The Rav Thinking Aloud
Transcripts of Personal Conversations with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
By David Holzer and Aryeh Holzer
HolzerSeforim, 2009, 359 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - December 6, 2010
Rabbi David Holzer served as Rabbi Soloveitchik's shamash, his assistant, for six years, taped many of his conversations, and presents them here. Since there are many books that speak about this rabbi (affectionally called the Rav, "the rabbi," 1903-1993), one of the leaders of Orthodox Jewry, and many writers have different versions of him, Holder's book of direct quotes is a valuable source for understanding this sage. Some readers may be surprised at a number of the near-mystical ideas and may not agree with them; others will applaud his views. I outlined the Rav's teachings on how the Torah should be understood in my review of Holzer's 2010 volume on the Rav and readers may want to look at that synopsis. This book contains an extensive history of the Rav's family in his own words, including the fact that when Yeshiva University originally hired him, it offered him a small salary to discourage him from taking the job. The following are some of the Rav's ideas in this volume.
"The (natural) laws of causality are applicable to universal history, but not to Jewish history" for God is involved in securing Israel's existence (page 82).
"I am inclined to the concept that planets and stars are thinking beings" (92).
Stories in the Talmud and Midrashim about miracles that occurred as a result of prayer "are not parables," they actually happened (92).
Jews are the chosen people, but this "may be relative to our world." There could be another chosen people "in a distant galaxy" (93).
Birth control is forbidden except for medical reasons (96). "Basically birth control should be whatever Hashem (God) wants it to be, not what man wants to control" (99).
"(I)f a person is healthy, he can (perform good deeds and) ask (God) that the zechus (merit) of the mitzvos (good deeds) that he does should protect him (from becoming sick)" (102).
The mystical book Zohar is correct in stating that man has three souls: nefesh, ruach, and neshamah (105 and 296).
"The hair (of women) has to be covered (even in her house when she is alone)" (114).
Men may not listen to a women singing, even prayers and Sabbath table songs (121).
If a person says, I can't observe all of the biblical commandments, you may tell the person to "observe one mitzvah (command), and you have to observe it well" (130).
Anwar Sadat of Egypt did "things which are not logical by his own standards, but which Hashem (God) is compelling him to do" (164).