Rav Soloveitchik also served as the chairman of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Council of America from 1953 until his retirement from public life. In this capacity, he issued many halachic rulings and public policy decisions. Some of these responsa and Halachic rulings appear in Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik,Community, Covenant and Commitment: Selected Letters and Communications, ed. Netanel Helfgot (Jersey City, N.J: Ktav, 2005). For more details about Rav Soloveitchik’s involvement with the RCA see Louis Bernstein, Challenge and Mission: The Emergence of the English Speaking Orthodox Rabbinate (New York: Shenghold Publishers, 1982) and Bernard Rosensweig, “The Rav as Communal Leader,” Tradition 30, 4 (1996), 210-218.
Despite the foregoing, I think it is fair to say that in the realm of Pesikat Halacha (and I don’t know if he ever considered himself to be a true posek), he can not be credited with any major breakthroughs à la Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Ovadia Yosef.
It is the latter point (Rav Soloveitchik’s approach to Halacha) which is the focus of Rabbi Cardozo’s critique, and his essay does not attempt to offer an evaluation of Rav Soloveitchik’s thought as a whole. However, I can understand how someone like Tanya White feels that Rav Soloveitchik massive contribution to Jewish thought in general (not just focusing on Halakhic Man) was glossed over.
Perhaps it is important to clarify to the broader reading audience that Rabbi Cardozo criticizes Rav Soloveitchik from the perspective of the burning issues that are important to Rabbi Cardozo (i.e. changes in Halacha, daring theological approaches etc.), and it should not be seen as a general evaluation of Rav Soloveitchik’s philosophical legacy as a whole.
For those who want to study Rav Soloveitchik’s thought in greater depth, I highly recommend the Meotzar Harav series:
For a comprehensive bibliography of Rav Soloveitchik’s writings, see Eli and Chaim Turkel, Mekorot Ha-Rav: An index by location and topic to the works of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and his students (Jerusalem, Rubin Mass, 2001).
About Yehuda DovBer Zirkind
Yehudah DovBer Zirkind grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York and studied at various Chabad Yeshivos around the world before making Aliya in 2006. He is currently a senior research fellow at David Cardozo Academy in Jerusalem. In addition, he is a researcher, writer and lecturer on a wide range of topics in the field of academic Jewish studies. Yehudah is currently a graduate student of Yiddish literature at Tel Aviv University. His forthcoming thesis is entitled “The Sacred, the Secular and the Sacrilegious in the Life and Literary Works of Chaim Grade” His research interests include: contemporary Jewish thought, Yiddish and Hebrew literature, neo-Chassidism, Yiddish music and folklore, and Jewish bibliography.
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