Monday, September 03, 2007

Triumph of Omission

In a comment to a recent Hirhurim post, someone mentioned that Rabbi Berel Wein once wrote a book about modern Jewish history and neglected to mention R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik. As it turns out, this isn't entirely true.

Rabbi Wein wrote a book called Triumph of Survival: The Story of the Jews in the Modern Era 1650-1990. While this book not only mentions but has pictures of R. Yitzchak Hutner, R. Joseph Breuer, R. Moshe Feinstein, R. Yaakov Kamenetsky, R. Aharon Kotler and the Satmar Rav, R. Yoel Teitelbaum, the only mention of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik is in regards to the decision of whether or not to allow membership in the multi-denominational Synagogue Council of America (p. 437):

Two Orthodox groups -- the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union -- refused to accept the decision of these rabbis [who forbade membership]. They marshaled other Orthodox rabbinic opinion, led by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, that allowed their continued membership in the Synagogue Council...
That's it. While R. Yeruchem Gorelick, R. David Lifshitz and R. Mendel Zaks are mentioned as "teachers of the newly resurgent yeshivah movement in post-World War II America" (p. 432), and a footnote places them at RIETS, R. Soloveitchik is bizarrely not listed as a leading teacher of Talmud.

I don't understand it at all. It's not necessarily ideological. Here is what R. Wein writes about R. Bernard Revel (p. 271):
In that same year [1906], Rabbi Margolies became the president of Yeshivah Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan. Some time thereafter, a young man by the name of Rabbi Bernard Dov Revel[71] entered the yeshivah, and in a relatively short period of time rose to become its president. Revel was the driving force that made the yeshivah an American institution, rather than a copy of the traditional Lithuanian yeshivah, and prepare the way for the eventual growth of Torah scholarship and resilient Orthodoxy in America.

[71] 1885-1940. He was a genius of note, a student of the great yeshivah of Telshe in Lithuania. However, he was later attracted to Haskalah, became self-taught in secular studies, and soon lapsed into revolutionary radicalism. He participated in the 1905 revolution against the Czar and was arrested and imprisoned. In jail, he rethought his situation in life, returned to Jewish tradition and Talmudic study, and decided to dedicate his life to Torah and the Jewish people. In America, he married an Oklahoma oilman's daughter and moved to Tulsa to be part of the family oil business. He soon tired of the business world, and, thanks to his secular education and degrees, Talmudic erudition and love of Torah, as well as his charismatic personality, he was chosen in 1915 to head the Yeshivah Rabbi Isaac Elchanan. For more about him and the yeshivah, see Chapter 30, "American Jewry in the 1920s" in the next section.
A cynical reader might find some negatives in this description of R. Revel but I believe that we should read it as charitably as possible and assume that there is no such intent. If so, why is there nothing significant about R. Soloveitchik? And why are the only mentions of Yeshiva University about its opening a medical school (p. 439) and how it came under pressure from the increasingly strong right wing (p. 456). Did it really contribute nothing of significance to Judaism in the post-War era? The only discussion of it is in the time before it had a college!

(I am sure that in this Elul time, commenters will be careful in what they post. Thank you.)

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More