Joseph Soloveitchik … Partially Correct

If you read the title and didn’t immediately move on to the next blog, had one of the three responses …

  • Who in the world was/is Joseph Solevethcik?
  • Has Tzedakah Ministries moved to the other side?
  • Huh … Why should I bother reading this one?

Let me answer in reverse order: (1) Give it a few paragraphs before you move on; (2) No … simple enough for you; and (3) A very important Orthodox rabbi who said something both insulting and somewhat partially correct about the Christian faith.

Joseph Solevetchik was a leading Orthodox Jewish rabbi in the 20th century and scholar at Yeshiva University in New York University until he passed away in 1993. He was friendly with the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson and had little use for Reform and Conservative Judaism as he felt they compromised on the Jewish Rabbinic traditions. Yes, I know this is not much of a biography but this is not the main point of the blog.

The main point of this blog is what Rabbi Solevetchik said in reference to his understanding of the Christian view of atonement and in some regards he is partially correct … even if you could argue that he meant it in a derogatory way.

For the Christian theologian teshuvah [repentance] is a transcendent act dependent upon the grace of God who is all-merciful and benevolent. The erasure of man’s sins is, from the rational standpoint, incomprehensible. Only the supernatural, miraculous intercession of God on behalf of the sinner may effectuate this cleansing. The task of the sinner is to repent, to mortify himself, to practice castigation, to cry and implore for divine mercy and pity. The convert, according to this concept, is a passive, pitiful creature who begs for and attains divine grace.

As you read through this definition of Rabbi Solevetchik, and putting aside any preconceptions of Calvinism v. Arminianism for those of you who argue such issues, where is the rabbi substantially wrong? I will nitpick in a moment but let’s examine where he is correct for just a moment…

  1. We who believe in Messiah Jesus do recognize that we are dependent upon the grace of an all-merciful and benevolent God;
  2. Only the miraculous intercession of God via the Incarnation made repentance possible for any of us because it is Jesus who effectuates this cleansing;
  3. Our only job is to repent of our sins and ask for forgiveness who then receives grace that we do not deserve and could never receive on our own.

Now I will argue with some of the rabbi’s word choices — “mortify himself,” “practice castigation,” “cry and implore for … pity,” and “begs.” However, I think it is because the rabbi cannot imagine that teshuvah/repentance could be so simple and he says so when he uses the words that it is all “from a rational standpoint, incomprehensible.”

But you know what … salvation and/or atonement ultimately is from a human perspective incomprehensible and that is why it is spiritual atonement. The God of the universe knew that we could know achieve our own salvation and thus He did it for us. That is incomprehensible love. That is incomprehensible majesty. That is incomprehensible forgiveness.

And that is why sadly Rabbi Joseph Solevetchik was only partially correct. But you don’t have to be that way. You can discover the incomprehensible and majestic forgiving atonement that God accomplished for us through Messiah Jesus…

Contact us at Explore Messiah…? or Tzedakah Ministries.


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