|Name:||Joseph B. Soloveitchik|
|Birth Day:||February 27, 1903|
|Death Date:||Apr 9, 1993 (age 90)|
Talmudic scholar and Rosh Yeshiva of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary who is a mentor and role model for thousands of Jews.
As per our current Database, Joseph B. Soloveitchik died on Apr 9, 1993 (age 90).
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Joseph B. Soloveitchik enrolled at Friedrich Wilhelm University in 1926.
Joseph Ber Soloveitchik was born on February 27, 1903, in Pruzhany, then Russia (next Poland, now Belarus). He came from a rabbinical dynasty dating back some 200 years: His paternal grandfather was Chaim Soloveitchik, and his great-grandfather and namesake was Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the Beis HaLevi. His great-great-grandfather was Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (The Netziv), and his great-great-great-great grandfather was Chaim Volozhin. His father, Moshe Soloveichik (note different spelling of last name), preceded him as head of the RIETS rabbinical school at Yeshiva University. On his maternal line, Soloveitchik was a grandson of Eliyahu Feinstein and his wife Guta Feinstein, née Davidovitch, who, in turn, was a descendant of a long line of Kapulyan rabbis, and of the Tosafot Yom Tov, the Shelah, the Maharshal, and Rashi.
Soloveitchik was educated in the traditional manner at a Talmud Torah, an elementary yeshiva, and by private tutors, as his parents realized his great mental prowess. According to a curriculum vitae written and signed in his own hand, in 1922, he graduated from the liberal arts "Gymnasium" in Dubno. In 1924, he entered the Free Polish University in Warsaw, where he spent three terms, studying political science. In 1926, he came to Berlin, Germany, and entered the Friedrich Wilhelm University. He passed the examination for supplementary subjects at the German Institute for Studies by Foreigners, and was then given full matriculation at the University. He took up studies in philosophy, economics, and Hebrew subjects, simultaneously maintaining a rigorous schedule of intensive Talmud study.
Despite their religious disagreements, Soloveitchik was proud of his connections to the Soloveitchik rabbinic dynasty, speaking fondly of his "uncle" Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik (the "Brisker Rov"). To his relatives and namesakes who now lived in Jerusalem, where they had established their own branch of the Brisk Yeshiva, he was respected for his genius in Talmudic scholarship which few could challenge or disparage, despite their very differing views on Zionism (the "Briskers" in Jerusalem being staunch anti-Zionists). See the paragraph on "Zionism" below for a discussion of Soloveitchik's Zionist viewpoint. Recent research published by Shlomo Pick indicates that his father Moshe Soloveitchik maintained a close relationship with Religious Zionist (Mizrachi) circles in Warsaw, prior to the father's departure for Yeshiva University and the son's departure for the University of Berlin in 1923.
He wrote his Ph.D. thesis on the epistemology and metaphysics of the German philosopher Hermann Cohen. Contrary to most biographies, which erroneously state that in 1931, he received his degree, he actually passed his oral doctor's examination on July 24, 1930, but graduated with a doctorate only on December 19, 1932, as he had requested an extension to allow him to expand his thesis. Documents exist to support this assertion, located by Marc B. Shapiro in the University of Berlin archives.
In 1931, he married Tonya Lewit (1904-1967), who had earned a Ph.D. in Education from Jena University. Chaim Ozer Grodzinski served as his mesader kiddushin in Vilna.
In 1932, Soloveitchik emigrated to America and settled in Boston, where he referred to himself as "The Soloveitchik of Boston". He pioneered the Maimonides School, one of the first Hebrew day schools in Boston in 1937. When the school's high school was founded in the late 1940s, he instituted a number of innovations in the curriculum, including teaching Talmud to boys and girls studying in classes together. He involved himself in all manner of religious issues in the Boston area. He was at times both a rabbinical supervisor of kosher slaughtering - shechita - and an educator, gladly accepting invitations to lecture in Jewish and religious philosophy at prestigious New England colleges and universities. Rabbi Soloveitchik was also the head of Boston's Council of Orthodox Synagogues (also called the Vaad Ha'ir). His son-in-law, Isadore Twersky, was an internationally renowned expert on the writings of Maimonides, and succeeded Professor Harry Austryn Wolfson to the Nathan Littauer chair of Jewish History and Literature at Harvard University.
Soloveitchik was the pre-eminent leader of politically conscious pro-Zionist modern Orthodox Judaism. Out of respect for his stature, many leaders and politicians from Israel sought his advice and blessings in state affairs. Reputedly, he was offered the position of Chief Rabbi of Israel by Prime Minister Ben Gurion, but quietly declined. Despite his open and ardent support for the modern State of Israel, he only visited Israel once, in 1935, before the modern state was established. Yosef Blau has written that Soloveitchik's non-messianic Zionism was philosophically similar to that of Yitzchak Yaacov Reines (see Tradition 33.2, Communications).
Joseph Soloveitchik succeeded his father, Moses (Moshe) Soloveichik, as the head of the RIETS rabbinical school at Yeshiva University in 1941. He taught there until 1986, when illness kept him from continuing, and was considered the top Rosh Yeshiva (never, however, a formally recognized position at YU) from the time he began teaching there until his death in 1993. He was the first occupant of the Leib Merkin Distinguished Professorial Chair in Talmud and Jewish Philosophy at RIETS.
In his major non-Talmudic publications, which altered the landscape of Jewish philosophy and Jewish theology, Soloveitchik stresses the normative and intellectual centrality of the halakhic corpus. He authored a number of essays and books offering a unique synthesis of Neo-Kantian existentialism and Jewish thought, the most well-known being The Lonely Man of Faith which deals with issues such as the willingness to stand alone in the face of monumental challenges, and Halakhic Man. A less known essay, though not less important, is "The Halakhic Mind - An essay on Jewish tradition and modern thought", written in 1944 and published only 40 years later, without any change, as the author himself stresses.
In 1954 Soloveitchik issued a responsum on working with non-Orthodox Jews, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews in the United States: Second article in a series on Responsa of Orthodox Judaism in the United States. The responsum recognized the leadership of non-Orthodox Jews in Jewish communal institutions (but not their rabbis in the Orthodox sense of the term), and concluded that participation with non-Orthodox Jews for political or welfare purposes is not only permissible, but obligatory.
The Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Yisroel countered with a ruling that such cooperation with non-Orthodox Jews was equivalent to endorsement of non-Orthodox Judaism, and thus was forbidden. In 1956 many Yeshiva leaders, including two rabbis from his own Yeshiva University, signed and issued a proclamation forbidding any rabbinical alumni of their yeshivot from joining with Reform or Conservative rabbis in professional organizations.
For a number of reasons, the project did not succeed. According to Orthodox Rabbi Bernstein, the major reason for its failure was that the Orthodox rabbis insisted that the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly expel some Conservative rabbis for actions they took before the new Beit Din was formed, and the RA refused to do so (Bernstein, 1977). According to Orthodox Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, former president of the RCA, the major reason for its failure was pressure from right-wing Orthodox rabbis, who held that any cooperation between Orthodoxy and Conservatism was forbidden. In an account prepared in 1956, Rabbi Harry Halpern of the Rabbinical Assembly's Joint Conference wrote that negotiations between the Orthodox and Conservative were completed and agreed upon, but then a new requirement was demanded by the RCA: that the RA "impose severe sanctions" upon Conservative rabbis for actions they took before the new beth din was formed. The RA "could not assent to rigorously disciplining our members at the behest of an outside group". Per Halpern, subsequent efforts were made to cooperate with the Orthodox, but a letter from eleven Rosh Yeshivas was circulated declaring that Orthodox rabbis were forbidden to cooperate with Conservative rabbis (Proceedings of the CJLS of the Conservative Movement 1927-1970 Vol. II, pp. 850–852).
Herschel Schacter, Sholem Kowalsky, Julius Berman; Menachem Genack; and Fabian Schoenfeld (all students of Soloveitchik) have asserted that Menachem Mendel Schneerson and Soloveitchik met for the first time while they both studied in Berlin. Soloveitchik told Kowalsky he "was a great admirer of the Rebbe". Schoenfeld quoted Soloveitchik as having told him that when he studying at the University of Berlin, "I can testify that [Schneerson] never missed going to the mikva one single day." In 1964, Soloveitchik paid a lengthy visit while Schneerson was mourning the death of his mother. Their conversation during this visit lasted approximately two hours. Soloveitchik later visited again following the death of Schneerson's mother-in-law. In 1980, accompanied by his student Herschel Schacter, Soloveitchik visited Schneerson at Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn on the occasion of a celebration marking the 30th anniversary of his leadership. The visit lasted close to two hours after which Soloveitchik told Schacter his opinion of Schneerson: "He is a gaon (genius), he is a great one, he is a leader of Israel."
During the 1950s and 1960s, until his wife's death in 1967, Soloveitchik and some of his students would spend summers near Cape Cod in Onset, Massachusetts, where they would pray at Congregation Beth Israel.
After the passing of his wife in 1967, Soloveitchik began giving additional lectures, open to the public, during the summer months in Boston.
After Soloveitchik left Agudath Israel, the organization's leadership was mostly quiet when it came to public statements involving Soloveitchik. Moshe Feinstein, who was Soloveitchik's cousin, maintained very warm and profoundly respectful relations with him. They corresponded and spoke (at least) on the eve of every Jewish holiday. Yitzchok Hutner referred to him as a "gadol" (a foremost Torah scholar of the time). Aaron Kotler, whose public policy in relation to American Jewry was far more right-wing than Soloveitchik's, was introduced by Soloveitchik at a Chinuch Atzmai dinner, and this later became famous as an instance of unity among the Orthodox leadership. Agudath Israel's mouthpiece, the "Jewish Observer", also mentioned Soloveitchik as one of the greatest rabbis of the generation when detailing a cable which was sent by various gedolim to former Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol requesting the government to put a stop to Christian missionary activity in Israel. In May 1993, Nisson Wolpin penned an obituary for Soloveitchik in the Jewish Observer. The article was criticized for being a mere page long as instead of the Jewish Observer's usually comparatively long obituaries, for the obituary not being mentioned in the table of contents, and portraying Soloveitchik as not clarifying his views enough. Moshe David Tendler, a son-in-law of Moshe Feinstein, wrote a scathing attack on Wolpin's piece, which was published both in The Community Synagogue of Monsey's newsletter and the Algemeiner Journal.
Shortly after Soloveitchik's passing, Lamm, in a eulogy for Soloveitchik delivered on April 25, 1993, urged his auditors to "guard ... against any revisionism, any attempts to misinterpret the Rav's work in both worlds [the world of Torah and the world of Madda(Science)]. The Rav was not a lamdan who happened to have and use a smattering of general culture, and he was certainly not a philosopher who happened to be a talmid hakham, a Torah scholar ... We must accept him on his terms, as a highly complicated, profound, and broad-minded personality ... Certain burgeoning revisionisms may well attempt to disguise and distort the Rav's uniqueness by trivializing one or the other aspect of his rich personality and work, but they must be confronted at once." (Lawrence Kaplan Revisionism and the Rav: The Struggle for the Soul of Modern Orthodoxy, Judaism, Summer, 1999).
Professor Yitzhak Twersky, a son-in-law of The Rav, pointed out in a eulogy published in the journal Tradition in 1996 that Soloveitchik's philosophy could be paraphrased as follows: "When you know your [Jewish] Way—your point of departure and goals—then use philosophy, science and the humanities to illumine your exposition, sharpen your categories, probe the profundities and subtleties of the masorah and reveal its charm and majesty; in so doing you should be able to command respect from the alienated and communicate with some who might otherwise be hostile or indifferent to your teaching as well as to increase the sensitivity and spirituality of the committed."
Currently, Joseph B. Soloveitchik is 119 years, 6 months and 30 days old. Joseph B. Soloveitchik will celebrate 120th birthday on a Monday 27th of February 2023.
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