Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was the leading voice of the Religious Zionist community in America. Although he visited Israel only once, in 1935, the Rav remained an ardent Zionist throughout his lifetime. His views on Zionism were complex and multifaceted, according to Rabbi Menachem Genack, general editor of the Orthodox Union’s OU Press, which, together with Ktav Publishing House, recently published The Return to Zion: Addresses on Religious Zionism and American Orthodoxy, The Karasick Family Edition.
A primary mission of OU Press is to disseminate the Rav’s chidushei Torah; Rabbi Genack was a close talmid of Rabbi Soloveitchik and encouraged him to publish his halachic discourses, Shiurim l’Zecher Aba Mari.
Officially launched at Mizrachi’s inaugural World Orthodox Israel Congress in Jerusalem around Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the book’s release was timed to coincide with Israel’s milestone 75th anniversary and 120 years since the founding of the Mizrachi movement, and was gifted by Mizrachi to the 1,000 religious and lay leaders in attendance, representing 50 countries and 1,000 organizations. The addresses contained in the book were originally delivered by the Rav at the annual conventions of the American Mizrachi Organization in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. Rabbi Genack, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of OU Kosher, presented the book at the opening plenary, together with Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary Rosh Yeshiva and OU Kosher Senior Posek Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Senior Scholar at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, who is an OU Honorary Governor and Jewish Action Editorial Board Member, and Executive Chairman of the Mizrachi World Movement Rabbi Doron Perez.
“On the one hand, [the Rav] firmly believed that the establishment of the State and the realization of Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel was the fulfillment of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz,” wrote Rabbi Genack in his preface to the book. “Jewish destiny in Jewish hands, was, for the Rav, not merely the realization of a nationalist dream, but the observance of a religious imperative. On the other hand, the Rav was occasionally critical of the secular orientation of the Israeli government.”
OU Press has published numerous books promoting the Rav’s halachic and philosophical works, and The Return to Zion is a translation of the Yiddish Droshes Vegn Shivas Tziyon un Kiyum HaUma published by OU Press in 2021. Edited by Dr. Joel B. Wolowelsky and Rabbi Simon Posner, The Return to Zion was a book three years in the making, and was translated by Rabbi Shaul Seidler-Feller. (One chapter was translated by Dr. Arnold Lustiger in consultation with Rabbi Seidler-Feller.)
“The erudition, meticulous attention to detail, and literary flair of the translation successfully combine to give the English reader a sense of the power and eloquence of the Rav’s original Yiddish droshes,” wrote Rabbi Genack, who noted that the addresses were extremely moving when they were delivered by Rabbi Soloveitchik at Mizrachi’s annual conventions.
“Whenever the Rav spoke, he captivated the audience,” reflected Rabbi Genack. “The Rav was a genius with a kind of mind that appears only once a century. Each day I came to shiur, I felt I was coming to meet Albert Einstein.”
For Co-Editor Rabbi Simon Posner, who is also executive editor emeritus of OU Press, the book’s release represents a significant achievement.
“The Return to Zion is an extraordinary work, and OU Press is proud to have made it available to the Jewish community,” he said. “Personally, I feel as though we have made a hidden treasure accessible to Klal Yisrael. Each of the droshes included in the book, originally delivered by the Rav in Yiddish, is a gem; taken together, they represent an enthralling expression of the Rav’s view of the Zionist enterprise in the early years of the State, as history was literally unfolding before the eyes of the Jewish world.”
“The outstanding English translation of the Yiddish droshes captures the depth, drama, and brilliance of each of the Rav’s original presentations. The Rav’s views on religious Zionism were nuanced, and The Return to Zion is an important source which sheds new light on the Rav’s perspective. We continue to look to the Rav’s teachings for guidance in an increasingly complex world, and the Rav’s thoughts about the State of Israel are as relevant today as they were when the droshes were delivered in the 1940s and ‘50s. The publication of The Return to Zion is part and parcel of OU Press’ mission to disseminate the Rav’s writings and teachings. The Return to Zion provides an important contemporary message and gives us much to ponder.”
The Return to Zion: Addresses on Religious Zionism and American Orthodoxy is available for purchase at OU Press and in Judaic stores.