Rabbi Dr. David Shatz on the Challenge of Perpetuating the Legacy of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik

Editor’s note: This essay by Dr. David Shatz, professor of philosophy at Yeshiva University, is reprinted, with minor modifications, from Memories of a Giant, a collection of eulogies for the Rav edited by Michael A. Bierman and originally published by the Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik Institute and Urim Publications in 2003, in commemoration of the 10th yahrzeit of the Rav. Memories of a Giant is being republished by Maimonides School and Urim Publications in 2013 in commemoration of the 20th yahrzeit. We thank Maimonides School for permission to reprint the essay. References have been reformatted and slightly abridged.

On April 14, Yeshiva University will present a day of learning to commemorate the Rav’s 20th yahrtzeit.

The death of a great individual often leads to exaggerated expressions of his virtues and inflated assertions of irreplaceability. With time the sense of loss is lifted, as new leaders emerge to take the person’s place. Yet looking back at the eulogies delivered for the Rav zt”l with the benefit of much hindsight, what is striking is that if delivered today they would be expressed with the very same pathos and sense of irreplaceability.

Soloveitchik misc  4 (2)Today, a considerable time after the Rav’s death, our sense of loss is every bit as acute as it was then—maybe even more so. Orthodoxy in America, while in some respects stronger today than in the Rav’s time, suffers every day from his absence. Issue after issue inflames passions and divides the community, while no voice speaks as the final authority for his constituency. Over the years, different people proclaim what the Rav did or did not stand for, drawing from their perceptions various lessons for decisions confronting Orthodoxy today. There is thus an intense struggle to keep the Rav alive so that he may continue to be our guide. I offer here some reflections on that struggle. Whereas the eulogies in the book [Mentor of Generations—Ed.] are retrospective, focusing on what the Rav was, this essay is prospective, as it focuses on what the future holds. Read the rest of this entry…