Dr. Soloveitchik Addresses Packed Semicha Exercises (Vol. 15, Issue 9)
“The Jewish tradition is based essentially on two principles, the principle of intellectual activity and of forming a well regulated life,” declared Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik at the thirteenth Chag Hasemicha convocation, held on Sunday, March 12, at Lamport Auditorium, before an overflow crowd of three thousand people.
“The Beth Hamedrash is the center of Jewish intellectual activity, of the abstract, theoretical tradition,” Dr. Soloveitchik continued. “The Jewish home, however, is the reality of Torah. Judaism is only to be understood in terms of these two institutions,” he asserted.
Dr. Soloveitchik stated that Judaism is to be identified with Halachah (Jewish law). “Only halachic Judaism can be sustained historically. The philosophical language of Judaism, on the other hand, is similar to the one used in Christianity and Mohamedanism. It is significant that the first step of early Christianity was to eliminate the Halachah thus making it a religion based only on sentiment and metaphysics.”
Directing his remarks to the musmachim, Dr. Soloveitchik pointed out that the Semicha constitutes the symbol of Torah continuity. “This continuity provides for constant creativity and gives Judaism its dynamic character,” he said. “The application of Halachah is by no means limited to questions of a ritual nature but offers an approach of its own towards the social, economical, and political problems that confront society.”
Dr. Soloveitchik also took issue with the commonly accepted conception of Tzedaka (social righteousness). He stated that in our times it has degenerated into a ‘dollar philanthropy.’ Tzedaka, however, constitutes an approach towards life, in identifying oneself with the fate of one’s fellow man.
The convocation was opened by President Samuel Belkin, who addressed the assembled in Yiddish and English. Samuel Levy, chairman of the board of trustees of Yeshiva University, delivered a short address of welcome, recalling the memory of Dr. Bernard Revel, the Yeshiva’s founder and first president.