The Last Rabbi

The Last Rabbi

Joseph Soloveitchik and Talmudic Tradition
William Kolbrener
Distribution: World
Publication date: 09/19/2016
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 978-0-253-02224-0
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Joseph Soloveitchik (1903–1993) was a major American Orthodox rabbi, Talmudist, philosopher, and theologian. In this new work, William Kolbrener takes on Soloveitchik’s controversial legacy and shows how he was torn between the traditionalist demands of his European ancestors and the trajectory of his own radical and often pluralist philosophy. A portrait of this self-professed "lonely man of faith" reveals him to be a reluctant modern who responds to the catastrophic trauma of personal and historical loss by underwriting an idiosyncratic, highly conservative conception of law that is distinct from his Talmudic predecessors, and also paves the way for a return to tradition that hinges on the ethical embrace of multiplicity. As Kolbrener melds these contradictions, he presents Soloveitchik as a good deal more complicated and conflicted than others have suggested. The Last Rabbi affords new perspective on the thought of this major Jewish philosopher and his ideas on the nature of religious authority, knowledge, and pluralism.

Author Bio

William Kolbrener is Professor of English at Bar Ilan University in Israel. He is author of Open Minded Torah: Of Irony, Fundamentalism, and Love.


“This is a unique work, which creatively forges conversations among unlikely interlocutors and which, though emerging out of the study of a single thinker, Joseph Soloveitchik, has much broader ambitions. Kolbrener disrupts the boundaries between academic fields while ably employing their diverse methods and similarly asking his readers to open themselves to difference.”
 — Yonatan Brafman, Jewish Theological Seminary

“This groundbreaking book takes an entirely novel and highly illuminating approach to the thought of Joseph Dov ha-Levi Soloveitchik, at once one of the greatest Talmudists, one of the greatest Jewish philosophers, and one of the greatest religious personalities of the twentieth century.  Informed by psychoanalysis and literary theory, Kolbrener sheds new light both on previously discussed aspects of Soloveitchik's thought, such as his cognitive pluralist defence of Talmudic study, and on neglected aspects, such as his explorations of family and gender.  What emerges is a far richer and more complicated figure, whose thought may be engaged in many more ways than hitherto imagined.  The implications of Kolbrener's book are very great indeed.”
 — Paul Franks, Yale University, Philosophy and Judaic Studies

“Kolbrener's book appreciates Soloveitchik as a Jewish thinker, but claims a role for him in the intellectual history of the twentieth century.”
 — Lawrence Kaplan, McGill University

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Table of Contents

Abbreviations of Works
Introduction: The Making of Joseph Soloveitchik and the Unmaking of Talmudic Tradition
Part I: Talmudic Tradition: Mourning
1. Hermeneutics of Rabbinic Mourning
2. Pluralism, Rabbinic Poetry and Dispute
Part II: Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik: Melancholy
Interlude: Primal Scene in Pruzhna
3. Love, Repentance, Sublimation
4. Joseph Soloveitchik, A Melancholy Modern
5. Beyond the Law: Repentance and Gendered Memory
6. From Interpretive Conquest to Antithetic Ethics
Conclusion: The Last Rabbi and Talmudic Irony

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