By: Jamin Koslowe  | 

YU Azkara Mourns Passing of the Rav (Vol. 58, Issue 12)

Rabbi Dr. Joseph Baer Soloveitchik was eulogized at a special memorial service held in YU’s Lamport Auditorium on Sunday, April 25. More than 4,000 people gathered to pay tribute to the preeminent Jewish philosopher and Rosh Yeshiva who shaped the course of Orthodox Judaism in America in the 20th Century. Rabbi Soloveitchik, known popularly as “the Rav”, died at his home in Brookline on April 8; he was 90 years old.

Overflowing Crowds

Although the azkara was not scheduled to begin until 11:00 A.M.,all of the seats in Lamport Auditorium were occupied by 10:00 A.M. YU Security directed several thousand people to the main Beit Midrash, Belfer Hall’s Weissberg Commons, and. Tenzer Gardens, where the azkara was broadcast via sound systems and closed circuit television.

Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, Dean of MYP, began the service with a few words about the Rav. He noted that all of Tanach, Mishnayot, and Shas will be completed by YU, SCW, Central High School, and MTA students in time for the Rav’s shloshim in two weeks.

YU Senior Vice President Rabbi lsrael Miller recited some Tehillim and then introduced YU President Dr. Norman Lamm. Miller noted that Dr. Lamm is the only man to receive both smicha and a doctorate from the Rav.


Dr. Lamm hailed the Rav as “a legend in his own lifetime.” Dr. Lamm recounted that in 1935, when the Rav came to visit Israel, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook was proported to have said that “the power of genius of the grandfather [Rav Hayim Soloveitchik] now resides with the grandson.”

“He somehow did not fit into any of the conventional categories,” said Dr. Lamm. He added that the Rav “gave us the gift of his phenomenal, creative originality.” Dr. Lamm said that the Rav’s uniqueness “lay in the synthesis of machshava and halacha.”

Lonely Man of Faith

Dr. Lamm said that the Rav’s genius caused him to experience a great deal of personal loneliness. The Rav’s only real friend was the Rambam. According to Dr. Lamm, this sense of alienation manifested itself in the Rav’s overall conception of life, especially in his analytical approach. “Ultimately,” said Dr. Lamm, “conflict and dissonance make for alienation and loneliness ... The Rav truly was ‘The Lonely Man of Faith’.”

Dr. Lamm told several anecdotes about the Rav, and concluded by saying that the Rav’s memory “will be a blessing to us forever.”

Following a recitation of Tehillim, the Rav’s ‘son-in-law, Rabbi Dr. Isadore Twersky, eulogized the Rav. Rabbi Twersky took special note of the Rav’s “extraordinary intuition” and “constant preoccupation with Torah.”

The last to speak at the Azkara was the Rav’s son, Rabbi Dr. Haym Soloveitchik. He stressed that the Rav was, “first and foremost, a Rosh Yeshiva -- or as he used to say -- a Melamed.” He then distinguished between his father’s early years as Rosh Yeshiva, which he described as a “volcano,” and his later years, when he became much more “gentle.” Rabbi Soloveitchik attributed this change in his father to his mother’s death in 1967.

MTA's principle, Rabbi Gedalia Finkelstein, concluded the program with the singing of “Kail Malai Rachamim”.