On Wednesday, May 23, Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Menachem Genack spoke at Englewood’s Congregation Shomrei Emunah to commemorate the 25th yahrzeit of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt”l. Both Rabbi Schachter and Rabbi Genack are former talmidim of Rav Soloveitchik; Rabbi Schachter is currently a rosh yeshiva of YU and rosh kollel at
RIETS, while Rabbi Genack is the CEO and rabbinic administrator of OU
Kosher as well as the rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Emunah. The program was jointly sponsored by the OU, RCBC and Congregation Shomrei Emunah.
Rabbi Moshe Genack, son of Rabbi Menachem Genack, introduced the event by characterizing the Torah taught by the Rav in terms of a metaphor in Shir Hashirim, which compares Torah to both milk and honey. “Torah has to represent, on one hand, dvash [honey],” said Rabbi Genack. “It has to be matuk k’dvash [sweet like honey]; it has to be geshmak to listen to and understand. On the other hand it also has to be like milk. … It has to be absolutely clear in the lashon of Chazal, not only sweet, not only geshmak, but also muchrach, absolutely necessary and clear like milk. And the Rav, Rav Soloveitchik, was a fulfillment of this idea, that his Torah was matuk k’dvash; it was also at the same time muchrach like milk. It was absolutely clear and proven in the sugya, in the pasuk, in the midrash.”
Rabbi Hershel Schachter then spoke about Rav Soloveitchik’s approach to the development of halachot over time, focusing on specific patterns that Chazal applied from mitzvot d’orayta to mitzvot d’rabanan. For example, Rav Soloveitchik taught that the reason people stand when a groom walks down the aisle (a rabbinic institution) is the same reason people would stand when a farmer brought his first fruits to Jerusalem (a Torah commandment)—people stand when a mitzvah is fulfilled. Along the same vein, Rav Soloveitchik said that the categories of items classified as muktzah on Shabbat—a rabbinic prohibition—are the same as the categories of items that cannot become tamei, ritually impure on a Torah level.
According to Rabbi Schachter, this concept of Chazal patterning halachot after Torah laws was one that Rav Soloveitchik favored. “That was a recurring theme in Rav Soloveitchik’s shiurim,” Rabbi Schachter said, “that kol d’tikun rabanan ke’ein de’orayta tikun, all the dinim d’rabanan have to be patterned after dinim d’orayta. So often in his shiurim he would try to find out what is the din d’orayta that the din d’rabanan is patterned after, and this would often shed light on the nature of the din d’rabanan.”
Later in his shiur, Rabbi Schachter emphasized that although Rav Soloveitchik was never swayed from the traditions of halacha, he provided nuanced, elegant halachic rulings on contentious issues. “Our Torah has wonderful values and wonderful hashkafot, and we don’t have to be embarrassed from this neurotic society that we live in,” Rabbi Schachter said in the name of Rav Soloveitchik. Yet Rav Schachter also said, “When [Rav Soloveitchik] would paskin a she’eila, his psakim were always very nuanced. … He wouldn’t exaggerate, and his psakim were always very elegant; he would always have this in mind: “d’racheha darchei noam vechol netivoteha shalom,” (“the ways of Torah are pleasant and all its paths are peaceful”).
Rabbi Schachter concluded by underscoring the scope of Rav Soloveitchik’s Torah knowledge. “[Rav Soloveitchik] had some original insight on every page in the siddur,” he said. “Every page of the Gemara, every siman in Shulchan Aruch—he had some original insight. Every parsha, he had something wonderful to say. We should all try to recapture everything that he said.”
Rabbi Menachem Genack began his shiur by praising the balance Rav Soloveitchik struck between acuity and accessibility. “It was just so dazzling and captivating,” Rabbi Genack said of the first time he heard Rav Soloveitchik speak. “First of all, the insights were so creative, and the language was so precise and also so poetic. It was just overwhelming and overpowering. … He could have inundated the students in terms of his erudition, and you wouldn’t be able to absorb it. [But] he measured everything that he did; his midat hatzimtzum [restraint] was so noticeable about him, and he was so interested in teaching, and teaching in the sense that the student, the talmid, would be able to absorb it. It was extraordinary chesed.”
Rabbi Genack then explained that Rav Soloveitchik’s philosophy was shaped by two historical Torah giants: Rambam, who innovated Torah methodologies in the face of adversity, and Ramban, who used his creativity to defend tradition. “The Rambam in many respects was revolutionary,” Rabbi Genack said. “The Rambam says that because of the dislocation of different Jewish populations, the Torah was going to be forgotten, so he wrote down his magnum opus, the Yad HaChazaka. … That sense of preserving the Torah and transitioning in critical times and [developing] new methodologies—that’s what motivated the Rav as well.”
The Ramban influenced Rav Soloveitchik by defending the mesorah through creative thought. “[The Ramban was] the most original thinker, but everything he’s doing is to preserve the old tradition,” Rabbi Genack said. “And that’s what the Rav wanted to do—to defend the mesorah even in new environments, in very challenging environments. … Were it not for the Rav’s appearance on the American scene, whether or not the American Jewish community would have survived at that period—he came to the United States in 1932—is very questionable.”
Rabbi Genack concluded the event by emphasizing the uniqueness of Rav Soloveitchik and the tremendous debt that all American Orthodox Jews owe to him. “I’d like to thank Rabbi Schachter, [Rav Soloveitchik’s] talmid muvhak, for coming and expressing the hakarat hatov that we owe to this man because he was really singular, sui generis, beyond anybody living at his time. And he mobilized all of these talents that he had and the breadth of his knowledge, both Torah and secular—he mobilized it all to save the American Jewish community. Yehi zichrono livracha [May his memory be blessed].”
Editor’s note: Mazel tov and tzetzchem L’shalom to our intern Tani Greengart, who did excellent work for us during the summer of 2017 and returned for his TABC senior work study. We thank Tani for his contributions and wish him the best of luck in all his endeavors. Yeshivat Har Etzion and Rutgers University are lucky to have him.
By Tani Greengart
Tani Greengart is a graduating senior at TABC and an intern for The Jewish Link.