Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Soloveitchik Voyeurism

R. David Holzer published a fascinating book of his many taped conversations of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, titled The Rav Thinking Aloud. R. Holzer was R. Soloveitchik's assistant for a few years and carried around a tape recorder to record their conversations. He also has notes from other conversations that he did not record. What we end up having is topic after topic of word-for-word conversations with R. Soloveitchik.

It's a fascinating book. To add to the experience, R. Holzer selected some of discussions in which R. Soloveitchik said some very surprising things. Such as:

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  • His opposition to kohanim becoming doctors (p. 110)
  • His belief in the miracles described in the Talmud (p. 92)
  • His statement that the Patriarchs worked so unless you think you are more righteous than them, you should work also (p. 128)
  • His opposition to using financial concerns as a reason to permit the use of birth control (p. 95)
  • How he introduced the Lubavitcher Rebbe to the Brisker approach to studying Talmud when they were in Berlin (p. 42)
There is much more in the book than I mentioned. However, I find it hard to believe that R. Soloveitchik would have approved the publication of this book. He was a perfectionist and these are just off-the-cuff remarks. Granted, he knew he was being recorded and there are plenty of disclaimers by the author that these were not polished remarks, but I still feel a little voyeuristic reading these conversations. Especially since there is at least one comment in the book (about R. Soloveitchik's less than stellar opinion of a leading rabbi's learning) that I do not think should have been published.

However, since I never met the man, this is the closest I've ever gotten to having a conversation with him. So despite my feelings of guilt, I'm keeping the book. You might ask whether it is forbidden to read the book since R. Soloveitchik did not approve the contents. I'm not sure but in a recent TorahWeb lecture (link) R. Mordechai Willig quoted from the book (the part about birth control, mentioned above). So I'll assume that it is permissible.

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