Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik
by R. Aharon Ziegler
The Chazon Ish (Rav Avraham Karelitz, 1878-1953) held that illuminating light bulbs on Yom Tov was an issue of “Boneh”, and therefore he ruled that it is absolutely Assur on Yom Tov. Rav Soloveitchik on the other hand, based upon his understanding of the physics of electricity, felt that illuminating conventional light bulbs was an issue of “Ha’avarat Eish” , and therefore, Mutar Le’chat’chila on Yom Tov, for a Yom Tov need.
This opinion was expressed in the 1940’s and 1950’s and it was widely accepted in the Boston area where the Rav was the Mara D’Atra. Things changed however, in the 1960’s, – not because the Rav changed his mind in principle, but rather due to the influence of other large Jewish communities, like in New York and Chicago, where everyone was “Machmir” with electricity on Yom Tov. In the interest of maintaining a level of achdut in the United States the Rav refrained from “publicly’ expressing his opinion on the matter and in the 1970’s, hardly anyone, except for the people of Boston, was aware of Rav Soloveitchik’s lenient ruling on the matter. The stringent opinion of the Chazon Ish prevailed.
In a private conversation with his talmid and shamesh, Rabbi Aaron Adler, the Rav said that he even authored a Teshuva on “Electricity in Halacha” based upon his understanding of the complex issues that would revolutionize our Halachic attitude towards electricity on Shabbat and Yom Tov. He never published this Teshuva.