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Book review – Professor Haym Soloveitchik’s Collected Essays: Volumes 1-3

https://www.liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/books/id/52693/

Many people know of Professor Haym Soloveitchik from his landmark 1994 paper Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy. That paper achieved significant praise, but also some criticism. However, when pressed to name something else Professor Soloveitchik has written, many people will not be able to do that.

But far from being a one-hit-wonder, Soloveitchik is perhaps the most prominent halachic historian of our times. In Collected Essays: Volume 1, Volume 2 and Volume 3 (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization), the extreme depth and breadth of his knowledge are a sight to see. These three volumes cover 50 years of his writings and thoughts.

In volume 1, there are a number of essays on usuary and moneylending, with a specific focus on how Rashi and the Tosafists dealt with the issue. In addition to essays on the prohibition of gentile wine and its link to moneylending. Soloveitchik does not just rely on halachic texts; he also researched non-halachic texts. When dealing with the prohibition of gentile wine, he examines wine consumption in France during the time and shows the significant amount of wine consumed by the average person. Wine was a fundamental beverage during those times, as water was a drink only for animals and the poorest of people.

Wine was so essential a beverage during those times, that he dispels the myth that Rashi was a wine merchant. He notes that everyone in France at that time made their own wine. Moreover, when Rashi wrote in his commentary that he had to stop writing to go to his vineyard, it was due to necessity, not that it was his profession. As to the notion that Rashi was a vintner, he writes that “Rashi may have been a vintner, but by the same token, he may have been an egg salesman.”

I started reading volume one some years ago and recently completed volume three. Volume 2 is a tour de force with several brilliant essays on the development of halacha in medieval Ashkenaz.

Volume 3 deals with Sefer Hasidim, from Rabbi Yehuda HaChasid of 13th-century France, and his contemporary, the Ravad of Posquières. I found the essays in volume 3 to be the most demanding and intricate.

Soloveitchik is a student of his father, the Rav, historian Jacob Katz, and Rabbi Saul Lieberman. Each of them were demanding scholars in their own right. These three volumes will undoubtedly make them proud of their brilliant student.

About the Author
I’m a senior information security and risk management professional, based in New York City. I speak at industry conferences, and write on information security, social media, privacy and technology. My book reviews are on information security, privacy, technology, and risk management. My reviews for the Times of Israel focus on Judaism, Talmud, religion and philosophy.
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