Sunday, October 16, 2011

On the 10 th Yahrzeit of My Rebbe

Those who read my bio at the top of this blog will note that Rav Ahron Soloveichik was my primary mentor. While I am not a Brisker per se, Rav Ahron (as we – his Talmidim lovingly called him) was my Posek during his life and I follow some of his Minhagim. While it is true that I have had other influences that have helped shape my life not the least of which are my parents, the great figures I mentioned in the bio, and some I haven’t mentioned, my Hashkafos are based to a large degree on those of Rav Aharon.

Today, the 18th of Tishrei is Rav Aharon Soloveichik’s 10th Yahrzeit. In honor of that Ami Magazine has published an interview with my former classmate, Rav Moshe Soloveichik, Rav Ahron’s oldest son. I strongly reccomend reading it.

R’ Moshe, his two immediate younger brothers (Rav Eliyahu and Rav Yosef) and I were in the same Shiur for four years. The first year he gave us a Shiur in Talmud and the following 3 years a Semicha Shiur. Rav Moshe and I therefore experienced similar perspectives on the events of that era and how his father reacted to them. Obviously R’ Moshe knows his father infinitely better than I do. But much of the Ami article could have been written by me. In fact if one goes through my archives, one will find some of the same things mentioned in this article – mentioned by me. Particularly in my series on Skokie Yeshiva (HTC).

Rav Moshe was the right person to ask about his father, Rav Ahron. In my view he is the family historian. I believe he really does know more than anyone on that subject.

The article - written by Amis publisher, Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter - paints an honest portrait of one of the truly great rabbinic figures of the 20th century – a true Gadol in every sense of the word.

Rav Ahron was a man that was not afraid to speak his mind when Emes was at stake. He cared very little about the consequences to himself. He couldn’t care less what others thought about his views. If he believed something was Emes, he uncompromisingly advocated it – even when if went against the conventional Rabbinic wisdom. Even if he knew that it could hurt him personally to take unpopular positions.

He was a lifelong supporter of Religious Zionism (Mizrachi) – even though he was not a member – even saying Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. He in fact davened in their Shul on the ‘Mizrach Vant’ as a sort of unofficial head! This was counter to the nearly universal view of the Charedi establishment. It reduced his stature in their eyes. But he didn’t care about that. He only cared that it was Emes.

And yet when the Religious Zionists of Chicago sold their building to a group of missionaries he fought them vigorously. As a student in his Shiur along with my fellow classmates and most of the Yeshiva I attended a demonstration at the building’s site that he organized. We were joined by Bachurim from Telshe whose Yeshiva was nearby.

When he lost that battle he never failed to condemn Chicago’s Religious Zionists - all the while supporting the ideals upon which Religious Zionism were based. Again standing for Emes in the face of tremendous opposition.

He fought the Traditional Movement whose lay leadership and many of the movement’s rabbis comprised the board of directors of the Yeshiva that employed him. Although there were other issues that contributed to his demise at Skokie I am convinced – as is R’ Moshe - it was because of his uncompromising high degree of integrity on these two issues that he was eventually fired.

His concern for Emes was matched only by his Chesed. He cared about his fellow Jew… and his fellow man. He opposed the war in Viet Nam early calling it an immoral war despite the support for the war that many mainstream Rabbanim had for it.

I was also a beneficiary of his Chesed. I’ve told the following story before.

He was a renowned expert on Hilchos Shabbos. He was also known as being a Machmir on that Mitzvah. I had once asked him to Paskin a Shaila dealing with Shabbos for my father. He refused to Paskin saying that he wasn’t too clear on the issue and told me to ask someone else. I said OK and did exactly that – receiving a Kula – a leniancy for my father. It later dawned on me that Rav Ahron most certainly did know how to Paskin in that circumstance. But he would have been Machmir. He also knew my father and realized that it would have caused my father a lot of anguish.

So instead of telling me a Chumra – or even just saying he didn’t want to Paskin (for fear that I would insist) he just said he didn’t know and sent me to a mainstream Posek that he knew would Paskin favorably for my father. His concern for my father’s predicament made him willing to put aside his Kavod and say “I don’t know’ rather than burden him.

I miss my Rebbe and am grateful to see an article about him on the occasion of his 10th Yahrzeit in an internationally distributed magazine. I have my disagreements with its publisher, Rabbi Frankfurter. I debated him on broadcast radio on one issue and have criticized him on others. But he has done a masterful job in choosing the right person to interview and then recounting the story of a truly great man. And for that I thank him.