Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik on Pesach, Sefirat ha-Omer and Shavu’ot”[1] is the second volume in a series of books put out by The Rabbi Soloveitchik Library presenting the thoughts of Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik. The book addresses eleven issues concerning laws relating to Passover, the Counting of the Omer, the debate between the Sadducees and Pharisees concerning the date of the holiday of Shavuot, and concludes with three of the eleven chapters focusing on the first four commands on the Decalogue. Readers who can read and understand Hebrew and who are interested in debates about laws, will enjoy the book, for half of the book, the essential part which quotes laws and different views and positions on them, are in untranslated Hebrew. Much of the book is sermonic where the rabbi interprets laws in ways that tell readers how to act. He sometimes relies on mystical texts such as the Zohar.

Some of the many issues discussed include:

Why can Jews claim reparations from Germans for the brutal treatment to Jews during the Holocaust, but blacks are not entitled to reparations from the American white community for their enslavement?

Why did God introduce himself as the deity which brought the Israelites out of Egypt, and not as the creator of the universe?

Why did Rashi define the second command in the Decalogue as prohibiting possessing an idol, rather than acknowledging any deity other than God?

Why is the Hallel said half before and half after the Seder meal?

Are the commands to “remember the exodus from Egypt” and the command to “speak about the exodus” two separate commands and how and when is each implemented?

His unique view that the Decalogue is not made up of ten commandments, but a single command that branches out into ten aspects. The basic command is that Jews must “surrender to divine authority.”

Contrary to many Orthodox male Jews who contend that they are obligated to wear tzitzit and show them publically, he felt that a man does not have to wear tzitzit if he does not wear a garment that has four corners. Similarly, if one lives in a house with no doorframe, he is not obligated to observe the mitzvah of mezuzah.

The word Elohim denotes power. It denotes “God Who abides in every natural phenomenon: in the flowering of the bush, in the far distance separating us from the stars, and even in my own flexible muscle…God’s Will is embedded in every element of nature, through orderliness and causality rather than through miracles… Elokim means God Who controls the cosmic dynamics.” The rabbi contends that Elohim “is thus immanent; He is readily discernible in the natural world in which we live. On the other hand, the name Havayah [y-h-v-h] represents God in His transcendence.”

His disagreement with Maimonides who felt that all the biblical commands are rational and could be understood logically.


[1] By David Shapiro, Urim Publication, Jerusalem, 2005.