My Rebbe’s Rebbe

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Since the beginning of the school year, The Commentator, Yeshiva University’s newspaper, has featured article-length reflections on Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s legacy written by a variety of former students.

Like the excellent series of reflections on YU edited by Menachem Butler a couple of years ago, The Commentator should again be praised for including voices that have, for the last few decades, been generally silenced at YU.

One such person, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, was a beloved history professor at YU during the 1960s. But Rabbi Greenberg’s relationship with Rabbi Soloveitchik preceded his time at YU. The two met when Rabbi Greenberg was a graduate student at Harvard.

Rabbi Greenberg’s reflections on the Rav were published in the most recent issue of The Commentator and are available here.

Of particular note: Rabbi Greenberg’s sense that Rabbi Soloveitchik kept a tighter theological leash on those who studied with him at YU.

Some of my more ‘controversial’ views are rooted in the Rav’s insights or openings which I admittedly pushed further then he did. Examples: The Rav’s teaching that Hashgachah (e.g., the unfolding of the Holocaust and the rebirth of Israel) had ruled against the anti-Zionist Roshei Yeshiva (= most of his family and his world) which I applied to a more fundamental critique of their cultural policies.

The Rav’s argument that all Zionists who shared the covenant of fate of the Jewish people were legitimate partners in the covenant which I applied to the non-Orthodox religious denominations in the U.S. as well. In Kol Dodi Dofek, the Rav’s use of the term “Hester Panim muchlat” to describe the Shoah. If Hester Panim represents the absolute hiddenness of God – then what is the additional meaning of muchlat – what is hester panim? I understood this to mean that a position beyond God’s hiddenness, i.e., loss of faith is a phenomological possibility when one is inside the world of the Holocaust.

In my experience the Rav cut me a bit more slack. Throughout my life, he always listened respectfully with a smile and appreciation and cogent feedback even when he disagreed. It seemed to me that he was more tolerant of my exploring beyond his boundary line than he would have been with a talmid muvhak.

The archive of other articles about Rabbi Soloveitchik can be found here.

Posted on April 12, 2007

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