Friday, September 29, 2023

Context of the Rav Soloveitchik Transcription

This talk was delivered by the Rav as a response to proposals by Rabbi Emanuel Rackman to resolve the problems faced by women whose husbands refused to grant them a Jewish divorce. Rabbi Rackman was also in line at that time as a top candidate to become president of Yeshiva University.

Rav Soloveitchik’s strident remarks in the piece that you published characterized (without spelling this out) that the innovations that Rabbi Rackman wanted to make in divorce law were (1) heretical and (2) liable to “destroy yahadus (Judaism)” and (3) “methods of self-destruction and suicide.” Harsh words indeed.

And to justify his positions against the Rackman modifications, the Rav made several declarations about the nature of women that he called “permanent ontological principles rooted in the very depth of the human personality,” in particular that “the chazaka of ‘better to dwell with two bodies than to dwell as a widow’” (i.e., the presumption of the Talmud that a woman is better off married than single) is a “metaphysical curse, rooted in the feminine personality.”

The Rav’s speech succeeded to suppress Rabbi Rackman’s proposals at the time and to marginalize him at YU, thus ending his chances to ascend to the presidency of Yeshiva University. Rackman went on to become president and chancellor at Bar Ilan University in Israel and to initiate independent innovations in the area of Jewish divorce without the approval of Rav Soloveitchik or other rabbis at Yeshiva University.


  1. Akavya Ben Mehalelel comes to mind

  2. YU has gone downhill, but Bar ilan has expanded greatly.


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