Yokhed ve-tsiber: Individual Expression and Communal Responsibility in a Yiddish Droshe by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

Ariel Evan Mayse


The lega­cy of Rab­bi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (19031993) casts a long shad­ow over twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Jew­ish thought. He is remem­bered as a schol­ar, a teacher, and a the­o­log­i­cal pres­ence — an ide­al­ized role mod­el as much as a prac­ti­cal influ­ence. His dis­ci­ples and inter­preters char­ac­ter­ize his intel­lec­tu­al project in a strik­ing vari­ety of ways, from a fierce­ly Ortho­dox leader to a mod­ern intel­lec­tu­al; these con­flicts were aspects of his per­sona that he him­self cul­ti­vat­ed. The present essay explores an ideation­al dialec­tic in Soloveitchik’s work that offers a con­cep­tu­al win­dow into the author’s frag­ment­ed and mul­ti-lay­ered thought: the ten­sion between indi­vid­ual auton­o­my and com­mu­nal respon­si­bil­i­ty. This theme, much dis­cussed in his writ­ings, is the cen­tral con­cern of a lit­tle-stud­ied but crit­i­cal essay called Yokhed ve-tsi­ber” (“The Indi­vid­ual and the Col­lec­tive”), an undat­ed work was first deliv­ered as a droshe (ser­mon) on his father’s yort­sayt.

Schol­ar­ship on Soloveitchik’s teach­ings has tend­ed to focus exclu­sive­ly on his Hebrew or Eng­lish works rather than his Yid­dish writ­ings, but the present essay traces Soloveitchik’s style and explor­ing the nuances of intel­lec­tu­al lega­cy through the lens of this impor­tant Yid­dish homi­ly. Close atten­tion to Soloveitchik’s droshe and its lan­guage reveals a mélange of tex­tu­al and philo­soph­i­cal influ­ences, as he weaves rab­binic and medieval sources togeth­er with mod­ern thought and polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy. When Soloveitchik writes in Yid­dish, as when he speaks or writes in Eng­lish, it is not quite rec­og­niz­able as the lan­guage of oth­er speak­ers: it is deter­ri­to­ri­al­ized by his eru­di­tion, his intel­lec­tu­al migra­tions, and per­haps also by his per­son­al sense of iso­la­tion from oth­er Yid­dish (or Eng­lish) speak­ers. In this sense, I argue that Soloveitchik’s self-fash­ion­ing as the lone­ly man of faith” is embod­ied in the par­tic­u­lars of his lan­guage as well as his spe­cif­ic philo­soph­i­cal teachings. 

You can read a pdf of the arti­cle here.

I wish to thank Marc Caplan, Sun­ny Yud­koff, Saul Noam Zaritt, and Arthur Green, togeth­er with the anony­mous read­er, for pro­vid­ing crit­i­cal feed­back and insight­ful comments. 

For Menachem L.

My teacher, my friend

A thread of hasidut is buried deep within me.

-- Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, 1955 1 1 Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Community, Covenant and Commitment: Selected Letters and Communications, ed. Nathaniel Helfgot (Jersey City: KTAV Publishing House, 2005), 291.

I. Introduction

The legacy of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993) casts a long shadow over twentieth-century Jewish thought. 2 2 See Avinoam Rosenak and Naftali Rotenberg, ed., Rabbi in the New World: The Influence of Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik on Culture, Education and Jewish Thought (Jerusalem: Van Leer Institute, 2010) [Hebrew]; Sefer Yovel Likhvod Morenu ha-Gaon Rabbi Yosef Dov ha-Levi Soloveitchik (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook; New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1984), 2 vols.; and Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, The Rav:The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Hoboken, NJ: KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 1999), 2 vols. Known simply as “the Rav” in many Orthodox circles, Soloveitchik was an important figure in the shaping of American Orthodoxy. 3 3 See Adam S. Ferziger, Beyond Sectarianism: The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2015), 118-135. Soloveitchik’s intellectual and social influence extended to Israel through his writings and through students like Aharon Lichtenstin (also his son-in-law), David Hartman and Shlomo Riskin. See David Hartman, Love and Terror in the God Encounter: The Theological Legacy of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Volume 1 (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2004); and Shimon Gershon Rosenberg, Faith Shattered and Restored: Judaism in the Postmodern Age, ed. Zohar Maor (Maggid Books, 2017), esp. 152-172. He was born in 1903 into a family of rabbinic elites in Pruzhany (now, Belarus) that developed an innovative and highly conceptual approach to Talmudic scholarship. 4 4 See Yosef Blau, ed., Lomdut: The Conceptual Approach to Jewish Learning (New York: The Michael Scharf Publication Trust of the Yeshiva University Press, 2006); and Norman Solomon, The Analytic Movement: HayyimSoloveitchik and His Circle (Atlanta: University of South Florida Press, 1993). Soloveitchik was educated privately and steeped in the world of rabbinic study, but his intellectual quest led him beyond the rabbinate of Eastern Europe. He studied philosophy in Berlin, writing his doctorate on the philosophy of Hermann Cohen (1842-1918), and shortly thereafter he moved to Boston. Soloveitchik then began lecturing at Yeshiva University in New York in 1941, where he taught and ordained thousands of students across the decades.

Soloveitchik is remembered as a scholar, a teacher, and a theological presence—an idealized role model as much as a practical influence. His disciples and interpreters characterize his intellectual project in a striking variety of ways. 5 5 For an overview, see Lawrence Kaplan, “Revisionism and the Rav: The Struggle for the Soul of Modern Orthodoxy,” Judaism 48.3 (1999): 290-311; Shaul Magid, “‘And They Created Him in Their Image’: David Hartman’s Soloveitchik and the Battle for a Teachers Legacy.” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 21.2 (2003): 134-139. In this way, Soloveitchik’s image is not unlike that of the famed Vilna Gaon. See Eliyahu Stern, The Genius: Elijah of Vilna and the Making of Modern Judaism (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013), esp. 1-12. To some, Soloveitchik was a fiercely Orthodox leader who fought against secularization and reform. For others, he represents a modern intellectual whose religious works are saturated with philosophical creativity. All of these characterizations of Soloveitchik’s life and project are at least partly correct. These conflicts were aspects of his persona that he himself cultivated. Soloveitchik saw himself as the last exponent of his way of life, a lone figure in a rabbinic tradition whose vision of the past was riven with anxiety, tension and discontinuity. 6 6 William Kolbrener, The Last Rabbi: Joseph Soloveitchik and Talmudic Tradition (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2016), 1-13.

The present essay explores a critical dialectic in Soloveitchik’s work that offers a conceptual window into the author’s fragmented and multi-layered thought: the tension between individual autonomy and communal responsibility. This theme appears frequently in Soloveitchik’s writings, but it is the central concern of a little-studied essay called “Yokhed ve-tsiber” (“The Individual and the Collective”). The undated work was delivered as a droshe (sermon) on his father’s yortsayt (the anniversary of his death), probably at some point in the 1950s. 7 7 On these lectures, see Rakeffet-Rothkoff, The Rav, vol. 1, 57-58. Unlike many other Yiddish homilies and lectures, which were translated, edited, and published in Hebrew—sometimes by Soloveitchik himself—this particular work was preserved in Yiddish and first published in a recent volume of Soloveitchik’s Yiddish writings called Droshes un ksovim. 8 8 Joseph B Soloveitchik, Yiddish Drashos and Writings (Drashos un Ksovim), ed. by David E. Fishman (Jersey City: Ktav Publishing House, 2009).

The droshe pivots upon what Soloveitchik describes as a perennial tension between the private, inner life of the individual and his place within the broader community. Soloveitchik’s work is grounded in the idiom of rabbinic halakhah, and the title immediately frames the question in terms of the classical distinction between communal obligations (khoves hatsiber) and private religious duties (khoves hayokhed). Soloveitchik later links these to reshus horabim and reshus hayokhed, concepts in rabbinic discourse regarding public and private space. His reading of the dialectic between yokhed and tsiber, however, is deeply rooted in modern political and existential dilemmas. 9 9 See, in particular, Leora Batnitzky, How Judaism Became a Religion: An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thought (Princeton and Oxford; Princeton University Press, 2011), esp. 4; and Tyler Burge, “Individualism and Self-Knowledge,” The Journal of Philosophy 85.11 (1988): 649-663; David Sorkin, The Transformation of German Jewry 1780-1840 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1999), esp. 17; Olga Litvak, Haskalah: The Romantic Movement in Judaism (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2012), esp. 10-21.

Must an individual compromise his intellectual and spiritual uniqueness in order to become a full member of a public society? And how, if at all, may the private person balance the ideal of self-actualization through creativity and innovation with a commitment to the collective? 10 10 For an insightful exploration of these themes in the writings of one of Soloveitchik’s contemporaries, see Yaakov Elman, “Autonomy and Its Discontents: A Meditation on Pahad Yitshak,Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought 47, no. 2 (2014): 7-40. See also Martin D. Yaffe, “Autonomy, Community, Authority: Hermann Cohen, Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss,” Autonomy and Community: The Individual and the Community in Jewish Philosophical Thought, ed. Daniel H. Frank (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), 143-160. Soloveitchik’s essay investigates these questions, culminating in fierce critique of the apathetic and utilitarian approach to yeshivah education in modern American.

Close attention to Soloveitchik’s droshe and its language reveals a mélange of textual and philosophical influences. The attempt to bring together a wide variety of sources—and languages—was a key part of Soloveitchik’s rhetorical style, and this sermonic approach is particularly visible in his Yiddish homilies. The potential to blend different intellectual and linguistic currents is, of course, a characteristic shared by many languages—including Hebrew and English. But the feature of Yiddish often described as “component-consciousness” makes Soloveitchik’s signature fusion of disparate philosophical, theological, and cultural threads immediately apparent in his Yiddish works. 11 11 See Max Weinreich, History of the Yiddish Language (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), vol. 2, 656-657; and Janet Hadda, “Komponentn Visikayt and the Complexities of Yiddish Translation,” Judaism 52,1-2 (2003): 85-94.

The Yiddish writings in Droshes un ksovim represent an ideal case study for interrogating Soloveitchik’s wider intellectual and religious commitments through the disparate components fused together in his language. Scholarship on Soloveitchik’s teachings has tended to focus exclusively on his Hebrew or English works rather than his Yiddish writings. The present essay attempts to redress this glaring lacuna, tracing Soloveitchik’s style and exploring the nuances of intellectual legacy through the lens of an important Yiddish homily.

II. Yokhed ve-Tsiber: Style and Language

Soloveitchik’s Yiddish works are important because they capture a lesser-known period of his thought and intellectual development. In keeping with the traditions of the Brisk rabbinic dynasty to which he was the heir, Soloveitchik published few works during his lifetime. Little writing appeared in the two decades that followed a brief flurry of literary activity in the 1940s and early 1950s. Many of the previously unpublished homilies in Droshes un ksovim were written by Soloveitchik himself during this under-represented midpoint of his career. 12 12 See Fishman’s description of these significant manuscripts as an unmediated window into the author’s thought in Soloveitchik, Droshes and Writings, 13; and cf. Daniel Abrams, Kabbalistic Manuscripts and Textual Theory: Methodologies of Textual Scholarship and Editorial Practice in the Study of Jewish Mysticism, second revised edition (Jerusalem and Los Angeles: Magnes Press, Cherub Press, 2013), 7. This differentiates the Yiddish texts from many other essays or lectures from these years that were reconstructed based on his students’ notes. 13 13 The volumes published in the “Me-Otzar hoRav” series (KTAV Publishing House), in which the Drashos un Ksovim appears, include compendia based on student’s notes, unpublished manuscripts, and translations. These works are complemented by others like the compilations of Herschel Reichman, assembled from notes and published as Reshimot Shi’urim on various Talmudic tractates.

These homilies offer a remarkable lens into Soloveitchik’s Yiddish style. Although the original oral sermon likely differed from the written versions, these textual artifacts bespeak the rich idiom of Soloveitchik’s spoken homily. 14 14 See the remarks of Julius Berman in his preface to Soloveitchik, Droshes and Writings, 10. The editors’ introduction to Soloveitchik’s Shiurim le-Zekher Abba Mari (second edition, 2002), 8-9, note that the written texts were produced first and served as the basis for the oral lectures. His choice to write these homilies in the original did not reflect a religious commitment to preserve the language. 15 15 See also Joshua A. Fishman, “The Holiness of Yiddish: Who Says Yiddish is Holy and Why?,” Language Policy 1, no. 2 (2002): 123-141. “I am not a Yiddishist,” wrote Soloveitchik in a 1961 article, “who believes that the language alone stands for an absolute value.” 16 16 Soloveitchik, Droshes and Writings, 321. See b. Megillah 26b; and Shi’urim le-Zekher Abba Mari, vol. 1, 196-197. It is worth remembering this article published shortly after Soloveitchik’s decision to switch the language of instruction in his Talmud lecture from Yiddish to English. He argued that no language is essentially holy, though he emphasized that Yiddish has attained a certain degree of holiness its many centuries of use in sacred study. 17 17 See Joseph B. Soloveitchik, HalakhicMan (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1991) 47. The notion that one’s deeds may sanctify aspects of the world (from land to language) is particularly common in Soloveitchik’s early works, representing his critique of German Idealism as well as a marked departure from the traditions of Lithuanian piety. See Allan Nadler, “Soloveitchik’s Halakhic Man: Not a Mithnagged,” Modern Judaism 13.2 (1993): 119-147. Yiddish remained Soloveitchik’s primary language of instruction, however, for nearly thirty years after his arrival in America. 18 18 Audio recordings of Soloveitchik’s classes and lectures, some of which are in Yiddish, are available here: For a video, click here. He continued to deliver lectures in Yiddish into his later years, and, in some sense, Soloveitchik’s fusion of sources was most readily expressed in his native tongue. 19 19 Rakeffet-Rothkoff, The Rav, vol. 1, 45, and cf. 74 n. 48.

Most important for the purposes of this essay, Soloveitchik’s Yiddish reveals the complex of religious and cultural influences that infused the rabbi’s theology. Soloveitchik’s distinctively pluralistic language blends together echoes of Hasidism, German philosophy, modern romanticism, Lithuanian Talmudic law, and medieval Jewish thought. 20 20 For an insightful reading of Lithuanian Talmud scholarship, including that of Soloveitchik’s family, as a response to modernity, see Paul Nahme, “Wissen und Lomdus: Idealism, Modernity, and History in some Nineteenth-Century Rabbinic and Philosophical Responses to the Wissenschaft des Judentums,” Harvard Theological Review 110.3 (2017): 393-420; and Chaim Saiman, “Legal Theology: The Turn to Conceptualism in Nineteenth-Century Jewish Law,” Journal of Law and Religion 21.1 (2006): 39-100. This sort of conceptual and linguistic hybridity is neither unique to Soloveitchik nor to Yiddish, but it is one reason that Soloveitchik is so difficult to read in Yiddish. His use of a rabbinic idiom is also what makes his writing, arguably, so interesting.

Many Yiddish writers privileged loshn-koydesh, but Soloveitchik’s sermons are filled with technical rabbinic phrases and posek-loshn. When Soloveitchik writes in Yiddish, as when he speaks or writes in English, it is not quite recognizable as the language of other speakers: it is de-territorialized by his erudition, his intellectual migrations, and perhaps also by his personal sense of isolation from other Yiddish (or English) speakers. 21 21 I wish to thank Marc Caplan for his help in formulating this critical point. In this sense, we shall see that Soloveitchik’s self-fashioning as the “lonely man of faith” is embodied in the particulars of his language as well as his specific philosophical teachings.

III. The Eternal Antinomy

Soloveitchik was a dynamic thinker, more confessional than systematic, and dialectical framings were an important part of his rhetorical style. Moreover, unresolved tensions—and contradictions—surface when his writings and teachings across the years are compared with one another. 22 22 Yoel Finkelman, “Theology with Fissures: Contradictions in Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s Theological Writings,” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 13, no. 3 (2014): 399-421; cf. Marvin Fox, “The Unity and Structure of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s Thought,” Tradition 24, no. 2 (1989): 44-65. Many of Soloveitchik’s teachings on the interface of the individual and the community describe the relationship as a fraught binary characterized by ongoing stress, conflict and apprehension. 23 23 See Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “The Community,” Tradition 17, no. 2 (1978): 7-24. See also Pinchas H. Peli, On Repentance: The Thought and Oral Discourses of Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik (Jason Aronson, Inc., 1996), 97-125, esp. 114-115; Chaim Navon, “Individual and Community in the Thought of Rabbi Soloveitchik,” Emunot ve-De’ot be-Mishnat ha-GRID Soloveitchik, ed. Meir Kohen (Jerusalem: Maoz Family, 2011), 63-75 (Hebrew); and Gerald J. (Ya’akov) Blidstein, Society and Self: On the Writings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (New York: Orthodox Union Press; Jersey City, NJ: KTAV Publishing House, 2012). Such unresolved polarities are a hallmark of Soloveitchik’s philosophy. In “Yokhed ve-tsiber, however, the dialectic between the individual and community tilts toward resolution. In the Yiddish droshe, Soloveitchik argues that the individual may only achieve the height of self-creation through imitating God’s everlasting love through ethical obligation, kindness, and compassion toward the community.

“Yokhed ve-tsiber” begins with an argument that may rightly be described as the homily’s intellectual cornerstone: issues of political structure and governance are, at heart, religious questions of ethical and spiritual concern. Speaking from amid the fresh trauma of the Holocaust and the cataclysmic rubble of the Second World War, Soloveitchik suggests that the twentieth-century is soaked with blood because politicians have forgotten that social formation turns on moral and religious questions. 24 24 See Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 207. He then notes that all political orders must deal with the problem of how to reconcile individual self-expression vis-à-vis the demands of the collective, and Soloveitchik claims that most forms of government err in emphasizing the value of one at the expense of the other:

Either one naively believes, together with the French [authors of the] Encyclopedia, 25 25 Referring to the Encyclopaedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Craft (Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers), published between 1751 and 1772. in the idea of social contract, or [one maintains] that the state is actually the creator and the carrier of cultural awareness (kultur bavustzayn); the individual is only visible in the background of the group, and must therefore serve it [i.e. the collective]. 26 26 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 208.

Soloveitchik illustrates the perennial dichotomy of individual freedom and communal obligation with the example of liberal democracy and the absolutism of the modern nation-state. The former grants unfettered privilege to the value of personal self-fulfillment, a liberty restrained only by the individual’s voluntary acceptance of the “social contract.” Absolutist governments, including Fascist and Communist regimes, represent the opposite extreme. These are systems of governance in which the individual is totally effaced before the needs of the authoritarian nation-state or the proletariat collective.

The author’s subtle warning against becoming subsumed within a political community reflects the rise—and fall—of authoritarian regimes of all stripes throughout the twentieth-century. 27 27 See also the comments of Rabbi Naftali Tsevi Berlin (1816-1893) in his Ha’amek Davar to Gen. 11. This Lithuanian rabbinic leader was a colleague of Soloveitchik’s great-grandfather, and his comment was likely known to Soloveitchik. Though in this droshe Soloveitchik describes America as infused with the ideals of personal liberty found in the writings of French thinkers like Rousseau, Montesquieu and Voltaire, 28 28 See also Barry Alan Shain, The Myth of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996). this homily—dating from the 1950s—was likely delivered amid the second Red Scare. During the infamous McCarthy hearings and the cultural foment left in their wake, the issues of individual autonomy, collective obligation, and communal coherence were dragged into the public spotlight in a most tawdry manner. This political context makes it particularly interesting to see Soloveitchik struggling to present a coherent vision of how individual freedom may coexist together with ethical obligation toward the community or the collective.

The Talmudic sages, argues Soloveitchik, framed the tension between personal autonomy and communal responsibility in terms that differ significantly from twentieth-century political discourse. He claims that the rabbis describe the question as pivoting upon a dialectic, an “eternal antinomy” (eybike antinomiye) of emes and sholem. These two poles, roughly translated as “truth” and “peace,” may appear to be deadlocked in fundamental opposition, but Soloveitchik argues that rabbinic sources have them existing simultaneously in the human soul as well as in society at large. 29 29 Soloveitchik underscores the coexistence of emes and sholem as essential to what he calls hashkafas hayahadus, or the all-encompassing worldview presented by classical Jewish sources. This term seems to borrow from the German notion of Weltanschauung, appearing elsewhere in Soloveitchik’s works as hashkafat ‘olam or tefisat ‘olam. Emes and sholem may endure in this state, says Soloveitchik, because they are rooted in divine attributes.

The rabbinic ideal of emes is taken by Soloveitchik to represent the individual’s uncompromising quest for self-fulfillment and personal authenticity: “Yokhed—individuality (individualitet)—means a spiritual existence of being-other (andersh-zayn)… as a reality (realitet), an individual form (geshtalt) which comes into the world only once.” 30 30 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 208. The individual’s self-understanding as a singular being propels him to actualize this singular potential. For this reason, individuals driven by emes simply cannot agree with each other, since “… one’s opinion (shite) is a part of one’s individuality. Just as one’s personality is individual, so too is his opinion.” 31 31 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 209. Intellectual beliefs, suggests Soloveitchik, are as indivisible from the holistic self as one’s character traits.

The formulation also highlights Soloveitchik’s particular Yiddish idiom. His use of the word individu’alitet, rather than the more common eygnart or eygnartik, seems to gesture toward his rootedness in discussions of the nature of the individual (often Individuum) in modern philosophical discourse. 32 32 See Hermann Cohen, Religion of Reason: Out of the Sources of Judaism, trans. Simon Kaplan (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995) esp. 165-177. The word “personality” (perzenlekhkeyt), following the German Persönlichkeit as found in writings of Fichte, Hegel, and Cohen, connotes far more than specific behavioral attributes. Perhaps better rendered as “personhood,” Persönlichkeit variously refers to the abstract fullness of an individual’s moral world or the infinite personhood of the individual. 33 33 See David Ciavatta, “The Unreflective Bonds of Intimacy: Hegel on Familial Ties and the Modern Person,” The Philosophical Forum 37, no. 2 (2006): esp. 153-154; T. I. Oisermann, “Hegels Lehre von der dialektischen Identität und das Problem der Personlichkeit,” Hegel-Jahrbuch Meisenheim (1979): 109-117; and James Dodd, “Husserl and Kant on Persönlichkeit,” Santalka: Filosofija, Komunikacija 17, no. 3 (2009): 29. For a comment by Hegel on the necessity of surrendering one’s personality in love for the other, see Stephen Houlgate, “Religion, Morality and Forgiveness in Hegel’s Philosophy,” Philosophy and Religion in German Idealism, ed. William Desmon, Ernst-Otto Onnasch and Paul Cruysberghs, (Dordrecht and Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004), 92. But a reader—or listener—alert to the components of Soloveitchik’s idiom might equally underline the rabbinic term shite. This deployment of a recognizably Talmudic word, rather than meynung or even the loshn-koydesh term deye, is similarly idiosyncratic. Soloveitchik’s Yiddish, like his homiletical theology, weaves together German philosophy and rabbinic lomdus and interprets them in light of one another.

“The ideal of emes is defiled,” writes Soloveitchik, “when sholem seizes the upper hand and the individual begins to give up (mevater) his principles—his ideology.” 34 34 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 209. Pure emes brooks no moderation, and striving for authenticity requires one to hold fast even in the face of “disagreement or friction” (makhloykes un raybung). 35 35 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 209. This call to individual self-actualization is deeply ingrained in the human condition, but is balanced by an opposing force that stirs people to compromise and live together within a communal fabric. “An agreement (heskem) is always compromise (pshore),” says Soloveitchik unabashedly. 36 36 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 209. But individuals do so, claims Soloveitchik, “because people are political (mentshn zaynen medini’im), social beings; they cannot live in absolute isolation and eternal conflict.” 37 37 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 209.

The statement, which employs a curious plural Hebrew adjective-cum-noun, recalls Maimonides’s reinterpretation of an Aristotelian doctrine: “man is political by nature” (ha-adam medini ba-teva). 38 38 Maimonides, Guide, II:40, according to ibn Tibbon’s translation. See Aristotle, Politics 1.1253a. and cf. idem, Nichomachean Ethics, ch. 10.; see Menachem Lorberbaum, Politics and the Limits of Law: Secularizing the Political in Medieval Jewish Thought (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), esp. 19-41; and Moshe Halbertal, Maimonides; Life and Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 161-162. Aristotle’s point, which is linked to human language, accents the positive importance of the individual participating in the life of the city-state. Maimonides, however, portrays the goal of the polis as facilitating the individual’s philosophical and contemplative investigation. Soloveitchik’s treatment, though closer to that of Maimonides, will present a different order of values.

The seeming irreconcilability of emes and sholem brings Soloveitchik to a theological quandary: How can a coincidentia oppositorum exist among the divine attributes? In answer, he turns to a well-known Midrash regarding whether or not humanity should be created. 39 39 Bereshit Rabbah 8:5. Khesed (“loving-kindness”) and tsedek (“righteousness”) claim that mankind will be capable of nearly unbounded goodness, whereas emes and sholem argue that mankind will produce nothing but strife and deceit. Turning the Midrash on its side, Soloveitchik argues that the angels are pessimistic about humanity’s future because they believe—erroneously, it turns out—that emes and sholem cannot coexist:

If emes wins, a person becomes an uncompromising individual (yokhed) who opposes the community. If, by contrast, sholem [is victorious], then a person begins to leave his private domain (reshus hayokhed) and enters the public arena (reshus horabim), becoming a compromiser (bal-pshore) and giving up his emes. 40 40 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 210.

Seeking new philosophical and existential significance in ideas found throughout Talmudic literature is characteristic of Soloveitchik’s sermons and yortsayt lectures. 41 41 On the Sabbath, one may not carry an object from one domain to another (e.g. private to public) without establishing an ‘eruv to enclose them within a single expansive “private” space. See m. Shabbat 1:1, and 11:1. Here the interdiction of carrying objects from one realm to another is interpreted as gesturing toward the angels’ dichotomous vision. One who values compromise and community above all cannot achieve self-actualization. By contrast, an individual who seeks only emes, privileging the development of his perzenlekhkeyt and inner world, cannot join a meaningful community.

According to this lithe rereading of the rabbinic tradition, emes and sholem argue against mankind’s creation because they cannot coexist. Should, the Midrash asks, the human being be formed as a hardened individualist whose strict, uncompromising vision of truth and judgment “pierces the mountain” (yikoyv hodin es he-har)? Or should the ideal human being be a “pursuer of peace” (roydef sholem), willing to compromise his individual vision in order to weave himself into the fabric of a unified society? 42 42 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 210. These Talmudic expressions appear in a sugya exploring whether rabbinic law should prize adherence to strict judgment or compromise in jurisprudential procedure; see b. Sanhedrin 6b. The answer to this ultimate question is rooted in Soloveitchik’s vision of God’s dialectical attributes and the gift of qualities to humanity.

IV. Der Yokhed u-Meyukhed: Compassion and Creation

The key to overcoming the seemingly insoluble dialectic between individual liberty and communal obligation, described earlier as an “eternal antimony,” is rooted in the capacity of the human being to mirror the Divine. God is described as “abundant of love and truth” (rav hesed ve-emes) in the famous theophany before Moses in Ex. 34:6, and Soloveitchik frequently underscores that both emes and hesed are divine attributes that coexist in a state of perennial—by fructifying—tension. 43 43 The list of divine characteristics given in Ex. 34:6-7 is commonly known as the “thirteen attributes of compassion” and is recited as a part of the liturgy on fast days, certain holidays and other times of favor and reflection. Emulating this dialectic is, argues Soloveitchik, a foremost mode of imitatio dei:

It appears that the Master of the World bestowed a modus vivendi upon people so that they would not need to sacrifice (makriv zayn) the emes for sholem, nor the opposite. There is a way to realize both godly attributes, and the secret lies hidden in the other two attributes of tsedek and khesed—or, better yet, in khesed through which tsedek is effected. 44 44 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 211.

The enduring dialectic between the arch-attributes of sholem and emes drives the ethical obligations of one human being to another as compassion (khesed) is expressed in moral behavior (tsedek). An individual who achieves this balance may imitate God’s limitless beneficence, since, as we shall see, the outpouring of love in the human soul mirrors the constant flow of divine vitality into the cosmos.

Maimonides, says Soloveitchik, describes God’s emes as “identical with existence” (identish mit metsiyes). Translating metsiyes as virklekhkayt (“reality”), Soloveitchik claims that “absolute emes is the essence (esents) and substance (tokhn) of absolute reality.” 45 45 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 211. Cf. Jean-Paul Sartre, “Existentialism and Humanism,” in Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. ed. and trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Meridian, 1975), 349. This description of God as the “absolute emes” is rooted in medieval philosophy, but it goes far beyond Maimonides’ formulation in the opening lines of Mishneh Torah or ibn Tibbon’s translation of the Guide of the Perplexed. In Soloveitchik’s hands, these terms are enriched with modern philosophical resonance; he summons them out of Maimonides’ medieval context and into the world of Kantian metaphysics and German Idealism.

The concept of virklikh (Ger. Wirklich) as the “real” or “actual” is an important watchword for Kant, for whom it is connected to experience and sensation, as well as for Hermann Cohen, who links it the ethical thrust of existence. 46 46 See Soloveitchik, “Das reine Denken und die Seinskonstituierung bei Hermann Cohen,” Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of Berlin, 1932, 99-110. Soloveitchik’s use of esents may link to the concept of “essence” (Ger. Wesen)—an object’s deepest core that radiates through its “appearance” (Ger. Erscheinung)—that plays a critical a role in Hegel’s influential Science of Logic (1813). 47 47 See Georg W. F. Hegel, The Science of Logic, trans. George di Giovanni (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 337-505; and Charles Taylor, Hegel (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 258-296. A correlate term appears in Soloveitchik’s Hebrew writings as mahut; see Divrei Hagut ve-Ha’arakhah (Jerusalem: Ha-histadrut, 1981), 67, 171. Finally, Soloveitchik’s use of emes seems to draw upon its near-synonym of vor (also vorhayt or vorhaftik), which, like the German Wahr, may refer to the “real” or “reality” in addition to “truth”; such an understanding of truth as linked to reality is key for Hermann Cohen. 48 48 See Hermann Cohen, Religion of Reason: Out of the Sources of Judaism, trans. Simon Kaplan (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1995), 500-501; and cf. ibid, 44; and Martin Jaffe, “Liturgy and Ethics: Hermann Cohen and Franz Rosenzweig on the Day of Atonement,” The Journal of Religious Ethics 7.2 (1979): 221; and Alexander Altmann, “Theology in Twentieth-Century German Jewry,” The Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 1.1 (1956), 194, suggesting that in the collapse of Hegelian metaphysics, “Hermann Cohen arose, and it is in no small measure due to his influence that twentieth-century Jewish theology in Germany emancipated itself from a sterile Historicism and recovered the almost lost domain of the Absolute, of Truth and faith in the Truth.” Building on the traditions of Maimonides, Soloveitchik draws the works of Kant, Hegel, and Cohen into his richly infused Yiddish through philosophical terminologies that illuminate his reading of the medieval Jewish sources. This linguistic hybridization roots the ancient polarity of yokhed ve-tsiber in a distinctly modern debate over the nature of the cosmos and the individual’s place therein.

God is the ultimate yokhed—singular, and unified—the appearance of the cosmos as a separate existence defined by multiplicity. “There is no other existence (eksistents) other than the godly (di getlekhe),” claims Soloveitchik, “… It is laughable to claim that there is a separate form of reality that also exists.” 49 49 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 212. He argues that this understanding of the limitless Divine is a cornerstone of Judaism, one with which all Jewish theologians have engaged. Some, like Isaac Luria or Shneur Zalman of Liady (the founder of Chabad Hasidism) discussed the question of God’s presence in the cosmos explicitly. Other Jewish thinkers such as Maimonides, the Vilna Gaon, and Hayyim of Volozhin were more circumspect in their treatment, but Soloveitchik claims that all express of the same sacred truth. Invoking a formulation found in the Zohar, he states unequivocally: “The only reality is the divine, the eternal ‘I will be that which I will be’ (Ehyeh asher Ehyeh), filling all the worlds and surrounding all the worlds.” 50 50 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 212. Divine unity is expressed not only by the indivisibly of attributes, but in the fact that God’s immanent presence ismrevealed through the cosmos.

This description of God as a sacred force that unites all being reveals the impact of Hasidism on Soloveitchik’s theology. 51 51 See Elliot R. Wolfson, “Eternal Duration and Temporal Compresence: The Influence of Habad on Joseph B. Soloveitchik,” The Value of the Particular: Lessons from Judaism and the Modern Jewish Experience, Festschrift for Steven T. Katz on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. Michael Zank and Ingrid Anderson (Leiden and Boston, 2015), 195-238; and Dov Schwartz, Religion or Halakha: The Philosophy of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2007), 146-193. In particular, his claim that “There is no other existence (eksistents) other than the godly (di getlekhe)” recalls the pithy summary of Hasidic theology by an early Chabad thinker: “all is God” (alts iz Got). 52 52 See Louis Jacobs, Seeker of Unity (London: Vallentine-Mitchell, 1966), 159. Indeed, Soloveitchik’s presentation mirrors the vision of divine unity described in Shneur Zalman’s major theological opus (Likkutei Amarim—Tanya). 53 53 See Mayse, “Sacred Writ,” 134-140. Such influence is by no means unexpected; Soloveitchik admitted to being well-versed in the teachings of Chabad, a particular Lithuanian form of Hasidism:

What do I know about Habad? I know quite a bit, since as a child I had a melamed who was a Habad hasid.... Even today, I still know sections of the Tanya by heart, especially the Sha’ar ha-Yihud ve-ha-Emunah, dealing with faith and the attributes of the Almighty... if not for my Habad melamed, I would today be lacking an entire dimension of knowledge. Many of my drashot are based upon the knowledge imparted to me by the melamed. 54 54 Rakeffet-Rothkoff, The Rav, vol. 1, 147,

Yokhed ve-tsiber” is indeed such a droshe, a sermon in which Chabad theology converses with German philosophy and Lithuanian rabbinic culture. But the resultant expansive vision of God as encompassing all reality and existence—a “yokhed u-meyuhad,” in Soloveitchik’s formulation—leads to a theological conundrum: If God is everywhere, how can we speak of the cosmos as filled with individuals? And, if God’s inviolate and necessary existence is predicated upon nothing, why create such a world in the first place? 55 55 See Arthur Green, “God’s Need for Man: A Unitive Approach to the Writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel,” Modern Judaism 35.3 (2015): 247-261.

Creation, argues Soloveitchik, was an act of love rather than necessity. 56 56 Lurking behind this suggestion is the Midrash in which God saw that the world could not endure by means of strict judgment alone, and therefore fashioned it by means of love as well; see Bereishit Rabbah 12:15, and Rashi’s reworking of this tradition in comments to Gen. 1:1. This emphasis on divine love represents a subtle departure from Maimonides, for whom Creation was first and foremost an act of divine will. 57 57 Cf. Maimonides Guide, III:51-54; and Warren Zev Harvey, “Notions of Divine and Human Love in Jewish Thought: An Interview with Warren Zev Harvey,” University of Toronto Journal of Jewish Thought 3 (2013), unpaginated ( It is also a rare moment in Soloveitchik’s theology that focuses on God’s love for humanity. 58 58 See Maimonides, Guide, I:65. His writings abound with descriptions of the worshipper’s yearning for the Divine, often patterned on Maimonides’ account of the soul’s longing for God in the tenth chapter of Hilkhot Teshuvah. Soloveitchik’s works are deeply infused by the austere God of the rationalist philosophers, and references to divine love—for the world and for humanity—are sparse. 59 59 Notable exceptions to include Soloveitchik’s “Kol Dodi Dofek,” and “Confrontation,” but these essays reflect a particular political and theological agenda. Cf. David Hartman, Love and Terror, 163-165, 186. In this Yiddish sermon, however, the exegetical arc is driven by passionate descriptions of God’s love.

The emphasis on love is further accented by Soloveitchik’s account of creation as a divine gift in which God invited the cosmos, including humanity, to join with divine existence and become infused with divine emes. The rabbinic Midrash about the conflict khesed and emes, noted above, concludes with God “casting emes to the ground” and creating human beings despite their mendacity. Soloveitchik reads this moment in a positive light, suggesting that emes was delivered unto the cosmos in order to grace the world with vitality:

The godly emes is like an eternal, inexhaustible spring, flowing in all directions, from which enlivening, crystal-clear water endlessly bursts forth. The world imbibes the spring water of God’s reality (metsiyes) and herein consists of its existence. 60 60 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 215.

This ceaseless river of emes, of God’s essential vitality, courses into the human being and enfolds him, “in His absolute, unending, eternal and singular existence.” 61 61 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 212. The individual, suffused by the ever-flowing source of being, is drawn out of his private existence; he transcends the boundaries of the self and joins with the cosmic community that is rooted in God’s singular reality.

Returning to Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed, Soloveitchik explains that the attribute of khesed refers to the generative and boundless overflow of spiritual vitality. 62 62 See Maimonides, Guide, III:53; ibid, II:11-12; and, for an important antecedent, Shlomo Pines, “On the Term Ruhaniyyut and Its Origin, and on Judah Ha-Levi’s Doctrine,” Tarbiz 57 (1988): 511-534 [Hebrew]. The result, he argues, bridges the dialectic between the individual and the community without forcing either pole into submission:

Khesed means an individual existence that does not preclude that of the other. Just the opposite: [khesed] draws the other near, taking him into its intimate, ontic (antishn) circle of unending khesed. Khesed means spreading out (Revelation), 63 63 This word appears in English in the manuscript. when a secret reality, hidden and concealed in the shadows of [one’s] privacy (yekhides), reveals itself in all of its splendor for others, allowing them to enter its private domain (reshus hayokhed). 64 64 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 215.

God’s creation of the world represents the moment in which alterity became possible. 65 65 See Seymour Kessler, “Soloveitchik and Levinas: Pathways to the Other,” Judaism 51, no. 4 (2002): 440-457. And yet, Soloveitchik emphasizes that the cosmos does exist not as a separate entity, but as a distributary whose life-force remains connected to the mighty, unending river of God’s vitality. This stream flows from the innermost depths of the sublimely unified Divine (Der Yokhed) and gushes into the heart of the individual (yokhed).

This endless moment of intimate communion eclipses the distinctions between them. God’s emes is “ontic” (Ger. Ontisch), says Soloveitchik in a term plucked from German philosophy, implying that the divine vitality is the true reality of the cosmos rather than an externally-imposed phenomenon. It is into this river of vital ontic being that the one must plunge in the attempt to span the rift between self-creation and personal autonomy on one hand, and, on the other, the individual’s obligations toward his community, society, and the world at large.

V. The Poetics of Divine Unity

Soloveitchik’s effort to illustrate his theological arguments with natural images and experiences, a sustained characteristic of “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” represents a noteworthy point of style that distinguishes this work from his other writings. For example, in this sermon Soloveitchik compares the flow of godly compassion that illuminates the individual—but does not eclipse his personal existence—to the light of the sun; this image draws upon those found in classical texts of Chabad Hasidism, revealing another nearly-unmistakable point of influence upon his thought. 66 66 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 216-217; and Likkutei Amarim—Tanya, sha’ar ha-yihud va-he-emunah, ch. 4, fol. 79b: “The [divine] vitality conceals itself within the body of the created being, as if the created were an individual entity and not the expansion of vitality and spiritual energy, like the ray of light from the sun... although it truly is not an individual entity, like the overflowing radiance of the sun, nevertheless this itself [reveals] the majesty of the omnipotent blessed Holy One—the vitality and spiritual energy that flows from the divine spirit is tempered and concealed, so that the individual’s personal existence is not totally negated.” Soloveitchik also describes God as manifest through the aesthetic perfection of the natural world. In paying mindful attention to birds, flowers, and other natural phenomena, says Soloveitchik, the flow of God’s vitality becomes visible:

The tulip blossoms in Spring, the rose in June, the aster, the magnolia and the chrysanthemum, in Autumn; I mark the constellations of stars with their regularity, the setting of the sun with its dusky twilight, when the remaining (iberike) colors of the specter are absorbed, and only the red shine reaches me. I see the regularity of the animals in the jungle, which all go to the river to drink for the night; putting hand to foot, I hear the beat of my existence; the summer birds buzz and fly from flower to flower, the flowers bend to the sun, the wind blows and brings seed (zriye) to the far steppes, and in the Spring the fields awaken—in my ears, the call: “the One of abundant khesed and emes.” This is the eternal godly existence... 67 67 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 217. This passage calls to mind Itzik Manger’s comments in “Der litvak un di landshaft,” Shriftn in proze (Tel Aviv: Y. L. Peretz Farlag, 1980), 185-189, on Lithuanian Yiddish writers’ unique appreciation for the beauty of nature precisely because such beauty is so fragile and infrequent in their native land.

The compassionate, ever-present hand of God is revealed through the mathematical constancy of the stars, the passage of time, and the instinctual movement of the animals. Only through appreciating the cosmic symphony of creation, beautiful in its aesthetic complexity as well as its scientific regularity, can the individual worshipper (the yokhed) understand his existence as one particular manifestation of divine unity.

Such poetic appreciation of the physical world is quite uncommon in Soloveitchik’s works. 68 68 See Gad Freudenthal, “Maimonides on the Knowability of the Heavens and of Their Mover (Guide 2: 24),” Aleph: Historical Studies in Science and Judaism 8.1 (2008): 151-157. This fact makes its presence in this Yiddish droshe both significant and curious, especially as such poetic reflections bespeak the scientific, philosophical, and rabbinic amalgam of languages that characterize our text. Elsewhere, such as the following passage from the 1944 Hebrew “Ish ha-Halakhah” (later published in English as Halakhic Man), his descriptions of humanity’s relationship to nature subsume aesthetic observation beneath the categorical imperatives of Jewish law:

When halakhic man comes across a spring bubbling quietly, he already possesses a fixed, a priori relationship with this real phenomenon: the complex of laws regarding the halakhic construct of a spring... Halakhic man is not overly curious, and he is not particularly concerned with cognizing the spring as it is in itself. Rather, he desires to coordinate the a priori concept with the a posteriori phenomenon.

When halakhic man looks to the western horizon and sees the fading rays of the setting sun or to the eastern horizon and sees the first light of dawn and the glowing rays of the rising sun, he knows that this sunset or sunrise imposes upon him anew obligations and commandments...

It is not anything transcendent that creates holiness but rather the visible reality—the regular cycle of the natural order. 69 69 Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, 20-21.

Passages like this emphasize the intricate complexities of halakha as the totalizing epistemology through which the individual encounters—and experiences—the world as a whole. Sunsets are to be appreciated only as triggers of legal obligation; God’s immanence is visible in the commandments linked to these physical events, not their aesthetic majesty. Holiness is formally generated as the worshipper confronts physical reality and, through the power of the law, brings each phenomenon into alignment with its ideal. Such is Soloveitchik’s paean to the centrality of halakha.

In Soloveitchik’s Yiddish droshe, however, the worshiper contemplates the rhythms of nature as beautiful expressions of God’s existence and love. 70 70 Cf. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “Immanence and Transcendence: Comments on Birkat Yotzer Or,” Worship of the Heart: Essays on Jewish Prayer (Jersey City: KTAV Publishing House, 2003), 122-132. Awestruck recognition of God’s majesty, of the fact that “the whole earth is filled with His glory” (Isa. 6:3), should stir the individual to prayer and whip him into a state of fiery passion (hislayvus). 71 71 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber”, 217. The term hislayvus is commonly used in Hasidic sources to describe ecstatic fervor. The verse Isa. 6:3 is often cited as prooftext for God’s immanence in all aspects of the cosmos. Nature reminds Soloveitchik’s “halakhic man” to submit to the yoke of the commandments, even as he is filled with the radiance of his own creative autonomy. But in Yokhed ve-Tsibbur, Soloveitchik describes the individual worshiper as becoming filled with an overwhelming ecstasy in the face of God’s resplendent majesty.

When comparing the passages from the Yiddish droshe and the Hebrew work Halakhic Man, as above, it is tempting to suggest that Soloveitchik’s spirit soars more freely in his native language. But I suspect that there a deeper ideological crevasse between this Yiddish droshe and his works extolling the power of halakha. Soloveitchik first published his Hebrew essay “Ish ha-Halakha” in a rather obscure American Orthodox rabbinic journal, intended for a very different audience than that of emotionally-driven public Yiddish addresses rooted in aggadah rather than the intricate details of Jewish legal discourse. The association of Yiddish with emotionalism and/or femininity (and Hebrew or loshn-koydesh with masculinity and rationalism) is, of course, a common essentialist trope. 72 72 See Naomi Seidman, A Marriage Made in Heaven: The Sexual Politics of Hebrew a1-nd Yiddish (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997), esp. 1-39. In the case of Soloveitchik, however, there does seem to be a critical distinction between his modes of expression in these two languages.

Loshn-koydesh was, for Soloveitchik, the language of halakha; his Talmudic novella were published exclusively in Hebrew, including those originally delivered in Yiddish. 73 73 See Shiurim le-Zekher Abba Mari, a two-volume collection of yortsayt lectures published in Hebrew. For Yiddish sermons published during Soloveitchik’s lifetime, see Fir droshes fun Yosef Dov ha-Levi Soloveitchik (New York: Mekhon Tal Orot, 1967). Soloveitchik’s Yiddish was also preserved in texts otherwise in Hebrew; see Mi-Peninei ha-Rav, ed. Hershel Schachter (Brooklyn: Flatbush Beth Hamedrosh: 2001), 47-51. Soloveitchik interprets halakha itself as representing a kind of self-sufficient language, one composed of what he identified as unique symbols, values, metaphors, first principles, and praxis. 74 74 This line of thinking is rooted, inter alia, in the writings of Frederick Charles von Savigny; see his Of the Vocation of Our Age for Legislation and Jurisprudence, trans. Abraham Hayward (London: Littlewood and Co., 1831), 27-28. See also Daniel Rynhold, “The Philosophical Foundations of Soloveitchik’s Critique of Interfaith Dialogue,” The Harvard Theological Review 96.1 (2003): 101-120; and Reuven Kimelman, “Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Abraham Joshua Heschel on Jewish-Christian Relations,” Modern Judaism 24.3 (2004): 251-271. The Yiddish droshe “Yokhed ve-tsiber” represents an entirely different aspect of Soloveitchik’s theology, one in which the individual’s private spiritual life and his commitment to the community are sparked by appreciation God expressed in the natural beauty of the world.

Both Halakhic Man and “Yokhed ve-tsiber” thus focus on God’s immanence, but their emphases diverge sharply. In the former, Soloveitchik asserts that the human being is commanded to bring even mundane elements of existence into the service of God, but brooding over this empowered vision is an inscrutable and transcendent God. 75 75 See, inter alia, Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, 32. The divine logic governing the halakha is unfathomable and immutable, and every knee must ultimately bend to its obligations. “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” by contrast, emphasizes that God’s immanence is manifest in the ever-flowing love and emes. “God did not hide away his emes in his transcendent mysteries,” writes Soloveitchik, “He lent or gave it to others.” This act of giving is the individual’s modus vivendi of imitating the Divine, of mirroring God’s compassion by bestowing the gifts to others. The Yiddish droshe is a homiletic excurses on love and compassion, human as well as divine. The yokhed becomes integrated into tsiber through sharing his inner radiance with the surrounding community. 76 76 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber”, 216, remarks that God “allows us to become partners (mishtatefzayn) in his unending metsiyes,” suggesting that each person becomes an active participant in sharing divine compassion. This description of mankind as a partner is mirrored by passages in his early works; see, inter alia, Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, 71; and Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Yemei Zikaron (Jerusalem: 1986), 10-15.

VI. Human Partnership and the Ethical Turn

To overcome the existential fissure between communal commitment and individual freedom, says Soloveitchik, one must imitate divine grace by opening the heart to others. He identifies this precept as hidden in the rabbinic Midrash recalled above, re-reading the angelic argument over mankind’s nature as pivoting upon the question of the ethical potential of the human being. Through loving-kindness (khesed) and compassion, he claims, the individual may embody both divine attributes (emes and sholem) without compromising either ideal:

A person must become [like God], one who is “abundant of khesed and emes” (a rav khesed ve-emes). Does the human being have emes? Surely he does! Had he no emes, he could not exist! Existence (metsiyes) means taking part in the Master of the World’s emes, becoming a partner in the divine reality...

Should one repress the precious gift from God, the divine emes received from the One who is abundant of khesed and emes, hiding away within his own existence and holing up in a hidden corner, in his isolated private domain (reshus hayokhed) and denying all benefit to others? 77 77 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 218.

It is not enough to be a person of emes, whose spiritual and intellectual gifts are cordoned off from all others. One must strive to emulate the pathways of the Divine, projecting emes through khesed and sharing his portion of God’s essence with others. The worshipper, says Soloveitchik, “ must expand the ‘I’ (oysbreytern dem ikh)—his consciousness (bavustzayn) 78 78 On “consciousness” (Ger. Bewusstsein) in Hermann Cohen’s thought, see Soloveitchik, “Das reine Denken,” 52-56. —and allow others to take part in his individuality.” 79 79 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 218. In embodying such kindness and extending the inner emes to the community, the individual’s private domain becomes “the property of the public” (der kinyon fun dem robim). 80 80 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 218.

The worshiper’s rapturous response to God’s unity spurs him to a higher level of ethical obligation toward others. 81 81 See also Soloveitchik, “Etish-moralish zayt,” 302-303: “The ultimate Will, which prevails upon the everyday, mechanical phenomena such as the ebbing and flowing of the seas, is also revealed through the human being, in his great moments of ethical uplift (etisher aliyeh), and it suffers in him in the time of his ethical fall (etisher yeride).” Soloveitchik often makes this point in “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” but it is particularly of concern in the final third of the droshe. He illustrates the idea, in typical style, by means of an unanticipated philosophical interpretation of the a legal concept noted above:

For a person, khesed means the overflowing, expansion of the individuality. 82 82 Underlined in the manuscript, here and below. He becomes a kind of “mixture of different realms” (‘eruvey-khatseres), in which domains (reshuyes) that were locked up, isolated, and surrounded by barriers, become fused together into a single realm, as his private personality (yekhidishe perzenlekhkeyt) is so rich with blessing that he must pour it forth, transferring something of his emes, which he received from the One of abundant khesed and emes, into another personality, which had not merited to receive the Creator’s effluence in such abundant measure. 83 83 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 218-219.

The eruv-khatseres enables an individual to carry objects from one realm to another on the Sabbath. This rabbinic institution provides a paradigm, argues Soloveitchik, for what the human being must become: an instrument of connectivity and expansiveness. Rather than a cloistered existence of isolation, the worshiper’s relationship to the Divine must lead him toward giving and sharing of his blessing.

Soloveitchik gives the example of tsedokeh as a particularly important practice for expanding the “I,” of stretching the personal and private realm to encompass the needs of the community. 84 84 See also Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “Tsedokeh,” Droshes and Writings, 231: “In addition to the fact that tsedokeh is an individual subject (individuele ongelegnhayt), which depends on the individual (yokhed), tsedokeh is also organized by the community (kehileh) which controls the system of tsedokeh.” “Possessions and riches,” says Soloveitchik, “are a part of individual existence (yekhidesdiker eksistents).” 85 85 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 219. The economic sphere is also a part of sacred, redeemed existence, but sanctifying this realm requires that one give to others. Holding fast to one’s money and using it for small-minded, selfish pursuits sunder the yokhed’s link to the community and restricts the stream of divine blessing to them both. 86 86 Hasidic sources, building upon earlier kabbalistic traditions, often speak of almsgiving as a mode of effecting divine revelation. Building on the Talmudic teaching that one merits to greet shekhineh by giving tsedokeh, such source uses describe giving to others as ushering for a river of divine love. See b. Bava Batra 10a; Mevasser Tsedek (Tsefat: 2010), re’eh, 221; Mayse, “Sacred Writ,” 142-146.

This physical act of giving should be filled with religious vitality, since tsedokeh cannot produce its full impact if it is distributed in a mechanical or cold manner. This principle, says Soloveitchik, come to us from rabbinic teaching about Moses:

“The blessed Holy One took a fiery coin... and showed it to Moses.” 87 87 Midrash Tanhuma, ki tissa, no. 9, cited by Rashi’s comments to Ex. 30:13. The original rabbinic teaching explains that Moses is shown the heavenly coin in order to demonstrate how the offering of a half-shekel may indeed serve as an atonement. Cf. y, Shekalim 1:4; and Tosafot to b. Hullin 42a; and the well-known Hasidic homily in Ben Porat Yosef (Jerusalem: 2011), vol. 2, derashot le-shabbat ha-gadol, 650. The cold, unfeeling metal is transformed through a fiery, spiritual act, and khesed rises to the surface... the true (emeser) act of compassion is founded on the expansion of one’s own personality, on including another in one’s individual existence. Thus, the correct sympathy, true love, compassion, and pure mercy (reyne rakhamim) surfaces automatically. 88 88 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 219-220.

The moment of empathy between two human beings triggers a process of spiritual, emotional, intellectual uplift. The halakha is necessary for expanding the private realm to encompass the community, but the legal obligations are not themselves sufficient for effecting this change: the coin he gives must be aflame with the giver’s passion and love.

Soloveitchik thus shows himself to be greatly concerned with the place of ethics in the religious world, intensified by what he saw as the moral decline around him. 89 89 Indeed, his essay “Etish-Moralish Zayt,” Droshes and Writings, 301-306, is devoted entirely to this subject. See also the lament in Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 222: “The worse the surrounding world becomes, the more cynical the culture becomes, the holier and more precious the emes becomes.” In Halakhic Man he took great pains to demonstrate that the exegetical freedom and creativity he extols is not the same as the abject moral subjectivity—and complete “ethical autonomy”—that he fears will emerge from Kantian philosophy taken to its extreme. 90 90 See Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, 153, n. 80; and H. J. Paton, The Categorical Imperative: A Study in Kant’s Moral Philosophy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971), 180-184. Following the critique levied by Hermann Cohen against Kant, Soloveitchik argues that freedom—including the freedom to cultivate one’s inner emesmust sanctify the world. 91 91 Cohen, Religion of Reason, 444, argues that, “Consciousness would have to tear off all the threads that give it its cohesion to be able to abstain from the personal duty of charity. The latter, therefore, becomes the virtue of faithfulness in the first place in regard to one’s own I, and through it to the fellowman. All charity expresses faithfulness to the human community.” And cf. ibid, 349, where Cohen claims that, “All deeds of loving-kindness are a recompense, a recompense for God’s love to man, which man has to render to man. This recompense designates the kind of deed of loving-kindness that seizes man’s inner life with more intimacy than all almsgiving.” See also Martin D. Yaffe, “Autonomy, Community, Authority: Hermann Cohen, Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss,” Autonomy and Community: The Individual and the Community in Jewish Philosophical Thought, ed. Daniel H. Frank (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), 143-160. This capacity for self-creation as well as self-transcendence is rooted in the immanent manifestation of khesed and emes within the human being. 92 92 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 217, argues that the thirteen attributes of divine compassion were given not for the sake of metaphysical or theological reflection, but as “central tenets of ethical, practical principles” revealed through human deeds. He notes Maimonides’ teaching on this point in Guide, I:54, but Soloveitchik is also drawing on the ethos of works like Tomer Devorah and Reshit Hokhmah, and other key texts of the ethical-kabbalistic tradition of mussar literature. Invoking the language of Kabbalah and Hasidism, he says that hesed and emes (i.e. gevurah) are united in tif’eres, the first three sefirot of the seven lower divine qualities. Tif’eres is associated with compassion as well as splendor; see Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 216.

This discussion of tsedokeh as binding the individual to the community is not simply addressed to misers or greedy and callous businessmen, nor is the power of sharing limited to physical coins. 93 93 See Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 220; and Soloveitchik, “Etish-moralishe zayt,” 302. Soloveitchik argues that a bridge between the yokhed and tsiber is forged through all acts of giving. He is equally concerned with the fact that scholars, religious intellectuals and spiritually talented individuals may become seduced into obsessing over their own accomplishments or attainments. A teacher who forgets that his inner world must be opened up and given to others, says Soloveitchik, leaves a critical ethical and religious duty unfulfilled.

VII. Master and Disciple: A Relationship of Khesed and Emes

One final point regarding the ethical core of “Yokhed ve-tsiber”, and the array of philosophical sources embedded in its language, requires further comment. The critical imperative to share one’s pecuniary blessings, argues Soloveitchik, pales in comparison to the obligation of sharing the greatest of gifts that God can bestow: seykhel. 94 94 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 220. This central value of intelligence and wisdom, partnered with emes, must be compassionately expressed through teaching others. True philosophical flourishing requires these open channels of communication between the individual and the community. To illustrate this point, Soloveitchik invokes the rabbinic ruling that a prophet who refuses to share his message with others is deserving of the death penalty. 95 95 m. Sanhedrin 11:5. He interprets this dire outcome as a consequence of stifling the creative revelation rather than a vindictive divine punishment:

Prophecy and creativity (yetsire) are the same exact thing (iz haynu hakh). All the medieval authorities (rishoynim) agree with this—Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Levi, the Rambam, [and so forth]. Creation and revelation of shekhineh are the same thing—a flow of shefa, a divine matter. The Master of the World allows all creation to take part in his ontic (antishn) emes, and the prophet... emes must flow from him like a waterfall from a high mountain... When the soul is filled with God’s word, the divine matter flows out of the borders of the individual and gushes toward everyone. 96 96 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 221-222.

The prophet can no more contain his intellectual insight than a volcano can restrain the lava bubbling up from the earth’s core. 97 97 See Maimonides, Guide, II:37. This vision of the prophet as filled with divine vitality that must then come to suffuse the world around him is strikingly reminiscent of the twentieth-century Hasidic sage Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira; see See Daniel Reiser, “‘To Rend the Entire Veil’: Prophecy in the Teachings of Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira of Piazecna and its Renewal in the Twentieth Century,” Modern Judaism 34.3 (2014): 334-352. More broadly, see Eliezer Schweid, “‘Prophetic Mysticism’ in Twentieth-Century Jewish Thought,” Modern Judaism 14.2 (1994), 193-174. The explosive divine wisdom must come forth, cascading out from the prophet’s inner realm and into the minds and hearts of his listeners. The word yetsire may refer to divine creation (like the Yiddish bashafung), but Soloveitchik’s consistent emphasis on creativity as the fullest actualization of an individual’s potential—here, and elsewhere in his corpus—suggests that he means to invoke a broader vista of creative élan. In the final pages of “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” Soloveitchik unambiguously declares that the individual must strive to imitate God by breaking down the walls of the self and sharing his religious and intellectual creativity with others. 98 98 Walter S. Wurzburger, “The Centrality of Creativity in the Thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik,” Tradition 30.4 (1996): 219-228.

This point is critical for understanding one of the central motifs of this droshe: all Jews, and those who study Torah in particular, may become God’s partner and share an awareness of the divine essence that unites all being. Soloveitchik notes that even a person with a limited connection to Torah—even a single letter of the alphabet—knows something of God’s emes. 99 99 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 222. But the more one is invested in religious scholarship, the more one is transformed into an active conduit for the unfolding of God’s compassion. The creative enterprise of textual interpretation and intellectual contemplation, when shared with others, becomes a source of intimate connection with the Divine. 100 100 See Norman Lamm, Torah Lishmah: Torah for Torah’s Sake in the Works of RabbiHayyim of Volozhin and His Contemporaries (New York and Hoboken: Michael Scharf Publication Trust of the Yeshiva University Press and KTAV Publishing House, 1989).

A community is composed up of individuals who strive for this type of self-fulfillment. If left unchained, this impulse for personal creation leads to a collective made up entirely of self-obsessed, private seekers who care nothing for one another. Soloveitchik’s ideal yokhed is not driven forward by a pure Wille zur Macht, nor does he allow himself to bask in individual glory at the expense of the community. 101 101 See the warning included in Soloveitchik, HalakhicMan, 164 n. 147, where the author notes that, in the wake of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, “the longing for creation was perverted into the desire for brutal and murderous domination. Such views have brought chaos and disaster to our world, which is drowning in its blood.” Cf. Daniel Rynhold and Michael J. Harris, “Modernity and Jewish Orthodoxy: Nietzsche and Soloveitchik on Life-Affirmation, Asceticism, and Repentance,” Harvard Theological Review 101.2 (2008): 253–284. With the biblical prophet as a paradigmatic example, he claims that the yokhed-scholar’s overflowing soul forces him to contribute to the community. 102 102 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 225.

Western pedagogical models, says Soloveitchik in the concluding paragraphs of “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” emphasize and reify the distinct individuality of the teacher and student. The goal is to mold and shape the disciple, imbuing him with timeless wisdom that is measured by an objective yardstick. Such has been the intent behind much of the Western approach to education “from Plato to Pestalozzi and Herbart.” 103 103 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 222. His offhanded rejection of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) and Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841) is curious, given that they set about redefining and reforming the norms of classical Western pedagogy. See Michael Rosenak and Avinoam Rosenak, “Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Aspects of Jewish Educational Philosophy: Explorations in his Philosophical Writings,” Journal of Jewish Education 75.2 (2009): 114-129. Jewish education, by contrast, should be the living partnership founded in the communion of master and disciple; this intimate connection emulates the bond between God and the individual human being:

The teacher must give his deepest, hidden and intimate emes to the disciple, inviting him—just, as it were, as the Master of the World did with all creation—to take part in his own existence. The student and teacher, are poured into one another through an act of compassion. Just as God is revealed to humanity through nature, and the apocalyptic revelation of shekhineh via prophecy, so too is the teacher revealed to the student. He entrusts him with his intimate, quiet ‘I’, and through this trust they are united with one another. Two souls poured into a single mystical personality. 104 104 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 223.

Education transforms the inner essence of the scholar, for in studying Torah he glimpses God’s presence and witnesses what Soloveitchik often called “the breath of eternity. The yokhed must achieve his personal intellectual contributions, but Soloveitchik notes that a sage cannot possess true emes if he remains only “a scholar for himself” (talmid kkokhem far zikh)—an introverted soul saturated with wisdom that shares nothing with others. 105 105 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 223. Like the illuminated prophet, the rabbi must share his private world with his students. 106 106 Shalom Carmy, “‘The Heart Pained by the Pain of the People’: Rabbinic Leadership in Two Discussions by R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik,” The Torah U-Madda Journal 13 (2005): 1-14.

In his Hebrew Ish ha-Halakhah, Soloveitchik quotes his grandfather Rabbi Hayyim of Brisk as describing the rabbi’s role as follows: “To redress the grievances of those who are abandoned and alone, to protect the dignity of the poor, and to save the oppressed from the hands of his oppressor.” 107 107 Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, 91. Cf. Daniel Sperber, “‘Friendly’ Halakha and the Friendly ‘Poseq’,” The Edah Journal: A Forum of Modern Orthodox Discourse 5.2 (2002), online. We might have expected that Hayyim of Brisk, renowned for his penetrating Talmudic analysis, would define a rabbi as a leader in intellectual and legal realms. But, at least in the younger Soloveitchik’s retelling, his presentation of the ideal sage as an ethical model and spokesperson for his community is quite different. Soloveitchik’s point in “Yokhed ve-tsiber” is even more strident: the teacher must remove the defensive barriers separating him from his students, opening the heart and mind and welcoming the student into his private inner world.

VIII. Thinking Beyond

Yokhed ve-tsiber” concludes with a biting criticism of American yeshiva education. 108 108 The crisis in religious education was one that concerned Soloveitchik. A different side of this appears in his address “Independent Education,” in Drashos and Writings, 245-252, which tackles the question of ultra-Orthodox education in Israel. Soloveitchik’s disapproval was not meted out against insufficient Talmudic prowess—a common critique of American institutions among Eastern European rabbinic intellectuals—but against a relationship between master and disciple that had become stale and perfunctory. 109 109 See also Rakeffet-Rothkoff, The Rav, vol. 2, 177-180. This connection had become routinized, a distant and mechanical encounter that offered nothing once the Talmud was closed and the technical discussion was brought to a close.

Integrating the Torah into the fundament of the student’s being requires much more from both parties. Disciples must come with an open heart in addition to an open mind, experiencing their studies as a moment of powerful revelation. It also requires teachers to see their role as a spiritual guide who, in becoming vulnerable to the students, allows them to take part in their innermost intellectual and spiritual worlds. Soloveitchik laments, in short, the transformation of Jewishness into Judaism—a way of life and civilization into a religion defined by perfunctory observance. A deeper mode of education requires a different kind of student, a different educational model, a different epistemology than America was willing or able to offer. “Yokhed ve-tsiber” represents an attempt to articulate this malaise and offer a partial solution grounded in sources both traditional and modern.

As mentioned earlier, the Yiddish lecture was delivered in honor of the yortsayt of the author’s father, Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik (1879-1941). Soloveitchik introduces his father near the end of his address, offering the following remarks:

... for him, the Torah did not represent a mere aggregation of knowledge (sakh ha-kol fun yediyes), however deep and thorough it may be. Torah became a part of his personality, of his most intimate “I”-awareness. 110 110Ikh bavustzayn might also be translated as “I-consciousness,” but Soloveitchik himself uses the term “‘I-awareness” in a similar context; see Lonely Man of Faith, 29. The entirety of his individual being became infused with the illumination of Torah. The boundaries from his private domain (reshus ha-yokhed) could not contain it; [the light] continuously flowed forth from him like a river. 111 111 Soloveitchik, “Yokhed ve-tsiber,” 226.

Moshe Soloveitchik, thus recast, represents the scholar of Torah par excellence, a person for whom endless years of intensive study have transformed the essence of his being. The illumination of Torah penetrated the innermost chambers of his heart, claimed the younger Soloveitchik, and the light of his scholarship flowed outward to the community like the never-ending spring of divine khesed.

But I suspect that in this droshe the reader encounters another rabbinic figure, one whose life embodied the dialectic of yokhed ve-tsiber: Joseph Soloveitchik himself. William Kolbrener has recently argued that Soloveitchik is best understood as a melancholy figure whose self-formation (and self-representation) vis-à-vis the past is fraught with anxiety, tension and discontinuity. 112 112 Kolbrener, The Last Rabbi, esp. 4-5. This melancholy, claims Kolbrener, was in part a result of the rupture of the Holocaust, but it also originated in his acute awareness of the vast gulf separating him from the legacy of Talmudic scholarship to which he was the heir.

Kolbrener’s reading is particularly insightful for understanding the latter half of Soloveitchik’s career. The private, inner experience of the individual and his dialectical relationship to the community, described in “Yokhed ve-tsiber” with such optimism and confidence, finds rather somber expression in Soloveitchik’s later works such as The Lonely Man of Faith. 113 113 See Joseph B. Soloveitchik, TheLonely Man of Faith (New York: Three Leaves Press, 2006), esp. 25-27, 35-39, 64-65, 80. Cf. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “Redemption, Prayer, Talmud Torah,” Tradition 17.2 (1978): 55-72, where he argues that redemption—communal as well as individual—is marked by the return “from the periphery of history to its center.” See also Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “Catharsis,” Tradition 17.2 (1978): 38-54. There Soloveitchik emphasizes, time after time, that loneliness is intrinsic to the individual’s quest for self-actualization. The necessary step of joining the community requires humility and surrender, and, even so, the alienation of the individual remains inescapable. The person of faith realizes that his religious life and the deeply personal nature of his inner world are incommunicable. He is separated from the community by means of an intractable barrier, an abyss that cannot be crossed with a bridge of words. Such works reveal the influence of European existentialism, and perhaps bespeak Soloveitchik’s response—or challenge—to the writings of Martin Buber and Abraham Joshua Heschel, which were at the apex of their popularity and influence at this time. 114 114 See Michael S. Berger, “U-vikashtem Mi-sham: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s Response to Martin Buber’s Religious Existentialism,” Modern Judaism 18.2 (1998): 93-118; and David D. Possen, “J.B. Soloveitchik: Between Neo-Kantianism and Kierkegaardian Existentialism,” Kierkegaard’s Influence onTheology, Tome III: Catholic and Jewish Theology, ed. Jon Stewart (Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Company 2012), 189-209. See also Soloveitchik’s “Be-Seter u-ve-Galui”, in Divrei Hagut ve-Ha-‘arakhah, 163-186. Unlike Lonely Man of Faith, “Yokhed ve-tsiber” is filled with optimistic descriptions of an individual’s deep connections with the community around him, reflecting a relatively youthful Soloveitchik nearing the height of his power.

The Yiddish droshe was written in the immediate post-Holocaust, and the collective trauma must have impacted Soloveitchik’s sense that the yokhed must step out of his own inward preoccupations, even those of Torah, to be a responsible member of society. He was, at heart, an Eastern European Jew unhappy with individualist America, feeling the call toward collective responsibility in the wake of the Nazi destruction of European Jewry. Like his contemporaries Abraham Joshua Heschel and Menachem Mendel Schneerson, other major intellectuals from the rabbinic elite who were educated in Western Europe on their way out of Poland and Russia, Soloveitchik could easily have remained an intellectual yokhed content to follow the life of the mind. But, as with Heschel and Schneerson, the trauma of 1933-1945 compelled otherwise, leading to a renewed sense of moral responsibility to the Jewish people. Soloveitchik’s embrace of Zionism and his emphasis on communal destiny, a radical break with the traditions of his Lithuanian forbears, may be interpreted as a part of this process as well. 115 115 See Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “Kol Dodi Dofek,” Divrei Hagut ve-Ha‘arakhah, 9-56; Dov Schwartz, “Kol Dodi Dofek: A Religious-Zionist Alternative,” Tradition 39.3 (2006): 59-72.

These intellectual migrations make Soloveitchik’s philosophy every bit as marbled and idiosyncratic as his evocative Yiddish idiom. He was the scion of a venerated rabbinic line, a Yiddish-speaking sage steeped in old-world rabbinic culture who spent most of his intellectual career in the United States. He was at home in the realms of neo-Kantian and Western philosophy as well as the sea of Talmudic discourse, and his Lithuanian scholarship was illuminated by more than a spark of Hasidic piety and rapture. He could have contented himself to pursue his own studies, mastering Talmud and philosophy and fulfilling his own intellectual interests without concern. Soloveitchik moved West to Germany to cultivate his own intellectual life, but somehow that West betrayed him, and the fates of history drew him back into the pull of responsibility for the collective. Like the yokhed at the heart of his droshe, Soloveitchik himself sought to answer that pull by expanding the boundaries of his private life in an attempt to convey his inner world to the community. These intellectual peregrinations and layered hybrid identity, at once both deeply fragmented and powerfully synthetic, are particularly visible in Soloveitchik’s repercussive Yiddish idiom.
Mayse, Ariel Evan. “Yokhed ve-tsiber: Individual Expression and Communal Responsibility in a Yiddish Droshe by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.” In geveb, February 2019:
Mayse, Ariel Evan. “Yokhed ve-tsiber: Individual Expression and Communal Responsibility in a Yiddish Droshe by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.” In geveb (February 2019): Accessed Nov 24, 2020.


Ariel Evan Mayse

Ariel Evan Mayse is an assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies of Stanford University.