By: Murray Margolies  | 

Maybe I'm Wrong (Vol. 8, Issue 10)

There is one thing about Dr. J.B. Soloveitchik. He is an unfailing cure for inflated egos. Nothing is better calculated to make an ordinary mortal, like me, for instance, feel more microscopic than to listen to him talk. The paucity of my intellectual equipment coupled with a realization of profound ignorance on my part becomes so overbearing in his presence that oftimes it is unbearable.

Rabbi Soloveitchik’s First Shiur Inspiring

For me, this is by no means a novel experience. I first had it a number of years ago when the old Rabbi Moses Soloveitchik, of blessed memory, his father, was still going strong in room 102 on the main floor. One day, I remember, a sort of mild sensation swept the Beth Midrash as the word went round that the younger Soloveitchik Gaon would substitute for the elder in delivering the “Shiur” for that day.” Room 101 had more standees that day than there were seats in it. Those standees along with the others were soon to become petrified. The tall, impressive, clean cut figure of the lecturer was soon engaged in the characteristically energetic gesticulations which invariably accompany his communication of fine points. The listeners were amazed at the lucidity of expression, the brilliance of delivery, the depth of understanding, the breadth of knowledge and the abundance of vigor which was unfolding rapidly before them, and those among them who had an imagination were staggered. The rest were just stupefied.

“He must have been in exceptionally good form”, was the comment of some when after his usual two or three hours the Doctor concluded. It was only when they came to hear his Talmudic lectures oftener that they realized they were wrong. His form that day was not exceptional. It was customary. The consistent greatness of the man was one of his distinguishing characteristics.

Everybody knew, of course, that Rabbi Dr. Soloveitchik was a secular scholar even before he came to Yeshiva. But it was only after a few of the older boys met unofficially with the Rabbi early last year for a lecture in philosophy that the extent of that scholarship became known among the older students of Yeshiva. The select few, all of whom are now practicing Rabbis, returned from that lecture bubbling over with enthusiasm. One was aglow with praise for his mastery of the subject; another for his deep insight into its meaning; and still another could not quite recover from his immense vocabulary and command of language. All agreed that it was an experience to treasure. Subsequent unofficial lectures. of that kind further substantiated this prevailing opinion.

Recent Seminar Great Success

If any further evidence of the Doctor’s greatness was needed, it was supplied last Thursday at

Soloveitchik’s seminar in Riets Hall before an overflow audience. The man is not one to be narrowly imprisoned by a theme. Although his subject was nominally “The Retrospective Analysis of the Religious Act”, he covered a remarkable amount of ground and touched upon a great variety of subjects. And I, for one, confess that I was frightened by my own pitiable insignificance in the face of that prodigious exhibition of genius. 

All of which brings me to my final, and most important point. It is a crime to fail to utilize fully such a fountain of talent. New courses should be added to the Rabbinical Department along the above lines, and there can be no doubt of the tremendous benefit the department would derive from this move. Of course, I don’t know the facts in the case, yet it seems strange to me that no attempt in this direction has yet been made.