Rabbi Menahem Genack published, The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening: The Passover Haggadah: With a Commentary Based on the Teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. A Haggadah in English and Hebrew (2009).
We think it's a great book and happily added it both to our collection of Haggadahs and to our library of works about the teachings of my teacher, the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. It is a handsome and professional volume, clearly written and packed with content based on the Rav's torah teachings.
Genack was known as one of the best students in the class when I was in the Rav's shiur back in college and in rabbinical school. He's pursued a career of Jewish service and teaching and continues over the decades to shine as an exemplary disciple of the Rav.
Like most books that present the Rav's torah, this one approaches the task with great reverence and nostalgia. Those are great characteristics for me and for the other several thousand students who personally sat at the feet of the Rav and gave themselves over to him as his uncritical disciples. Genack writes his condensed accounts of the Rav's lectures with the clarity that I need to hear again the Rav speaking. He was a charismatic teacher with a wealth of learning that he imparted in many ways.
In his public talks, the Rav emphasized the experiential side of Orthodox Judaism. He often spoke poetically, I think to prove two important points.
First, he wanted to prove a personal point, to show the world that he was not a cold Litvak, not just a product of the Lithuanian Yeshivas who valued only factual erudition and cold logic.
Second, he had a program in his work, to create and express a form of Orthodox Judaism that was on par with the other great religions of the world. For him that meant in his time and place and out of his training in Europe that he had to demonstrate the validity and fecundity of Orthodox Jewish religious experience. He believed that he was the Jewish Rudolph Otto or William James and that from his teachings the world would see that Orthodoxy stands proudly next to any form of the esteemed Protestant religions of the Old or New World.
The Rav had another mission in his teaching and preaching. That was to transmit the Brisker Torah, the innovative conceptual insights of his own and his family's heritage of learning. So the Rav sought to investigate the phenomenology of Orthodox Judaism, to seek out and abstract the core idea from each performance of the numerous commandments and from each recitation of the many prayers.
Rabbi Genack succeeds in presenting all sides of the Rav in his publication, though he does so without the kind of self consciousness that I have just evoked above.
But now for the other question. How does this book play in Peoria? How will people who were not long-time students of the Rav react to this book? This book is not for the ordinary Jew who never studied with the Rav and it's not for the non-Jewish scholar or layperson. A Reform or Conservative or even an Orthodox Jew who never knew the Rav would need much more translated from the insider's notes and nostalgia of this book to the vocabulary and syntax or religious discourse in its more common and less private forms.
All told, this is a very good work in its genre. //repost from 2009//