Was Isadore Twersky A Rationalist Or A Mystic?

Marc B. Shapiro was Harvard professor Isadore Twersky‘s last major student.

In his fifth lecture on R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinksi for Torah in Motion, history professor Marc B. Shapiro says: If you went to Rabbi Isadore Twersky’s shul on Shabbos when he was wearing his long kaputta (black coat), you would see a Hasidic rebbe. On the other hand, if you were with him during the week like I was, you would see a rationalist. A Brisker. Which was he? His whole life was lived as a rationalist, as a Maimonidean. On his death bed, he said that if he had to do it over again, he’d be a rosh yeshiva.

“I met with him almost every day for five years and the Isadore Twersky I knew was very much a rationalist. How this works with being a Hasidic rebbe on Shabbos? I don’t know.”

“Professor Twersky could’ve been a leader of Orthodoxy in America. People confused him with Abraham Twersky. They didn’t know who he was. He was content to stay in his area (medieval Jewry). He could’ve been a scholar in residence at shuls. He could’ve written article like Rav [Aharon] Lichtenstein, putting forth his vision of Torah and modernity.”

“I didn’t go to Isadore Twersky’s shul except on rare occasions. I found it very hard to talk to him about Maimonidean stuff and then see him on Shabbos in a different mode. I didn’t know what to call him on Shabbos. During the week, I called him Professor Twersky.”

“Twersky got annoyed with me. He said I had a chip on my shoulder about the Hasidim. He said it bothered him that I was such a mitnaged. He thought I was prejudiced on behalf of the Vilna Gaon and against the Hasidim.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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