Thursday, December 23, 2021

The Genius and Limitations of Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik z”l

Rav Soloveitchik’s famous argument with Rabbi Emanuel Rackman—renowned Talmudic scholar and thinker, later to become Dean of Bar-Ilan University—is another example of the former’s sometimes extreme halachic conservatism. In several places, the Talmud introduces a rule that states: Tav Lemeitav tan du mi-lemeitav armeluIt is better to live as two than to live alone,[11] which refers to the fact that a woman would prefer to marry almost any man rather than remain alone.

Rav Soloveitchik sees this as a “permanent ontological principle,” which is beyond historical conditions, and that even in our day needs to be applied and cannot be changed. This principle operates under the assumption that even today’s women prefer to stay in a marriage, no matter how unfortunate the circumstances may be. To be alone is worse. This means that a woman cannot claim that had she known what kind of person her husband is, she never would have married him. If she could make this claim, her marriage would be a “mistaken marriage,” which would not even require a get (bill of divorce), since the marriage took place on a false premise and the woman would never have agreed to it had she known. In that case, she was never considered lawfully married and could leave her partner without receiving a get. Since this obviously has enormous repercussions for today’s society, it could help thousands of women.[12] Rav Soloveitchik was not prepared to take that approach and thus blocked the possibility for many of them to leave their partners without a get.

It seems to me that the above-mentioned rabbis were talmidei chachamim no less than Rav Soloveitchik was. Their disadvantages were that they didn’t occupy a central role in Modern Orthodox and Yeshiva University circles, and above all they didn’t belong to renowned Ashkenazic rabbinical families. Had they been called Soloveitchik, their Torah would have received far more attention and would probably have been much more effective.


  1. R Rakeffet actually supports Rav soloveitchik, and says in this situation we must surrender to Halacha, not western thought. I presume you share that View.
    Rav kamenetsky does not agree. Presumably he supports Rackman.

  2. Wake up, try listening to his lectures

  3. Your critical judgement is severely compromised

  4. It sounded reasonable until that last paragraph.
    Are there not studies out there showing how modern "one night stand" culture actually has a tremendous negative side effect on the average woman? If I recall, men are built to hook up for a night or two, women are wired to want a relationship. Perhaps that was obvious to Chazal when they formulated their statement.


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