Friday, July 09, 2010

Rav Amital

Rav Yehudah Amital, the founder of Yeshivat Har Etzion, died this morning. I'm leaving for the funeral in a couple of minutes.

When I first arrived at the yeshivah, Rav Amital was one of the biggest draws for me. However, a few months after I started, Yitzhak Rabin was murdered and Shimon Peres asked Rav Amital to join the government. So for the rest of that year his appearances in Alon Shevut were rare and he was always accompanied by bodyguards. It also ended up being the beginning of a slow retirement process. So I have never claimed to have had a close relationship with Rav Amital, and I tried to avoid the expressions of adulation I saw in others as a compensation for that lack of real contact.

But there is a comment that Rav Amital made that has often come back to me. He would say that in his shi'urim, when he was teaching Talmud, he made an effort never to repeat himself, always to have something new to say. In his sihot, his talks on ideas and values, however, he always said the same things. This, he explained, was because those values were really important and he wanted to emphasize them.

I found this comment very attractive. I think it bespeaks real humility and self-awareness, even self-deprecating humour. [Now I'm back from the funeral]. And I think that's very important in an educator.

It points to an intellectual liveliness that typified him into old age. By the way, I spent several months in his weekly Gemara shiur. We were learning Gittin, and his only interest in the sugyot was how to use them to free agunot.

It points to his strong belief in certain central ideas. As both Rav Lichtenstein and his son R Yoel Amital mentioned at the funeral today, one of those central ideas was Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of God's name. That's an idea that means very different things to different people, and what it meant to Rav Amital living through the Holocaust was something very different from what it meant to him in the State of Israel. But the idea remained a constant concern to him.

Finally, R Yoel Amital mentioned today the emphasis his father placed on the importance of silence. Remaining silent in the face of his detractors, attackers and misintrepreters. In the face of tragedies he did not want to theologize. Silent about things he didn't want to trivialize.

תהא נשמתו צרורה בצרור החיים


Anonymous Yitzhak said...

Thank you for the post. I knew little of Rav Amital; my loss.

"We were learning Gittin, and his only interest in the sugyot was how to use them to free agunot."

Would you please clarify this? Does a Talmid Hacham really have no interest in the Torah except insofar as it can be used to solve social problems?

11:25 PM  
Blogger manuscriptboy said...

'Only' was too strong. But it was clear that his goal in the shiur was focused on that practical question, and he did not discuss more textual aspects of the gemara. A Talmid Hakham can be interested in many things, but what he or she chooses to focus on in a shiur is often a reflection of their abiding concerns.

9:18 PM  
Anonymous Yitzhak said...

Understood. Of course everyone focuses on specific aspects of the Torah; it was only the 'only' that I found puzzling.

11:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice

A roommate

4:00 AM  

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