Local rabbi’s Haggadah shares Soloveitchik’s wisdom

Local rabbi’s Haggadah shares Soloveitchik’s wisdom

Using meticulous notes saved from the 1970s, Rabbi Yosef Adler compiled "Haggadah for Passover with Commentary based on the Shiurim of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik" while on sabbatical in the summer of ‘006. It was published last month by Urim Publications ($”).

Adler, the longtime rabbi of Cong. Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck and head of school of the Torah Academy of Bergen County there, was a disciple of the man referred to respectfully as "the rav" in the world of Yeshiva University and centrist American Orthodoxy.

In his introduction, Adler relates that he was a sophomore in high school the first time he heard Soloveitchik lecture (in Yiddish) at a Mizrachi convention. He would later become one of some ‘,000 rabbis ordained by Soloveitchik during the latter’s 45-year tenure as rosh yeshiva of YU’s affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS).

Until just a few years before his death in 1993, at the age of 90, Soloveitchik lectured regularly at RIETS and at Cong. Moriah in Upper Manhattan. In the four weeks spanning Purim and Passover, he would focus his study sessions on the laws of the holiday and on the Haggadic text.

Although Soloveitchik’s grandson Yitzchak Lichtenstein previously published a Haggadah incorporating material from his grandfather’s lectures, and others have published works on Soloveitchik’s insights into the holiday, Adler felt there was more to be mined.

"The Lichtenstein Haggadah is purely halachic [dealing with Jewish laws] and does not explain the text of the Haggadah itself, so I felt I could make a contribution," said Adler. "Everything [in the book] I heard from the rav directly, and it has greatly enhanced my own understanding of the seder."

This full Hebrew-English Haggadah includes seven pages of Adler’s own commentaries, as well as his seven-page Hebrew summary of the laws of the seder. "Aside from the halachic section, I wrote it primarily in English for a broader audience without an extensive talmudic background," said Adler. Hebrew phrases do appear frequently within the text of the commentary; most are either translated or transliterated.

Soloveitchik, in keeping with the outlook of the Brisker rabbinic dynasty of which he was a scion, wrote several well-known philosophical volumes but was famously hesitant to commit his many oral lectures to book form. However, a few of his devoted disciples and descendants have published a solid body of work based on their notes or audiotapes of Soloveitchik’s teachings. The Haggadah marks the first one compiled by Adler.

"I always think about doing more with the material I have from the rav, but the problem is that I don’t have the time," said Adler. "The Haggadah was possible because it’s sort of a self-contained unit, and I was able to spend every single morning for three and a half months working on it uninterrupted while I was on sabbatical in Israel almost two years ago."

Soloveitchik was considered by many to be an embodiment of YU’s motto, "Torah U’maddah," or religious scholarship combined with worldly knowledge. Born in what is now Belarus to a family of well-known Judaic scholars, he earned a doctorate in epistemology and metaphysics from the University of Berlin and was as comfortable quoting from Plato as he was from Moses Maimonides. The writings of the medieval Jewish thinker served as Soloveitchik’s main source in formulating his innovative ideas about creation, repentance, divine providence, and prophecy.

Soloveitchik founded the co-educational Maimonides School in Brookline, Mass., five years after immigrating to the United States in 193′, and was among the first rabbis to open Talmud study to girls — at both Maimonides and at Stern College for Women of YU.

For articles about the rav in the Yeshiva College newspaper written last year by Adler as well as Rabbi Howard Jachter — a Torah Academy instructor of Talmud — see here.

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