Sunday, December 11, 2011

Guest Post: Revisionism and the Rav Revisited

In 1999, Professor Lawrence Kaplan published an article entitled Revisionism and the Rav: The Struggle for the Soul of Modern Orthodoxy, in which he discussed the misrepresentation of Rav Soloveitchik's views by figures on both the right and left, but especially by Rabbi Moshe Meiselman. A few months ago, I wrote a post in which I pointed to a further instance in which Rabbi Meiselman distorted the Rav's views, this time with regard to the development of the universe.

Recently, Rabbi Meiselman claimed that all this is "absurd." While not offering any counterargument to my own demonstration of his distortion of the Rav's views, he claimed that Professor Kaplan's case has been refuted by the publication of Rabbi David Holzer's book The Rav: Thinking Aloud. I asked Professor Kaplan if he would write a formal response to be published on this website, and he kindly consented. It is a little too lengthy to put into a blog post, so it is available for download as a Word document at this link.

20 comments:

  1. For people who don't want to download, you can just click here as well: http://goo.gl/Zu870.

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  2. Just wondering: why not title them Rabbi Dr. (or/and Prof., in the US it is a bit tricky title) Lawrence Kaplan and Rabbi Dr. Moshe Meiselman? After all, MMs PhD. is mentioned all over the place as something incredibly important. On the other hand, in the frum circles it is a big no-no to be Rabbi Dr.

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  3. The honest thing to do would be that Prof. Kaplan should have also corrected your description of him as being among "foremost talmidim of the Rav". This was playing off the same term used to describe Rabbi Meiselman by the interviewer and it implied equivalence:

    Rabbi Sebrow then states that Rabbi Meiselman was a nephew of the Rav and one of his foremost talmidim. However, other family members of the Rav and foremost talmidim believe that Rabbi Meiselman engages in extensive revisionism of the Rav to bring him in line with Charedi mores.

    So its not surprising that Rabbi Meiselman responded to the equivalence you made on your original blog post (although this wording was omitted in your 5tjt article.)

    But Prof. Kaplan doesn't realize any of this when making his first point.

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  4. A 1972 New York Times Profile of RYBS is available (free for NYT subscribers) at: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F70B17F63959107B93C1AB178DD85F468785F9

    I suspect it is the one referenced at the end of Prof. Kaplan's essay.

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  5. The honest thing to do would be that Prof. Kaplan should have also corrected your description of him as being among "foremost talmidim of the Rav".

    I wasn't necessarily referring to Prof. Kaplan.

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  6. Just wondering: why not title them Rabbi Dr. (or/and Prof., in the US it is a bit tricky title) Lawrence Kaplan and Rabbi Dr. Moshe Meiselman?

    I was debating that. In the end I decided to go with how they are conventionally described.

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  7. Quite a devastating write up on Meiselman.
    Mishpacha's "Nothing but the truth" stands denounced as "nothing of the truth".
    Here goes one of our Jewish home's Shabbos treats!
    It feels like trashing Cholent & Kugel!

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  8. I believe that only people who make use of their rabbinic ordination, such as synagoue rabbis, Roshei Yeshiva, Poskim, etc. should use the title "Rabbi," not university professors such as myself.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  9. The last paragraph is crushing. A pity really.

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  10. For a foremost student of the Rav that also believed Rabbi Meiselman's revisionism was out of control, see R. Simcha Krauss' article in Tradition (can't recall the exact name or publication, but it's there).

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  11. A Google search turned up "The Rav on Zionism, Universalism, and Feminism" at http://www.traditiononline.org/news/article.cfm?id=104865

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  12. Also R.Yosef Blau,the Mashgiach at YU who was close to the Rav, wrote a letter to Tradition on critical of R. Meiselman.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  13. Why isn't the Rav's son Rabbi Prof. Haym Soloveitchik cited in these types of discussions? It would seem that no one would have a better "insider" perspective than he?

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  14. Question of interest: Why do we all agree on "yesh m'ayin" when Bereshit tells us there is the t'home..which is clearly something?

    Gary Goldwater

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  15. Eric: Prof. Haym Soloveitchik has not written about his father.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  16. Eric: Prof. Haym Soloveitchik has not written about his father.

    What a response. This basically sums up the differences here, doesn't it?

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  17. To Prof Kaplan regarding your response piece:

    Well done, sir.

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  18. Dovod Kornreich has written a response to my article on his blog "The Slfkin Challenge." I found it unconvincing, but the tone is more moderate then his usual posts.

    Three points:

    R. Meiselman did not only rely on his "insider access" but on his own (hyper?)analyis of the Rav's writings, specifically "Kol Dodi Dofek" and "Mah Dodekh mi-Dod." I believe I have shown his readings to be wrong.

    Prof. Haym Soloveitchik no doubt would have much of value to say about his father. But, for whatever reason, he appears to have chosen not to say it. The only time, to my knowledge, he publicaly spoke about his father was at the YU sheloshim, where I was present. The talk was very illuminating, but did not touch on the issues separating me and R. Meiselman. Does R. Meiselman believe that Prof. Solveitchik supports his assessment of the Rav?

    I, as should have been clear, focussed on the Rav's two sons-in-law not only because they wrote about the Rav, but because of their great personal stature and their ongoing exceptionally close access to the Rav. In any event, when R. Meiselmman says that most of the Rav's family members share his views, I wonder to whom he is referring.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  19. The great difference in the understanding of RYBS's view of modernity as espoused by RMM and others may be due, in part, to the different approaches used by RYBS in dealing with various people. RMM was educated as a youth in non-Jewish, elitist, secular schools. He went from Boston Latin to Harvard to MIT. This lack of a religious Jewish environment outside the home may have lead RYBS to strive to counteract those outside influences by emphasizing a particularist approach to religion and life. I admit that this is purely speculation since I have had no significant interaction with RYBS or the family. One experience with a prominent family member, RAS, illustrates my point, however.

    I once attended an invited talk given by RAS to an Ivy-League college audience. That lecture consisted of a harangue about the alleged evils of the Gentile society based on the well known misuse of the phrase, "halacha hi beyadua she'Eisav sonei leYaakov". I was seething, and had to restrain myself from interrupting the harangue by citing the full context in which the phrase occurs. Instead, I hurriedly left the room as soon as the talk ended since I was afraid that emotion would overcome good judgement and proper respect.

    For years I harbored a silent disdain for RAS based on that experience. I subsequently read that RAS was quite unlike the impression that he left that day. Why did he do it? I assume that he was focused on weaning us away from the attraction of the Gentile secular mileau, and was prepared to distort the truth in order to futher that goal.

    Could this have been the goal and modus operandi of RYBS in interacting with his nephew? Perhaps RMM's mother, Shulamit Soloveitchik Meiselman, could provide some insight based on her book about the family.

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  20. I apologize for mispelling 'milieu'. If one uses expressions from another language, one should, at least, spell it correctly.

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