YouTube: Misusing a Puzzling Audio Clip of the Rav in a Book Advertisement

Here is a video clip released for the holidays from the OU - Orthodox Union.

Transcript of the text of the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, speaking on the clip:
What does the almighty need prayer for? Why did he tell man to pray? Not the Almighty, but man changes through prayer. God hearkens to prayer because there is a change in the identity of man. By praying man attains another identity. And by attaining a new identity the verdict is not applicable anymore to him.
Talmudic Comments:

This is a wholly elliptical passage. We assumed that is was because it had been taken out of context. In its present gnomic form, it provoked us to ask these obvious questions.
  • Who ever said that the Almighty needs prayer?
  • When did God ever tell us to pray?
  • We do believe that prayer can change God's decisions and actions, don't we?
  • What does "change in identity of man" mean?
  • What does "attaining a new identity" mean? Same as the above or another cryptic idea? Does "new" imply "improved"?
  • What is the "verdict"? What "verdict"? Why does it not apply? Is God fooled or confused by prayer? Or is he impressed? We just don't follow...
We don't know if anyone else is listening. But we are because the Rav was our teacher and because we care about prayer, we take it seriously and we think  and write about it a lot.

This random assemblage of sentences did not sound to us like a paragraph that the Rav would have spoken in a public lecture.

We asked Gil Student, managing editor of the OU Press, about this clip. First, we were told about the propriety of using the recording in an advertisement for a book, "It is appropriate to use a brief excerpt from the Rav to inform people about a forthcoming publication with more extensive treatment of the subject." And notice, he used the word "excerpt."

It just did not sound to us like the Rav. We pressed and asked if they spliced and edited this clip. We were told, "Yes, we spliced it to create a coherent thought faithful to the Rav's intent that could serve as a soundbite."

Talmudic bottom line:

Rabbi Soloveitchik was a great rabbi, a scholar and a teacher. We do not think it is proper to splice together a passage out of context and throw the puzzling incoherent result up there on YouTube to help the OU sell a few books.


WBBeinuni said...

I am not a YU'nik nor have I ever been. Nonetheless, I could not agree with you more. What you describe is chutzpah at its worst.

Reb Yudel said...

Really, this is the sort of stuff we used to do for the Purim issue of Hamevaser. But we were only joking.

Anonymous said...

I have listened to the original lecture recording of lecture and this is a complete sentence. It needs the context of the rest of the lecture If I recall correctly it is from one of the Rav's 1958 lectures.

The recordings are here

Tzvee Zahavy said...

No. Gil Student informed me that it was spliced to make a soundbite from a 1972 recording.

Tzvee Zahavy said...

Thanks to Nachum for pointing out an error in the original post. We have corrected it. The OU, not the RCA, is responsible for the ad.

Gil Student said...

Here is the original lecture: http://download.bcbm.org/Media/RavSoloveitchik/MachshavaOther/PhilosophyOriginPrayer_1_72.mp3

The clip is from the initial four minutes. Judge for yourselves whether it is faithful to the Rav's intention and constitutes a complete thought. We tested it out with people to see if it was comprehensible, and we showed it to people who were (very) close to the Rav to see if they felt it was respectful. We can't satisfy everyone but we attempted to be respectful and faithful to the Rav.

Tzvee Zahavy said...

I listed several questions to start with that the artificial soundbite raised for me. I also was thinking about whether to use the quote in my new book until I listened more closely and realized that it makes no sense to me and suspected that it is not an actual quote from the Rav at all. Of course you can take a phrase here and a sentence there and put them together and post them to a blog saying, "Please feel free to share this video of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik speaking briefly about the impact of prayer on the individual praying." Jon Stewart does this kind of splicing on his TV show for comedic purposes with words and phrases from Barack Obama. You can do whatever you want, Gil, with or without marketing research or testing. And it does look like you cannot please everyone, thanks for reminding us. Have a wonderful year.

Anonymous said...

"No. Gil Student informed me that it was spliced to make a soundbite from a 1972 recording."

Sorry about that. I got mixed up over which lecture it was from.