Rav Soloveitchik and Rabbi Dr. Aaron Adler.
The Students will Bring Redemption
Rav Soloveitchik’s Views on Aliyah
BY RABBI DR. AARON ADLER
The Rav’s manifesto on Religious Zionism in general, and on the national need for increased Aliyah to Israel in particular, was eloquently articulated in his 1956 Yom HaAtzmaut address at Yeshiva University entitled Kol Dodi Dofek. Subsequently, this speech, originally delivered in Yiddish, was printed in both Hebrew and English translation. In his capacity as Honorary President of the Religious Zionists of America, the Rav would deliver a keynote address at the organization’s annual convention. Many of these speeches appeared in book form entitled, “The Rav Speaks.” It is clear to all who heard or read these talks that the Rav had a very positive outlook on Aliyah.
The Rav told me that he never liked the word “Diaspora” because it lent legitimacy to those living outside of Eretz Yisrael. The appropriate word should be “galut,” exile, giving one the sense of detachment from one’s home. Without a constant sensation of “galut,” there could be no longing for Aliyah to Israel.
Yet when it came to his own students who occupied positions in the rabbinate or education, the Rav was far less enthusiastic – to say the least.
In March 1977, I began my tenure as a community rabbi at Congregation Sons of Israel in Long Island City, NY, and concurrently served as a teacher of Jewish Studies at The Frisch School in Paramus, NJ. I shared my Aliyah ambitions with the Rav during the course of 1978. I felt all along that I had to fight to obtain a proper blessing from the Rav prior to our expected Aliyah in July 1979. In fact, it became increasingly evident that the Rav was hopeful that his students would recognize their national responsibility to do G-d’s work on American soil.
My Jewish Agency-sponsored pilot trip coincided with Chanukah of 1978. I argued that in the dispute between the Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel schools regarding the order of candle lighting – from eight to one or from one to eight – the Talmud (Shabbat 21b) refers to Beit Shammai’s view as “פּוֹחֵת וְהוֹלֵךְ,” “descending order,” as opposed to the view of Beit Hillel of “מוֹסִיף וְהוֹלֵךְ,” “ascending order.” When considering the future of the Jewish people, with intermarriage and assimilation increasing at alarming rates, it’s clear that the American scene is a “פּוֹחֵת וְהוֹלֵךְ” situation, while Jewish population growth in the State of Israel is a “מוֹסִיף וְהוֹלֵךְ” scenario. As we all know, the halacha is in accordance with Beit Hillel! I, therefore, argued that my future should be with the future of our people.
I referred to a shiur delivered by the Rav before Pesach, based upon the Haggadah story of the Seder in Bnei Brak. The Rav homiletically explained that the Torah giants of each generation are deeply concerned throughout the long night exile about the fate of the nation: “They were discussing the Exodus from Egypt all through that night.” I asked the Rav permission for me to continue on this homiletic line: “until their students came and told them: ‘Our Masters! The time has come for reciting the morning Shema!’” It would ultimately be the students – not the teachers – who would usher in the redemptive era. And I saw myself as part of that crowd of students.
On another occasion, I recall quoting the Talmudic ruling (Ketubot 110b) that “it is always preferable to reside in Eretz Yisrael even in a city with a gentile majority, rather than living in the Diaspora in a city with a Jewish majority.” I suggested to the Rav that if we plug in modern-day coordinates to this ruling, we could say that it would be preferable to live in Nazareth – an Israeli city with a guaranteed non-Jewish majority – rather than live in Monsey, NY, in a heavily populated Jewish community. My occupational possibilities in Nazareth would include, perhaps, driving an Egged bus or working as a plumber, while in Monsey, there would surely be opportunities in the rabbinate or education. Yet the Talmudic ruling says “always” when talking about residing in Eretz Yisrael, irrespective of vocational consequences! To this the Rav remarked: “It’s a very nice drasha!”
The Rav then voiced his concerns that I may not “find” myself in Israel, and that it would be a waste losing me in America. He assured me that in twenty years’ time, I would be elected President of the Rabbinical Council of America. To which I retorted, with as much respect as I could muster, “Does the Rav have any other ‘blessings’ up his sleeve?” Finally, I promised the Rav that no matter what I would be doing in Israel, I would try my utmost not to embarrass his good name.
I recall, at the time, telling the Rav that I thank G-d for being a talmid of the Rav and not a chassid of the Rav! In Chassidic circles, the Rebbe’s “advice” was a determining factor on personal decisions. The Rav never wanted to serve in such a capacity. He believed that his students had the right to decide on personal matters even against his “advice.” As a matter of fact, the Rav had an overall negative opinion on the doctrine of “Da’at Torah” – the attitude developed by Rav Elchanan Wasserman hy”d and the Chafetz Chaim zt”l – which grants Talmudic scholars “Torah wisdom” in general areas of life such as medical issues, politics and the weather. Questioning the Rav on his thoughts concerning “Da’at Torah,” he responded: “When you figure it out, come back and tell me.”
On July 1, 1979, en route to JFK Airport to begin a new life for myself and my young family in Israel, I received a warm telephone greeting and blessing from the Rav; he requested of me to keep him abreast of my undertakings.
Rabbi Dr. Aaron Adler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Ohel Nechama Community Synagogue in Katamon, Jerusalem, and the Founding Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Bnei Akiva, Ner Tamid, Chashmonaim. This chapter is excerpted from Rabbi Adler’s “Seventy Conversations in Transit with HaGaon HaRav Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l” (Urim Publications, 2021).