Friday, June 04, 2010

The Rav, Yeshiva University, and Historical Revisionism

When Rabbi Michel Shurkin published his volumes on HaRav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik’s Torah he identified him as the Gavad D’Boston. Loosely translated that means he was the Rabbi of Boston, Massachusetts.

I don’t really know much about Rabbi Shurkin other than that he was an avid ‘student’ of Rav Soloveitchik and attended many of his Shiurim. He apparently took copious notes and eventually published the Rav's Shiurim on Moadim (Jewish holidays) in a two volume set entitled Harirei Kedem. I have in fact used those volumes in some of the Divrei Torah I publish here – usually before one of the Jewish holidays.

There are many students and devotees of the Rav who have boycotted this work. And I don’t blame them. Rabbi Shurkin was one of the few serious students of the Rav who never attended Yeshiva University. That may seem like an insignificant fact. But it isn’t. It affected his attitude.

It has always bothered me that he did not recognize Rav Soloveitchik’s primary contribution in life – that of being the defacto Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva University. His influence there far surpasses his influence in Boston , considerable though that was. An individual is best remembered via his Talmidim. The Rav taught thousands of students during his many decades at YU. And the greatest among them are Gedolim in their own right. Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein are the two most famous examples of that.

This important fact about the Rav in a Sefer of his Torah has been completely avoided as though it would taint his legacy to acknowledge it.

Some would say this is a good thing. The Rav’s Torah is too important to be politicized. Let it be learned world-wide and if it takes a little historical revisionism to do that – so be it!

But to me it is an insult to his memory to leave out facts about his life that he was proud of. He was indeed proud of his students at YU and considered them to be among the most Torah knowledgeable of his era rivaling those of any other Yeshiva. And if the two Gedolim mentioned above are indicative of his many other Talmidim, he was more than right!

Rabbi Shurkin has therefore compounded an already existent problem. He has added to the rejection of Yehsivas Rabbenu Yitzchak Elchanan (The Yeshiva portion of Yeshiva Universty). It is another step in its de-legitimization. In doing so he unwittingly de-legitimizes the Rav. You cannot separate a man from his achievements just because your mentors didn’t like them.

Of course there are those who would have loved to include the Rav’s association with YU because they consider him to be Treif and therefore reject learning his Torah altogether. I have been told that Rav Shach considered the Rav to be an Apikores. I recall the Rav himself making reference to the fact that some consider him an Apikores!

From that perspective, Rav Shurkin deserves credit. But ultimately he was wrong. He is denying the truth of history. And this time it isn’t even a question of not revealing embarrassing information about him that his family would have objected to. This was the claim made by those who censored Rav Nosson Kamitetsky’s book ‘Making of a Gadol’. In the Rav’s case, their family is proud of his association with YU – not embarrassed by it. Leaving out that fact is an insult to them! I would hope that in subsequent printings of Harirei Kedem that a correction is made and that the Rav’s position as Rosh HaYeshiva at YU is clearly stated.

But I doubt that is going to happen. The hard core right will always reject him. YU is TreifPasul to them - like eating Chazir on Yom Kippur! And anyone associated with YU shares a similar fate. This is besides all the other complaints against his Hashkafos and Hanhagos! Which was amply demonstrated in that infamous obituary in the now defunct Jewish Observer.

And the insult along those lines continues. It was made by in an announcement Rabbi Yitzchok Lichtenstein has accepted a pulpit at Kehillas Bais Avrohom - a Shul in the Forshay section of Monsey, NY. Rabbi Lichetenstein is the son of the aforementioned Rav Aharon Lichtenstein. The previous rabbi was Rav Avrohom Chaim Feuer, the son-in-law of Rav Mordechai Gifter, famed Rosh HaYeshiva of Telshe.

But when they made a connection to the Rav, all they said was that the Rav was from Boston. They refused to say anything else. Had rthey just mentioned his name without any other reference as they did with Rav Gifter – I would have understood that. Rav Gifter’s fame is wide enough not to require any modifier. Certainly the Rav’s name has similarly wide recognition. But they added a modifier. The called him: Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of Boston. As if to deflect attention to his association with anything other than the city in which he lived.

What an insult! Will it never cease? How would the Talmidim of Rav Gifter feel if he were identified in the same way: Rav Gifter of Cleveland! I think they might be just a little upset at that. They may deny it and say this is a trivial issue. But it is not their Rebbe who is under assault! Little things like this tend to perpetuate enmity rather than foster rapprochement and Achdus. It’s too bad that (and their ideological mentors) could not take a cue from Mishpacha Magazine that had a wonderful article on Rav Shachter and the Rav ...and give Achdus a boost.

Update (6/5/10 - 11:37pm CDT): has corrected their error. I salute them for recognizing it and correcting it.