The YUCommentator has undertaken a new series entitled: Perspectives on Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (obviously trying to continue the sterling tradition of Menachem Butler's YUdaica). The first three articles are by Rabbis Yosef Blau, Menachem Genack and Charles Weinberg, and all are highly recommended.
At the same time, while reading one of the pieces I started having an odd combination of serious heartburn and deja-vu. When will his students stop finding it so incredbly necessary to downplay, or even dismiss, the Rov's commitment to the acuisition of as broad a general education as possible? When will they cease dishonoring our rebbe by claiming, implicitly, that he was less than honest?
What do I mean? It's very simple. The Maimonides School was established in order to provide children with a dual curriculum. The need for that was not ex post facto. It was a priori. (See Seth Farber's study and the additional material here and here.) The Rov said this over and over and over again to the Maimonides parents. (See the remarks here, here and here.) Did Professor Twersky not know what he was talking about when he wrote of the Rov's deep and abiding commitment to as broad an education as possible?
Now, let me make this clear. There is absolutely no question that the Rov's first allegiance was to Torah and Masorah. Indeed, his epistemological assumption that Torah was intellectually self-sufficient and self-validating emancipated Judaism from intellectual dependence upon any system outside of itself. However, as I once argued in a paper (which is in press), the emancipation of Torah from חכמה actually expanded the range of knowledge that could be brought to bear upon the study and interpretation of Torah. And that's what he did. This was, taken all together, a חומרה. in other words, the Rov זצ"ל demanded both of himself and others. Does anyone think it's a coincidence that every single member of the Rov's extended family has a BA (At least) and, more often than not, an MA and/or a PhD?
So, please, fellow disciples. You want to disagree with our rebbe, bitte. You think he was wrong, or that he acted as a שעת הדחק. Fine. Please, however, don't try to fit him into a procrustean bed that suits you. That goes for both those who lean right and those who lean left.
Let the Rov be the Rov, a titan of Torah, a defender of Masorah, an intellectual giant whose cultural vistas were extraordinary, and a complex figure whose like we see only once in a generation.
חבל אל דאבדין ולא משתכחין
[Postscript: Menachem Butler pointed out that my formulation at the end resembles a letter that Rav Aharon Lichtenstein wrote about just this subject. Since I assume I must have seen it at some point, I want to credit him with the formulation. If not, ברוך שכיוונתי לגדולים. This is what he wrote:
[The Rav] sought, as we should, the best of the Torah world and the best of modernity. For decades, sui generis sage that he was, the Rav bestrode American Orthodoxy like a colossus, transcending many of its internal fissures. Let us not now inter him in a Procrustean sarcophagus.]