An American Orthodox Dreamer

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Boston’s Maimonides School

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Author: Seth Farber

Series: Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture and Life

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, born in 1903 and scion of a preeminent Lithuanian Orthodox family, was one of the most towering intellectual figures of American Orthodoxy in the 20th century. After receiving rabbinic ordination and completing his studies toward a PhD, he immigrated to America where he served as the Rosh Yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University. As the leader of centrist Orthodoxy in America for more than 50 years, his many accomplishments included his founding of the Maimonides School in Boston in 1937. Rabbi Soloveitchik served as the intellectual and spiritual force behind the Maimonides School from its founding and was responsible for its innovative curriculum.

Synthesizing American educational methodologies and European Orthodox approaches to education, the Maimonides School became a prototype for an American Orthodox educational institution. Unique among contemporary Orthodox day schools, the coeducational nature of the classes at Maimonides, and to some extent the curriculum, was groundbreaking. Characterized by academic excellence in both Judaic studies and other subjects, the school offered boys and girls exactly the same education. Rabbi Soloveitchik’s school was particularly innovative by offering Talmud classes to girls on the same level as boys. The Maimonides School became a paradigm for the fledgling Orthodox Jewish day school movement nationwide. The character of the education there influenced later developments in the Orthodox community, such as the emphasis on higher level Torah study for women.

By articulating a philosophy that advocated both traditional Orthodoxy as well as modernism and Americanism, the school gradually affected Boston’s Orthodox community, which came to be guided by its principles. As Seth Farber points out, the school, once rejected by the Jewish establishment in Boston, was eventually embraced by it. A community that saw no contradiction between democratic values and traditional Orthodox lifestyle emerged in Boston. This modern Orthodox community ultimately represented a significant voice in Boston’s Jewish and America’s Orthodox cultures.

Subject: Jewish Studies

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