By: Paul Orentlicher  | 

Maybe I’m Wrong: The Case of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (Vol. 9, Issue 2)

In a recent editorial in The Commentator, the proposition was advanced that there seems to be a general tendency in the administration to demote or to cold-shoulder people whom the students like. In support of this thesis, two cases were brought to the attention of the reader. But before we can attach an unmistakable Q.E.D. to the argument we must bring several more cases to bear. It is the intention of this article to add one.

Exhibit C: The case of Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchick.

Here, again, is the same old story. A man of outstanding qualities as scholar and teacher is shown proper devotion, support and enthusiasm by his students. The students petition the administration to advance their teacher so that they could receive greater benefit from his vast store of learning. The request is turned down.

Reason: institutional finances, which the students don’t know anything about, which the administration realizes, which puts the students’ case behind the eight-ball, which always makes it an excellent reason to cover a variety of ills. It’s the alpha and omega of ail arguments, becoming the strongest rival to the old favorite, “It’s a matter of administrative policy.”

Students’ Request

What is it that the students ask? What is this great “demand” the students make which threatens to deplete the financial sources of the Institution? Simply this: that Rabbi Soloveitchik be asked to accept a full-time position as a Rosh Yeshiva in the rabbinical department of the institution; that the Rabbi agree to relinquish all outside connections; and that the Yeshiva agree to grant him a salary commensurate with his position. 

Too Much? 

Is this too much to ask? Is it too much to ask that the Yeshiva maintain as its own a man whose Talmudic and secular brilliance and depth of understanding is undisputed throughout the Jewish world?

Is it too much to ask that the Yeshiva maintain as its own a man who can become one of the foremost exponents of Orthodox Judaism, a man who can defend vigorously the philosophy of Orthodoxy against all its enemies, within and without? 

Is it too much to ask that the Yeshiva give the students a greater opportunity to benefit from the immense learning of this man who “has taken all knowledge for his province?” 

Indeed, the administrative mind is a mysterious one. Mysterious, that is, to the non-administrative mind. 

Case a Mystery

It’s preposterous, it seems to me, to take the financial reason as the answer. The mystery of the case of Rabbi Soloveitchik will remain a mystery as long as the decisions are made en huis clos, without consideration of student opinion. Students will remain unsatisfied as long as they are given obviously insufficient reasons for administrative decisions. In this case, there doesn’t seem to be any other kind of reason. If there is, the students should know it.

A Basic Attitude

This case plus the two discussed in the last issue of The Commentator are not merely isolated instances which by coincidence occurred during one short period of time. I rather suspect that there is an underlying attitude, a basic viewpoint common to several administrators which is responsible for these injustices. Exactly what this attitude is, I don’t know. But I think it will be agreed that there is no place in Yeshiva for a Cult of Mediocrity. 

There is one person who, by dint of position, ability and vision can clear the air. Let Dr. Belkin act now.