American "Centrist" Orthodoxy
Rabbi Joseph D. Soloveitchik (1903-1992)
Rabi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik
Heir to a chain of distinguished Lithuanian Talmudic scholars, Soloveitchik adopted the analytical-conceptual method of study of Rabbi Hayyim of Brisk, combined with a focus on Maimonides' systematic and philosophical presentation of Jewish religious law.
- 1931--Acquired Doctorate in Philosophy at University of Berlin (dissertation on Hermann Cohen).
- 1932--Moved to the United States, settling in Boston.
Rabbi Soloveitchik was active in communal work, set up a Hebrew day school.
- 1941--Began teaching at the Yeshivah University in New York, lecturing in Jewish philosophy at the University' Graduate School.
Rabbi Soloveitchik served as head at Yeshivah University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), the main American institute for the ordination of Orthodox Rabbis. In this capacity he was able to exert a decisive influence on the American Rabbinate.
- Rabbi Soloveitchik was active in the religious Zionist movement (Mizrachi),and in the Rabbinic Council of America (the association of "centrist" Orthodox Rabbis).
- He published very little during his lifetime, and most of the books that have been published under his name (many of the posthumously) are transcriptions of classes that he gave.
Among his most important writings are:
- Halakhic Man, an analytical-anthropological study of the religious mentality of Lithuanian Judaism, emphasizing the differences between Jewish "legalistic" piety and conventional religiosity.
In this work he depicts the system of Talmudic law (halakhah) as a means through which the Jewish scholar imposes a divinely founded conceptual order, analogous to a mathematical system, upon all aspects of day-to-day existence.
- The Lonely Man of Faith, an exploration of the tension between faith and reason, focusing on the Biblical story of the "Binding of Isaac."
- The Voice of My Beloved is Knocking, on the religious significance of Zionism.
- On Repentance, discourses on Maimonides' "Laws of Repentance."
Institutions of American "Centrist" Orthodoxy
The Yeshiva University, New York City:
This Orthodox institution of higher learning has its roots in the "Yeshiva Rabbi Isaac Elchanan, which was established in 1896 as the first American Orthodox seminary, for religious education and the training of Rabbis.
In the early decades of the 20th century the curriculum was expanded to include secular subjects, a high school, teachers' seminary and more.
By 1928 it was affiliated with the "Yeshiva College," a liberal arts institute.
In 1945 it was granted full university status as the "Yeshiva University."
The "Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary" ("RIETS") remains the soul of the University, and it is the main institution for the training and ordination of Orthodox congregational Rabbis in America.
Unlike some of the more traditionalist yeshivas, RIETS graduates are native English speakers (rather than Yiddish), and are expected to hold Academic degrees.
The Union of Jewish Orthodox Congregations (commonly referred to as the "Orthodox Union" or: "OU").
Established in 1898, this is largest union of American Orthodox congregations. Among its important activities are:
- The administration and certification of "kosher" food (i.e., supervising its production to make sure that it conforms to Jewish dietary laws). The "OU" certification found on many commercial products makes it much easier to be a religiously observant Jew in North America.
- Support for a broad range of religious educational institutions and projects.
- Lobbying the American government on various issues of importance to religious Jews (and occasionally, on matters related to the welfare of Israel).
- The Orthodox Union coordinates synagogue organizations for men, women, youth and college students.
- The Rabbinical Council of America:
This is the central body of Centrist Rabbis. Its "Halacha Commission," long headed by Rabbi J. D. Soloveitchik, is a respected source of Jewish legal decisions.
- Young Israel:
Founded in 1912 by young Jews seeking to Americanize the decorum and aesthetics of the older European-style Orthodox synagogues, this congregational organization has continued to function. It offers some services similar to those of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations.
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