R. Soloveitchik’s Impact on American Orthodoxy

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Nicht, at the House of Hock, questions what role great people really played in the growth of American Orthodoxy in the twentieth century. In the comments section, Nicht further questions the role that R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik played in that growth.

I quote here from R. Emanuel Feldman’s tribute to R. Soloveitchik in Tradition (1996:4):

[H]istorians will have to note a more subtle truth: that it was the unique approach and background of a rosh yeshiva like Rav Soloveitchik that provided the intellectual framework that was uniquely suited to present classical Judaism to twentieth century men and women. More than any other religious leader, he was able to demonstrate to a wide audience the intellectual rigor and discipline of halakha as well as the profound world-view inherent in the minutiae of the daily halakhic regimen — a world-view which addresses itself not only to the mind but also to the troubled heart and soul of the lonely modern man.

This demonstration of the universality of Torah, presented with such clarity and passion, also contributed immeasurably to the morale of an Orthodox community which, in mid-century, was being buffeted on all sides and was beset with self-doubt and dispiriting retreats on many fronts.

In particular did he have a major impact on the American-trained Orthodox rabbinate. Not all of them studied under him at Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzhak Elhanan/Yeshiva University, but they all benefited directly from the spiritual support and inspiration which his teaching provided at a critical juncture in American Jewish history. The undersigned, not a student at Yeshiva University, can directly attest to this. Not only did Rav Soloveitchik help keep at bay those debilitating forces of modernity that threatened to overwhelm and drown the fledgling Orthodox; he was also a major architect of the bridge upon which many marginal Jews were able to return to the tradition.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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