From the Commie Archives (March 16, 1953; Volume 37, Issue 2) — Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik Addresses Overflow Crowd in Lamport
Editor’s Note: In honor of the Rav’s 30th yahrzeit, The Commentator has reprinted an article primarily consisting of a summary of his 1953 semicha speech, one of countless opportunities Yeshiva students at the time would have had to hear him share words of Torah.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Professor of Talmud and Jewish Philosophy, and Dr. Samuel Belkin, President of Yeshiva, were the principal speakers at the Smicha convocation exercises held Sunday, March 8, in Nathan Lamport Auditorium. Eighty-three rabbis, ordained during 1950-53, participated in the exercises. Of these, ten are serving as chaplains in the armed forces. Three other rabbis, who are at present in Israel, were honored in abstentions.
“Too many rabbis today have ‘messiah-complexes’,” Rabbi Soloveitchik declared. “They attempt to save the world with large scale projects and forget to worry about the individual Jew.”
“We are not revivalists, hoping to appeal to large masses in great demonstrations. We must concentrate on individuals,” he said. He urged the newly-ordained rabbis to stress the importance of Jewish learning, and use the medium of education as a means to influence members of their congregations.
“If by so doing the rabbi will be privileged to cause even one individual to return to Judaism, he should not consider himself a failure,” the speaker said.
He attacked any attempts that are made to alter traditional Judaism, and stressed that the only way possible for the rabbi to preserve Jewish tradition was by fostering and building Yeshivot and Jewish all-day schools. “Only in this way can we combat those who would falsify Judaism,” he said.
Rabbi Soloveitchik urged the rabbis to regard Yeshiva as their spiritual home, and realize that their fate is inextricably intertwined with that of Yeshiva. He said that their expression of thankfulness to the institution, however, should take the form of more than feelings, but should also consist of helping by concrete action in behalf of Yeshiva, and should include financial assistance.
“We must realize,” Rabbi Soloveitchik said, “that Yeshiva is today the center of Judaism in America. Other institutions could not exist without the light reflected from Yeshiva.”
In discussing the concept of Smicha, Rabbi Soloveitchik pointed out that the recipient of rabbinical ordination must be the embodiment of divine inspiration, the bearer of the message of Judaism, who is entrusted to transmit it to his congregants, and the one with whom communal responsibility must remain paramount.
“While the ‘posek’ and final arbiter in Halacha is the musmach, he must never be overwhelmed by the power he wields. He must remain forever modest, and pass on the Halacha, which is the basis of Judaism. Self-glorification is tantamount to idolatry,” he said.
“Those to whom the task of transmission is entrusted must carry out the instructions of Judaism as they have received it, and not alter these traditions in any way,” Rabbi Soloveitchik declared.