Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik is known as “the Rav” because he was the teacher par excellence of his generation, but his contributions to our understanding and practice of tefillah are particularly noteworthy. The Rav approached tefillah with great depth and intellectual rigor, exploring its philosophical and existential dimensions. His teachings have had a profound impact on the Jewish community; however, they are not always readily accessible. The vocabulary of the Rav’s philosophical writings sometimes acts as a barrier for the uninitiated, while many of the Rav’s shiurim are available only in Hebrew. In addition, these teachings are dispersed in a wide variety of publications as well as in unpublished lecture notes, often making them difficult to obtain and locate.
To address these issues, veteran educator Rabbi Dr. Jay Goldmintz, a pioneer in the teaching of Jewish prayer, has compiled The Rav on Tefillah. Rabbi Goldmintz has collated teachings of the Rav that focus both on the macro and micro features of prayer, organizing them according to the sequence of the siddur but without the space constraints of a siddur commentary. Rabbi Goldmintz prefaces the Rav’s words with brief introductions that offer relevant context and background; notes contain sources, additional references and alternative interpretations. In his “Overview,” Rabbi Goldmintz presents the central themes to which the Rav returns throughout in his approach to tefillah, such as the paradox inherent in man’s attempt to praise G-d, the requirement of historical precedent for prayer, and prayer as an expression of self-sacrifice and man’s total dependence on G-d.
The Rav’s teachings on tefillah offer a profound and multifaceted understanding of prayer, and have continued to inspire and guide countless individuals in their personal and communal prayer experiences. In keeping with the fundamental idea that tefillah is not merely a verbal recitation but avodah shebalev, “worship of the heart,” the Rav emphasized that the external act of reciting the words of prayer must be accompanied by an inner mental state of standing before the Almighty. Rabbi Goldmintz’s work will help readers understand both the particulars of prayer and its overall structure so as to achieve the goal of prayer, standing before G-d.
Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider’s Torah United is a two-volume parashat hashavua book that is unique both in its content and its underlying philosophical approach. Torah United pays homage to the well-known aphorism, “shiv’im panim laTorah—there are seventy facets to the Torah.” For each parashah, Rabbi Goldscheider has crafted three separate essays, each based on the thought of one of the following: Rav Kook, Rav Soloveitchik and the Chassidic masters. The essays do not merely cite excerpts from these noble sources; rather each contain Rabbi Goldscheider’s in-depth analysis and perceptive discussion of these views. Assembling these three distinctive approaches—Rav Kook’s love of Eretz Yisrael, Rav Soloveitchik’s intellectual and philosophical perspective, and Chassidut’s mystical and spiritual fervor—in one book, all with Rabbi Goldscheider’s overview, provides the reader with a rare experience of Torah study. The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
The author’s goal, however, is not just to provide convenient access to these three strains of Jewish thought. As Rabbi Goldscheider makes clear in his eloquent introduction, his underlying philosophical approach to Torah study is that this synthesis of thought is the proper and correct way to study. Bringing together the diverse traditions of Chassidim and mitnagdim is part and parcel of achdut which we should all be seeking. Rav Kook, as Rabbi Goldscheider emphasizes, was a vocal proponent of achdut that included Chassidim and Mitnagdim and extended to communal harmony on all levels. Rabbi Goldscheider paints vivid descriptions of the cordial relationship between Rav Soloveitchik and the Lubavitcher Rebbe; the positive attitude of Rav Soloveitchik toward Rav Kook; the rapport between Rav Kook and Chassidic leaders; and other examples of achdut among Jewish leaders and luminaries.
Torah United is a worthy sequel to Rabbi Goldscheider’s two earlier works, The Night that Unites, on the Haggadah, and The Light that Unites, about Chanukah, both of which contain the thoughts of Rav Kook, Rav Soloveitchik and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In Torah United, Rabbi Goldscheider unites the Torah by weaving together three diverse strands of thought into a beautiful tapestry. Torah United also admirably unites Jews everywhere by transforming Torah study into an emphatic endorsement of achdut.