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The Philosophical Foundations of Soloveitchik's Critique of Interfaith Dialogue

  • Daniel Rynhold (a1)
Abstract

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903–1993) is often cited as the outstanding figure of modern Orthodox Judaism in the twentieth century.An earlier version of this paper was presented at the British Association of Jewish Studies Conference, University of Southampton, England, in July 2002. Born into one of the most famous rabbinic families of nineteenth-century Lithuanian Jewry, Soloveitchik held unimpeachable “Orthodox” credentials, and as head of the Talmud faculty at New York's Yeshiva University, he spent his active working life as a teacher of Talmud. With his deep roots in the world of the Lithuanian yeshivah (Talmudic academy), Soloveitchik was an exemplar of the sophisticated “Brisker” method of Talmudic study that had reached its apotheosis in the hands of his grandfather, the great R. Chaim Brisker (1853–1918). This “Brisker” method,So called after the town of Brest-Litovsk (Brisk), where R. Chaim settled after his time as the rosh (head) of the Volozhin Yeshivah. with its emphasis on conceptual precision and abstract analysis, was characterized by the value it placed on the intellectual pursuit of Talmud study “for its own sake.”For further discussion of the Brisker method, see Norman Solomon, The Analytic Movement: Hayyim Soloveitchik and his Circle (Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1993); Marc B. Shapiro, “The Brisker Method Reconsidered,” Tradition 31, no. 3 (1997), 78–102; and Moshe Soloveitchik, “‘What’ Hath Brisk Wrought: The Brisker Derekh Revisited,” The Torah u-Madda Journal 9 (2000)1–18. Significantly, though, the intellectual pursuits that Soloveitchik valued expanded his intellectual horizons far beyond traditional Talmudic fare. Thus, in a famously pioneering break with family tradition, at the age of twenty-two he went to study at the University of Berlin where he would receive a doctorate in philosophy, concentrating on the epistemology and ontology of the Neo-Kantian Jewish philosopher, Hermann Cohen.

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Harvard Theological Review
  • ISSN: 0017-8160
  • EISSN: 1475-4517
  • URL: /core/journals/harvard-theological-review
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