Should We Look To Rabbis For Temporal And Political Guidance?

Jonathan Baker writes:

This is a set of summaries of a series of six lectures on the teachings of Harav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik zt”l by Rabbi Aaron Rothkoff-Rakeffet at Lincoln Square Synagogue from 7 June to 12 July 1993. They were transcribed and posted electronically by permission of Rabbi Rakeffet (who said that the lectures are in the public domain, but that I should try to quote him accurately). Rabbi Rakeffet is a Rosh Yeshiva and Professor at Yeshiva University’s Gruss KollelElyon in Jerusalem, and is the author of the recent books The Rav.

Lecture 3: The Rav and the State of Israel

In the 1920’s, contrary to their claims, Agudat Israel did not
exist in the United States. America was viewed as a place to go
to lose one’s Yiddishkeit. If you went to America, it was 100:1
that you would not stay religious. By the late 30’s, European
refugees brought Agudat Israel to the U.S. It originated in
Europe in 1919, claiming that “Any Zionist cannot be a good Jew,
and cannot join Agudat Israel.” The idea was that by gathering
Jews together in conventions and retreats, their faith could be
strengthened in the face of modernity.

Initially, it had few members, but when they convinced the Gerer
Rebbe to join, all his Hasidim followed, giving the movement
great strength. Rabbi Silver brought the movement to America in
1937. The Rav then became active in it, because Rabbi Chaim Ozer
Grodzinsky, the rav of Vilna, had told him to establish Agudat
Israel in America.

In 1940, Rav Soloveitchik gave a hesped for Reb Chaim Ozer, which
was a gem of Agudah ideology. He stated that rabbis must rule
the Jews both spiritually and temporally. He showed this via the
Choshen, one of the garments of the High Priest. This was the
breastplate which held the Urim and Tumim, the gems which would
light up showing how the Kohen Gadol should rule in political and
criminal matters. Just as the Kohen Gadol was in charge of the
religious life of Israel, so he was in charge of the political
life of Israel.

During that period, the Zionists were organizing huge anti-Hitler
rallies and protests. The rabbis of Agudat Israel forbade people
from participating in these rallies, for fear that such noise
would only serve to enrage Hitler, and encourage him to kill more
Jews. This hesped was Rav Soloveitchik in support of this pure
Agudat Israel philosophy.

Why did the Rav support Agudah if his father was Mizrachi? In
part, it was youthful rebellion, as the Rav confessed in 1955.
Rakeffet’s theory is somewhat different: Agudah in Berlin was the
organization for young Jewish intellectuals, where the Neo-
Orthodox were fully integrated into German society. So it was
the only real social group the Rav could join.

In 1946, the Rav became the honorary president of Mizrachi. Why
the switch?


In his first lecture on R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinksi for Torah in Motion, history professor Marc B. Shapiro says: You need to go to the gadol (the Torah sage). How do we respond to modernity and other issues.

In earlier years, the High Priest dealt with with halachic (Jewish law) issues and with war and peace and everything that affected the people. So too his must continue today. A quasi-theocracy. The High Priest was God’s second in command. That’s the model for Torah sages.

The Holocaust showed [J. B. Soloveitchik] that da’as Torah (following the gadolim) can err and err grievously.

How do people get in the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah? The same way people get in the college of cardinals. Other people in the moetzes appoint them. That’s how all boards operate.

It means that you can have great rabbis who don’t have yeshivas who don’t get put on the moetzes.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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