Few personalities have done as much to define the Modern Orthodox Jewish community as Rabbi Joseph Ber Soleveitchik (1903-1993). Not only did “the Rav,” as he is referred to reverently by many of his students, ordain thousands of rabbis in his position as a senior Rosh Yeshiva at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) of Yeshiva University (where he was the Lieb Merkin Distinguished Professor of Talmud and Jewish Philosophy), but he was an original scholar, author, rabbinic leader, supporter of religious Zionism and advocate for a path of religious “synthesis” known as Torah U’Madda (Torah and secular knowledge).
Born in Pruzhany (then Russia), the Rav’s paternal lineage included a number of renowned rabbinic personages (Beit Halevi, the Netziv, Rabbi Chaim Volozhin). As a young man, after a strong Torah education, he attended three semesters at the Free Polish University in Warsaw and then moved to Berlin where he was able to matriculate into the Friedrich Wilhelm University. He received his Ph.D. and, in 1932 (shortly after marrying Dr. Tonya Lewit), moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he served as the city’s Chief Rabbi.
For the next decade, “the Soloveitchik of Boston,” as he referred to himself (there being many rabbinic uncles and cousins), helped build the Boston community. He established the city’s first Jewish day School (the Maimonides School) supervised kosher slaughtering and delivered lectures on Jewish subjects.
When the Rav’s father, Rabbi Moses Soleveitchik, passed away in 1941, the Rav assumed his position as head of the RIETS rabbinic school, where he continued teaching until illness (Parkinsons Disease and, later, Alzheimers) made it impossible for him to continue (1986).
The Rav was a genuine and unique talmid chacham (great scholar) who inspired thousands of students. Outside of his teaching, he also authored several highly influential works that presented his underlying religious philosophy. The best known of these were The Lonely Man of Faith (1965) and Halakhic Man (1983).
The Rav passed away during the Passover holiday on April 9, 1993 (18 Nisan).
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