Meir Soloveichik Takes on the Issues

Meir Soloveichik is quickly becoming a daring and competent defender of Torah in America’s most difficult forums. I cannot think of anyone else who regularly takes on the hostile skeptics and academicians of the intellectual elite. Until contemporary times, there were always people within the Torah community willing to enter the intellectual fracas of the day, and pursue the battle on the highest levels of reasoning and scholarship. They won a few, and probably lost a few – no different than the smug, hostile and sometimes anti-Semitic personalities on the other side. Alas, it has been a long time since Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman and his headlong charge against Higher Criticism and Jewish Wissenschaft.

Soloveichik, a doctoral candidate at Princeton, takes on Harvard’s Shaye J.D. Cohen in the Letters section of the current issue of Azure [free registration required]. In a previous issue, Soloveichik offered a defense of matrilineal descent. Cohen – a preeminent Jewish historian – accuses him of writing sermons and ignoring history. Soloveichik doesn’t flinch, and effectively acquits himself and his thesis by throwing in some historical elements from Tanach that Cohen ignored.

I offer a few thoughts from Soloveichik’s “How Not to Become a Jew” in the January issue of Commentary [online for subscribers of the print version only.] He cites Franz Rosenzweig, who is perhaps the most significant Jewish thinker of the twentieth century to Jews outside of the Orthodox pale.

There is only one community in which such a linked sequence of everlasting life unity without hearing deep within a voice that adds: “are eternal.” It must be a blood community, because only blood gives warrant to the hope for a future.

In other words, part of the notion of requiring bris (circumcision or some form of blood-letting) as an integral part of the conversion process is to emphasize that the convert becomes part of a blood relationship. He enters an extended family, not just a faith. He becomes connected to, and assumes responsibility for, all other Jews in horizontal and vertical temporal planes.

This was not the only way to do it – just the Jewish way. Christianity, Soloveichik argues, especially in its attempt to become the single universal church, downplayed the role of the particular, and therefore of the individual political entity and even the family. When a child is born to Christian parents, he or she does not automatically assume a Christian identity; the Church requires baptism of the child. He cites Stanley Hauerwas: “Family identity is not at the core of our identity as Christians…The Church grows through the conversion of strangers, who often turn out to be our biological children.”

Something, perhaps, to reflect upon this week of Parshas Mishpatim, where Rashi sees the end of the Torah reading as a flash-back to the preparations we made before receiving the Torah, including of course the mass conversion.

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14 comments to Meir Soloveichik Takes on the Issues

  • Harry Maryles

    Meir Yaakov Soloveichik is the grandson of my Rebbe, Rav Aaron Soloveichik. His Father, Rav Eliyahu, was one of Chicago’s biggest Talmidei Chachim until Lander College snatched him away from us. I met Meir when he was a high school student at his grandfather’s Yeshiva, Yeshvas Brisk, in Chicago. He left for YU in an early admissions program as he outgrew Brisk rather quickly.

    It is there where I got to know him as he was a contemporary and close friend of my son in law there. When I would visit my daughter and son-in-law at YU he would inevitably show up at their apartment at some point and we would have some of the most stimulating discussions on just about any subject. His visits back to Chicago when his parents still lived here used to bring me great pleasure as he was of like-mindedness on many Jewish issues of the day and it was a pleasure to be able to talk with someone of his caliber. And high caliber it was despite his very youthful age.

    After my daughter moved back to Chicago and Meir Yaakov got married, we kind of lost touch. Last time I spoke with him he was studying philosophy at Yale Divinity School. I guess he finished his masters there and has since transferred to Princeton. Rumor has it that YU is grooming him as the next “Soloveichik”. I hope that’s true, it couldn’t happen to a more wonderful person. He certainly has the brains for it. I am proud to know him.

  • Steve Brizel

    R Meir Yaakov Soloveitchik ( RMYS) is a brilliant writer who has a vast knowledge of Torah, is
    familiar with the current intellectual culture and whose is fearless of current doyens such
    as Shaye Cohen. RMYS reminds me of RYBS in this regard.

  • DanielQBlog

    Academics don’t mean to be so out of the loop on Judaism, but it just happens.
    They open up books read a few lines, and then they make conclusions that at times appear quite absurd. The Torah is not meant to be read without any outside content…or else there would be a lot of executions going on :).
    The problem with going against established religion and studying it too… is that you are take away so much expertise that is thelogical from your knowledge (only reading anti-religion writers).
    Its like being anti-science (or a particular element of it) and not being knowledgable on the many scientists’ view on that science. Only that in the former you are an academic intellectual, and the latter you are an insane fundamentalist.

    Nice Article.

    Q

  • Joel Rich

    I’m sure it was just an oversight but wouldn’t it be appropriate to call R’ Chaim’s great grandson by the title Rabbi?
    ?

    BTW Rabbi Meir Soloveichik has many great attributes but imho the primary one is his intellectual curiosity I just hope that “curiosity” doesn’t ….. (you know the rest)

    KT

  • Yitzchok Adlerstein

    Definitely an oversight – helped along by the fact that none of the articles sitting in front of me include the title. Clearly the intent of my piece was laudatory.

  • mycroft

    “R Meir Yaakov Soloveitchik ( RMYS) is a brilliant writer who has a vast knowledge of Torah, is
    familiar with the current intellectual culture and whose is fearless of current doyens such
    as Shaye Cohen. RMYS reminds me of RYBS in this regard.”
    Steve: Except for the last sentence I agree with you-RYBS was fearless of everybody-including the non-English speaking ones who made life difficult for him.
    “Reminds me of RYBS in this regard”-you could even compare me to RTBS-we are both mortal-my point is the Rav ZT”L was unique in his time and frankly probably since the Rambam-no one who was both the master in Torah and philosophy that the Rav was.
    An interesting thing is that R. Meir Soloveichik is probably much closer hashkafically to the Rav ZT”L than he is to his grandfather R. A. Soloveichik.

  • Dov Kay

    Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffmann did NOT lead a headlong charge against Jewish Wissenschaft. On the contrary, in the spirit of Rav Ezriel Hildesheimer and the Seminary which he founded, he embraced Wissenschaft des Judentums (Jewish studies) and used it to defend Orthodox Judaism. This method was applied both to Jewish history and texts, with a view to elucidate both from an authentic Jewish perspective and to counter heterodox proponents of Wissenschaft. On the other hand, Rav SR Hirsch and his successors in Frankfurt rejected the legitimacy of Wissenschaft. Rav Meir Soloveichik is apparently carrying on the Hoffmann inheritance.

  • Abba5

    Actually, it’s the Ramban, not Rashi,who views Shemot 24 as a conversion process, and precisely because he reads Shemot 17 – 26 in order, not out of order, as Rashi.

  • Steve Brizel

    I don’t know whether RMYS will become the “next Soloveitchik” at YU, but I have heard from a fairly reliable source that he is
    being groomed to become a rav in a very prestigious shul in Manhattan. I agree with Mykfroft completely with your observations
    re RYBS, RAS and Yivadleinu Lchaim RMYS.

  • Charles B. Hall, PhD

    ‘When a child is born to Christian parents, he or she does not automatically assume a Christian identity; the Church requires baptism of the child’

    This is not completely true; many Protestant Chuches do not baptise young children. And whether baptism is even necessary for
    adults is a matter of dispute; here is an example where that dispute got rather acrimonius:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/07/AR2005080701004.html

    Rabbi Soloveitchik’s point about Christianity emphasizing the individual rather than the family or community is otherwise very well taken.

  • shmuel

    Rumor has it that YU is grooming him as the next “Soloveichik”.
    I enjoy reading his hashkafik writings. I’d love to read or hear some traditional lomdus from him as well. That would go a long way in demonstrating to all his suitability to fill the shoes of the Rav and of R Aharon z”l

  • Yitzchok Adlerstein

    Dov –
    That’s precisely what I meant by “headlong charge.” He studied it, analyzed it from a Torah perspective, took what was useful and discarded the rest. He was able to beat them at their own game. I use the word “them” deliberately. There was no shortage of Wissenschaft scholars who had already issued their verdict against the legitimacy of Torah She B’al Peh (the Oral Law.)

  • Harry Maryles

    An interesting thing is that R. Meir Soloveichik is probably much closer hashkafically to the Rav ZT”L than he is to his grandfather R. A. Soloveichik.

    I think that’s definitly true. But that doesn’t make his father, Rabbi Eliyahu Soloveichik any less proud of him …which he told me on numerous occasions.

    BTW, I too neglected to refer to R. Meir Soloveichik by his title for which I apologize. This is because I knew him as a young high schooler and certainly before he ever got Smicha. I have always called him Meir Yaakov. But he certainly deserves to be called by his title.

  • Eliezer Barzilai

    If you want to see traditional lomdus from this author, go to this link.
    http://www.ckj.org/docs/Azure16MSol.pdf
    People who are familiar with the Brisker methods of analysis will immediately recognize classic forms of that method being applied. However, be prepared for a profound sense of incongruity.