The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
By Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff
KTAV Publishing House: 1999
ISBN: 0-88125-614-5 (vol. 1) 296 pages
ISBN: 0-88125-615-3 (vol. 2) 300 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - March 16, 2009
Rabbi Dr. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, Professor of Rabbinic Literature at Yeshiva University in Jerusalem, one of Rabbi Soloveitchik's superior students, and a well-known author and lecturer of many histories of Jewish personalities and their ideas, is the perfect person to write about the life of one of Judaism most important twentieth century thinkers. Rabbi Soloveitchik (1903-1993) was highly respected and is affectionally called "the Rav," the rabbi par excellence. However, Rabbi Soloveitchik's ideas are complex, many scholars think they are somewhat obscure and there are different opinions as to what the Rav intended. Thus Rabbi Dr. Rakeffet-Rothkoff faced a formidable task to make the Rav's teachings both interesting and comprehensible.
He succeeded. His first volume tells the history of the Rav's ancestors beginning with the famed Rabbi Chaim Volozhin (1749-1821) a student of the famous Vilna Gaon (1720-1797). This history includes many noted relatives such as The Netziv, Rabbi Jehiel Michal Epstein, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, and Rabbi Saul Liberman. As a result, the reader is introduced to significant Jewish personalities.
The second volume presents the Rav's thoughts on dozens of subjects in skillful simple English. Each of the over one hundred brief selections captures the relevant point precisely. They cover such matters as the Rav's reaction to certain literature, Israel, clairvoyance, the need to pray, faith, messiah, Satan, women saying Kaddish, his views on many community leaders, and many other subjects. The books are an excellent introduction to the views of an important Jewish personality.