Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Rebbe and the Rav

On Hasidism

By Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

The following is an extract from a letter written by the Rav to Rabbi
Moshe Dov Baer Rivkin (1895-1976), a rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva Torah
Vodaath in New York City for many decades and a prominent Lubavitcher
hasid.  It was translated from the Hebrew by Rabbi Yair Kahn.

Erev Rosh ha-Shana, 5715
[Sunday, September 28, 1955]



. . . I possess a special fondness for the Lubavitch movement.  As I speak, I recall the visions of my youth, paved with the pure impressions of childhood, enveloped by romantic splendor.  Patriarchal images still hover before me, crowned with ancient glory.  Behold, the likeness of my mentor, R. Barukh Ya'akov Reisberg, z"l, appear to me.  I can still picture his facial expression, which radiated both solemnity and intelligence, as well as sweep and imagination.  To this day, I hear his voice in the silence of the twilight, sad, saturated with sorrow and longing, his words emerging from the distance – words full of passion and fascination regarding his stay in Lubavitch during his youth.  I still carry in the recesses of my soul, the image of the Alter Rebbe which gazed upon us, (tinokot shel beit rabban) from the whitewashed walls of the heder, a broad forehead, commanding intelligence, deep eyes gazing at Divine infinite distances, fastened upon wondrous visions. The beard which flowed upon his garments enchanted us with its majesty and mystery.  My eyes still perceive the portrait of the Tzemah Tzedek, robed in white, who in our childhood fantasy appeared to us as the high priest exiting the Holy of Holies.  My ears still detect strange sounds, both pleasant and appealing, detached phrases and scattered words uttered by the "hozrim" by dim candlelight during the long winter nights, referring to "all-encompassing lights" and "returning lights," concealment and revelation, internal love and the soul of Israel hewn from the celestial throne.  As I continue to dream, I see the image of elderly Hasidim on the night of Shemini Atzeret, dancing around my father and teacher of blessed memory in a quick rhythmic beat.  Images such as these will not be erased from my heart; they are deeply rooted in the mystery of my being.  Therefore, all that is written regarding this great movement is of enormous interest to me…

("Community, Covenant and Commitment: Selected Letters and Communications- Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik", edited by Nathaniel Helfgot, Ktav Publishing House , NY 2005. Pp 289-90)

(Hat Tip to Rabbi Aryeh Solomon for sending this to me)

(See the website here for articles and videos of the time when these two giants met at the Rebbe's farbrengen)


There is a powerful passage that really touches to the heart of everything I write about in this blog from R’Samson Raphael Hirsch. It is a response that he penned to Zecharia Frankel’s scholastic writings. I cite it here in full and will be posting further on the topic:

“Frankel makes a distinction between dogma and scholarship and by making this distinction he deals the deathblow to that which he calls dogma. There can be only one truth. That is true by the standards of dogma must be true also according the standards of dogma must be true also according to the standards of scholarship, and conversely, that which scholarship has exposed as falsehoold and delusion cannot be resurrected by doga as truth. If the results of scholarly research have convinced me that the halacha is the comparatively recent creation of the human mind, then no doga can make me revere halacha as an ancient divinely uttered dictate and allow it to rule every aspect of my life.

…. Jewish thought knows no such distinction between faith and science which assigns faith to the heavenly spheres and science to the earth. The “dogmatic” element is not hold in one’s vest pocket ready for presentation to the celestial gatekeeper, if the necessary, as a ticket to heaven, while “science” which shapes the intellect of man and is planted on another sort of soil, is nurtured from wellsprings of quite a different source. Jewish “dogma” does not teach mysteries which logic cannot follow, which have no common language with reason and to which reason cannot address itself.

Those concepts which the Jewish “faith” offers as the basis of Judaism are facts, historical realities founded on the living, lucid experiences of a whole nation. These facts are not presented for “believing” but so serve the most vigorous and vital development of theoretical knowledge and practical action. The true science of Judaism is to perceive the world, mankind and Israel in these terms and true Jewish life is to translate these perceptions into living reality.

[Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Collected Writing V, p 312, Quoted in the Artscroll biography of R’Samson Raphael Hirsch p 260]