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Hakirah Volume 24, Spring 2018

This Pesach marks the 25th yahrtzeit of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, known to his students and followers as “the Rav.” He referred to himself as a melamed and, during his lifetime, trained and influenced thousands of talmidim. In typical Brisker perfectionist fashion, though, he published only a small fraction of his hiddushim. The Rav’s work ranged widely, from novel interpretations and discussions of Talmud and halakhah to penetrating insights into the most abstract principles of Jewish thought. Recent interest in a rare essay written by the Rav during his youth, which came to be known as The Halakhic Mind, has revealed to philosophers of varied backgrounds the breadth and originality of the Rav’s thought. In “Rav Soloveitchik’s New World View,” the author reviews Western philosophy, explaining that it fails to answer philosophical questions raised by modern mathematics. In a reading of The Halakhic Mind, he then demonstrates that, from his youth, the Rav felt that the key to dealing with man’s encounter with the infinite lies in the dalet ammot shel halakhah.

Because he came to represent Modern Orthodox Jewry and was considered the leader of American Orthodox Zionism, the Rav and his Torah were, for a long time, rejected by what came to be called Haredi Jewry. A similar situation had occurred earlier in Eretz Yisrael, where the spiritual leader of Religious Zionism, Rav Avraham Y. Kook, zt”l, was vilified by most of the Haredi world. In “Historical Revisionism by the Families of Rav Kook’s Disciples” (Complete Article)—the first of a two-part essay about the division of Eretz Yisrael’s Orthodox community into two camps—the author describes how some children of Rav Kook’s students sought to distance their fathers from their teacher to ensure that their fathers’ works would be accepted in Haredi circles and their reputations would remain intact. The second part of this article, to be published in Hakirah 25, will demonstrate how this distancing of the camps developed and attempt to explain why it came about.

The division in Orthodox Judaism has roots in its 19th century response to modernity. In a book on the Hazon Ish, represented in this edition by a newly translated chapter, the author comments that “The rabbis, seeing that Judaism was in a state of distress, created a response built on a large-scale, comprehensive policy spanning from ‘The new is forbidden by the Torah’ and ending with the neo-Orthodox ‘Torah ‘im Derekh Eretz.’ All these were intended to preserve the character of tra-ditional Judaism.” Two of the approaches he refers to are illustrated here by an article entitled “Rav Hildesheimer’s Response to Ultra-Orthodoxy.” The article analyzes an historical document to contrast two responses to the then-budding Reform movement: that of a group which came to be called the Haredi camp, with the more moderate response of Rav Hildesheimer. In the chapter from the book on the Hazon Ish, “The Gaon of Vilna, the Hatam Sofer, and the Hazon Ish: Minhag and the Crisis of Modernity,” the author argues that the Hazon Ish, considered by many to be the father of the modern Haredi movement, was not acting in response to modernity, but was motivated merely by a pure desire to find each law’s intent and to follow the letter of the law.

In the timely article in the Minhag section entitled “Our Salty Tears: The History and Significance of an Interpretation of Dipping in Salt Water at the Seder,” (Complete Article) the author bears out the Hazon Ish’s skepticism of minhagim, showing how hallowing practices of the past sometimes distorts the reasoning behind a custom.

Authors of Torah works frequently overcame great adversities in order to produce their works. Our Jewish History section includes the essay “Adversity and Authorship as Revealed in the Introductions of Early Hebrew Books,” which recounts how, in fact, adversity was often the catalyst for the genesis of these works. In “A Tour of the Osler Library of the History of Medicine through Jewish Eyes,” we get a glimpse of great Jewish doctors who, throughout history, dedicated themselves to curing the ills of all mankind.

In a special section we have entitled Ohr La-Goyim, we engage the question of what our obligations should be to inject Jewish values into a society that we see straying from its Judeo-Christian roots. In “Teaching Musar at the FBI,” a rabbi involved in kiruv explains how, at the re-quest of the FBI, he helped those employed in the difficult job of law enforcement by giving them spiritual tools. In the other article, “Why is there no kosher meat or poultry that is certified humane?” the issue of our obligation of ve-halakhta bi-derakhav is raised. This mitzvah, which obligates us to perform acts of hesed, is also the subject of a detailed Hebrew article on the mitzvah of bikkur holim.

In the Jewish Law section, “Parve Cloned Beef Burgers: Health and Halakhic Considerations” applies ancient halakhic principles to the technology of the future, while a letter to S. Y. Agnon from a rabbi, describing the rabbi’s attitude towards the idea of human possession by a reincarnated soul, shows how some ancient beliefs resist the advances of science. In our Talmud Torah section, “In Search of Nimrod: Nimrod and Esau as Parallel Figures” merges modern methodology with traditional Biblical sources in an attempt to understand Hazal’s attitude toward Esau.

Two other essays bring us back to Rav Soloveitchik, zt”l. “Reinterpretation and Resistance to the Mitzvah of Tefillah” argues that the mitzvah that the Rav so often expounded upon, and that he said “was redeemed” by Rambam, was not considered of Biblical origin even by great Rishonim who followed Rambam. In “Apprehending the Divine through the Religious Act: Rabbi Yaakov Anatoli’s Introduction to Malmad Ha-Talmidim,” we see how an almost forgotten medieval scholar from Provence toiled, as did the Rav many years later, to define a religious philosophy.

The division of the Orthodox into two camps that we spoke of earlier has had some regrettable ramifications in our own time. The masterful Shabsai Frankel edition of the Mishneh Torah cites thousands of sefarim to help clarify the words of Rambam, yet it has some bizarre omissions. It does not cite any commentators from the “Zionist” camp—neither Rav Kook, nor Rav Yosef Kappah, nor Rav Soloveitchik is ever mentioned, depriving Torah scholars of valuable insights into Rambam’s thought. On the other hand, since the Rav’s passing his talmidim have published a vast body of his hiddushim, and his Torah has passed into Haredi circles. While in the past the informed learned and taught his Torah without accreditation, he is now increasingly quoted by name. The two camps in Orthodoxy share the same Torah and the same Talmud. Those who study lishmah understand that ha-omer davar be-shem omro mevi geullah la-‘olam.


Hakirah: The Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought is a publication of Hakirah, Inc. a non-profit private foundation exempt under section 501 (c) (3).

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