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GOP Convention’s Rabbi-in-Chief

Meir Soloveichik, scion of a famous Orthodox dynasty, will give the Republicans’ invocation

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Rabbi Meir Soloveichik will bless the Republican National Convention Tuesday. (Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photos The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform/Flickr and Mark Wilson/Getty Images.)
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With all the speculation in recent weeks over whether Mitt Romney would tap a fellow Mormon to deliver a prayer at the Republican National Convention, one never would have guessed that the opening invocation would be delivered by a rabbi. But on Tuesday afternoon, when the convention makes its belated beginning after being postponed due to inclement weather, Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik will be the clergyman kicking off the proceedings.

If the name Soloveichik sounds familiar, that’s no surprise: The 35-year-old rabbi—who graduated summa cum laude from Yeshiva University, then went on to Yale Divinity School, and received his PhD in religion from Princeton in 2010—is a scion of one of Orthodoxy’s most celebrated rabbinic dynasties. And like many of his family members who manage to keep one foot firmly in the Beit Midrash and the other in the public square, Meir Soloveichik certainly gets around.

In June, he engaged in public dialogue about religion and politics at Yeshiva University with Newark’s Democratic Mayor Cory Booker, whom he called a “national hero.” In July, he interviewed for the position of Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and has since emerged as a frontrunner to replace retiring Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, despite his youth. Now, to cap this already remarkable summer, Soloveichik—whose day jobs include serving as associate rabbi at the prominent Modern Orthodox Manhattan synagogue Congregation Kehillath Jeshurun, teaching at the Ramaz School, and running the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University—will open the GOP’s most important event of the year.

While Soloveichik’s advent upon one of politics’ most prestigious stages may seem sudden from afar, the rabbi’s appearance at the RNC is actually a culmination of many years of conservative advocacy—and no small amount of controversy. Though his last name evokes a rabbinic pedigree, it also denotes a tradition of political engagement. Soloveichik’s great-uncle and the father of Modern Orthodoxy in America, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik—the surname is spelled differently by different branches of the family—was a strident critic of communism, having experienced its oppression firsthand before immigrating to the United States. Soloveichik’s grandfather, Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik, was a formidable civil-rights advocate and a vehement opponent of the death penalty and the Vietnam war.

Their descendants have followed in their footsteps, if not always their personal politics. Meir’s younger sister, Nachama, serves as the press secretary for Republican Sen. Pat Toomey and co-authors his policy books. (Read senior writer Allison Hoffman’s profile of her here.) And Meir was already testing the waters of conservative politics himself more than a decade ago.

In 2000, he participated in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., to protest Roe v. Wade and wrote about his experience in the Human Life Review in a piece titled “A Yarmulke at the March.” “I continue to dream of a day when my skullcap will not stick out so much,” Soloveichik wrote, “of … a sea of yarmulkes at the march: Jews and Christians united in defense of innocents.” In November 2006, Soloveichik defended torture (under a carefully defined set of circumstances) against Stephen Casey, a Christian theologian, and Aryeh Klapper, another Orthodox rabbi, at the Jesuit University of Scranton.

A prolific writer for conservative publications like Commentary and the Christian journal First Things, Solly—as he is known to friends and acquaintances—has consistently taken provocative positions on subjects as diverse as hate (sometimes a virtue; “in the Jewish religion”) and Jesus. In January 2012, he joined a group of prominent conservative bioethicists in an amicus brief opposing stem-cell research. A month later, Soloveichik testified before Congress against the Obama Administration’s mandate requiring Catholic employers to provide contraception coverage and co-authored a Wall Street Journal op-ed with prominent Christian leaders deeming the mandate an infringement on religious liberty. (His position on the matter evoked harsh criticism from other prominent members of the American Jewish community.)

But despite his staunch conservative views, Soloveichik does not present himself as a fiery ideologue. Instead, he is known for making his arguments affably, with a disarming sense of humor and wry self-awareness at the controversial nature of many of his stances. At his 2006 lecture on torture at the University of Scranton, where he was invited by noted Judaic Studies scholar Marc Shapiro, he opened by observing: “Professor Shapiro seems to only bring me in for specific subjects—he had me first here in the religious department to defend hate, and now he has me here to defend torture. Next time, cannibalism, I think.” He revels in being contrarian, as he explained in that lecture: “I do work a lot on arguing that things which people assume are always wrong are not necessarily so and indeed can often be right.”

Solly is also known to be a consummate movie buff, and he weaves popular culture references effortlessly into his synagogue sermons and scholarly presentations. One acquaintance recalls driving with Soloveichik from Boston to New York, expecting to discuss serious topics of Jewish law and instead talking movies for four hours straight. His sister says he’s a big fan of Harry Potter. In one of the few traits he does share with other rabbis, Soloveichik has a demonstrated weakness for puns. One of his bioethics lectures is titled “The Man With Levi’s Genes.” And at the congressional hearing on the Obama Administration’s contraception mandate, after Bishop William Lori likened the law to requiring a kosher deli to serve ham, Soloveichik brought down the house by quipping to Chairman Darrell Issa, “You know, I’m also concerned about the pork being produced here in Washington.”

Indeed, one reason Soloveichik seems to have proven such an able political advocate and coalition-builder is that his political conservatism is often coupled with a personal and religious liberalism and openness. At a time when American Modern Orthodoxy has grown more insular, his Straus Center at Yeshiva University—with its mission to “develop Jewish thinkers and wisdom-seeking Jews by deepening their education in the best of the Jewish tradition [and] by exposing them to the richness of human knowledge and insight from across the ages”— acts as a counterbalance to more conservative trends within the community. Under its auspices, Soloveichik has brought a variety of Jewish and non-Jewish thinkers and public servants, like Mayor Booker, to the university. In his writing, Soloveichik himself has advocated for greater interfaith engagement on the part of the Orthodox community in matters of collective social and political welfare.

Whether Soloveichik continues this work at Yeshiva University, takes up the post of Britain’s chief rabbi, or further cultivates his persona as a conservative public intellectual, one thing is certain: As this unusual rabbi ascends from the synagogue lectern to the podium of the Republican National Convention, the Jewish community and world at large are witnessing a harbinger of things to come.


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these Mormons are baptizing my murdered relatives from the Holocaust and he is going to say a pray…give me a break!

    Lucy, there are thousands of RNC members at the convention, of dozens of different religious persuasions. Mitt Romney and his family may be the only Mormons there. Why do you call all of the convention attendees “these Mormons?” By the way, the Mormons can throw all the water they want around but there is no reference in the scriptural or Talmudic sources that gives any credence to a notion of converting Jews to another religion after they’re dead.

      fred lapides says:

      there are more Mormons than you know of that are now members of congress etc. But that aside: converting a dead person who has no recourse to refuse is sick!

        Fred, just checked on ProQuest Congressional database demographic search. FYI, there are 14 Mormons in congress. Ten GOP and four Democrat.

    littlebadwolf says:

    for a long while mittzi was a chief baptizer. just imagine what plans he has for the rest of us who are still able to pay taxes so he doesn’t have to.

    EvenSteven11 says:

    Do you even observe much of Judaism that you care? I love how these people try to scare us about the Evangelical Christians, for example, that are supposedly preparing for Armageddon by supporting Israel, when these types don’t even observe or believe in Jewish tenets in any case or in any Armageddon. Your religion is Democrat, not Jewish. Stop pretending to care about Judaism and take your fake approbation of Mormons and shove it.

May GD Bless and Keep the Republican Party, Far Away from US.

gemel says:

Here is how this is seen in the Orthodox community – note especially the many comments:

    Danp359 says:

    The comments are pretty varied, and there’s no consistent theme – so not sure what you’re talking about here.

Bill589 says:

I don’t trust Romney’s words or actions – but anybody is better than Obama.

    Lauren Deutsch says:

    George Bush Jr.? That’s how we got in this mess.

      PhillipNagle says:

      Who is George Bush Jr? We’ve had as president a George H. W. Bush and a George W. Bush, but no George Bush Jr. I guess Lauren is not very well informed.

Finally, the Republicans do something I can endorse! If he is worthy of being a descendant of Rav Soleveitchik, then this is a mechiah!

It’s clear the Republicans are allied with Israel and traditional Judeo-Christian values ascribing Jews. It’s also clear which side the Democrats are on.

The Democratic National Committee is raising is choosing to proceed with hosting Islamic “Jumah” prayers for two hours on the Friday of its convention, though it denied a Catholic Cardinal’s request to say a prayer at the same event.

Jews have to begin to clearly look at the political picture deciding who’s on their side and who isn’t, and choose the political party to support accordingly.

    Where did you read this nonsense? I’ve encountered it as well at Huffington Post. Do you honestly think a convention will spend two hours praying in any form? If some Moslems choose to go to a separate room and pray, so what? No one is being forced to go with them.

Lauren Deutsch says:

the website menu headline notes “… Jewish Rabbi … “. Nu … what other type is there? Let’s be less impressive and sensationalistic and more accurate. But then again it fits very well with what’s going on in Tampa.

SMKosofsky says:

From the bimah of Kehiilath Jeshurun to the podium of the Republican National Convention is not what I would call an “ascent.”

    littlebadwolf says:

    a trip from the bima to the portable fleshpots of mammon is a terrible come down for a rabbi.


that’s the Rabbi for me

While the general American public may believe that all Jews are in the 1%, the majority of us who are ‘middle class’ should be concerned that GOP policies will leave us unable to support much of anything – Hebrew schools, kosher food suppliers, synagogues, Israel.

    EvenSteven11 says:

    Are you concerned about the survival of Israel and its 6 million Jews? How can you support the vile anti-Semite Obama who will enable another Holocaust of 6 million Jews by allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons and preventing Israel from defending itself? You claim that Israel is a concern of yours? Puh-leeze.

      Chaya says:

      Puh-leeze yourself. You’ve been listening to too much Romney PR. What has the current administration actually DONE that you can point to? And don’t tell me what they haven’t done – I grew up in DC and I know that what we’re aware of is the least of what any administration is doing. I am totally concerned about Israel – I’ve been there, have family there with which I am in contact. The Pachyderm machine is doing a great job, but what did the Bushes actually DO for the country either? A party that wants to paint itself as the party of ‘business’ that can’t even produce a budget for a war? Which was a total joke, since they knew what it would cost but wouldn’t admit it publicly. If (heaven forbid) Romney wins, I can’t wait for the end of his first term where he’s telling you that he needs longer to produce all the jobs and ‘accomplishments’ he’s promised. And if Bush had been president when bin Laden had been killed, they’d have been singing his praises to the heavens.

      I firmly believe that the Republicans did not want to win the last election. They knew that whoever got it was going to be stuck with the dirty end of the Bush stick. How else can you explain Palin? And it’s the same story this time. Go ahead, vote for these jokers. And when your kids are in school and forced to listen to the morning Christian prayers ( you can file a suit against your local school district. And when they destroy the EPA and our asthma rates soar to match those of China, you can buy oxygen cylinders for your kids. And when they allow mpg standards to be wiped away – they’ll be tethering us to foreign oil even tighter. Yeah, they think they can wave a magic wand and create jobs and produce oil – but they haven’t done it in the past. While “past performance is no predictor of future performance” as all the financial disclosures say – we have nothing else to go on. And what they’ve done before leaves me cold, and their tea party allies have them by the sensitive parts of their anatomy. All they’ve done for the last 4 years is to poison the country to obtain a change of party in the White House.

        EvenSteven11 says:

        Do you realize that in these two long paragraphs you haven’t even bothered to address what I wrote? You sit by idly repeating Democratic talking points which are nonsense, but ignore the continuing Iranian development of nuclear arms to destroy Israel and its six million Jews. You ignore the Obama administration’s continual weakening of sanctions that were forced upon it by Congress. You ignore the insane threat to shoot down Israeli jets by Americans if they try to cross Iraq to attack Iran. You ignore the constant antagonism of Obama and his minions to Israel. I don’t know how you live with yourself.

          The Obama administration has strengthened sanctions against Iran, and Congress does nothing but posture like a little boy pretending to be a boxer.

          EvenSteven11 says:

          Oh sure. On June 24, 2010, the United States Senate and House of Representatives passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA), which President Obama signed into law July 1, 2010. The CISADA greatly enhanced restrictions in Iran. Such restrictions included the rescission of the authorization for Iranian-origin imports for articles such as rugs, pistachios, and caviar. In response, President Obama issued Executive Order 13553 in September 2010 and Executive Order 13574 in May 2011, and Executive Order 13590 in November 2011.

          Chaya says:

          I live with myself quite well. Don’t try to play the Holocaust card with me. My father survived WWII only because he was a political prisoner in Siberia at the time, losing his parents. His siblings had emigrated to the US and Israel. My mother’s parents had emigrated to the US and her brothers served in the US Army, but they lost most of those still in Poland at the time. My father-in-law was a medic in a unit that liberated a concentration camp.

          Romney has NO record to run on in international affairs, unless you count shipping jobs overseas. It is convenient to attack the incumbent when you have nothing in the same area to be called on. I know what he says – and his party, while talking very prettily, has done nothing. He is unreliable. He is repudiating his own medical program in Massachusetts because that would otherwise go against his party’s position, which they have taken largely to oppose the administration. Since he has no concrete record, I can only go by what he has done, which is nothing, and he seems to have no qualms in rejecting his own past actions when it is politically expedient.

          So – to directly address your point, since you can’t understand what I’ve said – go ahead and believe what he says. Keep smoking that weed, drinking that Kool-Aid. Some branches of Christianity say that all you have to do is believe in order to be saved. Actions, for me, speak louder than words. And neither he, nor his party, have done anything at all to convince me. What do you think will happen if Iran is actually attacked? Unless the threat is imminent to the point of being on the aabsolute verge, there will be no attack, not by Israel, not by the US. Even Iran’s enemies will use the occasion of an attack to claim it is a war on Islam, and will rally round. This will not benefit Israel. That is a very small fishbowl over there.

          EvenSteven11 says:

          Your last line reveals what you believe (after two and a half more paragraphs of diversion and/or nonsense). You are against Israel defending itself and for the US preventing Israel from defending itself until Obama the vile anti-Semite decides it may be OK (which will be never). You are obviously comfortable with enabling another Holocaust (your foolish protestations notwithstanding) and murder of six million Jews. You are not really Jewish, stop pretending. Your religion is Democratic. You have long ago forgotten what it is to be a Jew. You are not alone, unfortunately.

          Chaya says:

          I am not alone, thank goodness. I am not against Israel defending itself. YOU are the one with the personal attacks, which is a Republican tactic to use against anyone who disagrees with them. You have no evidence to substantiate a candidate’s talk – and that is all it is. I have a bridge for sale. Why has Israel not attacked? They’ve got the same armament we do since we sell and give it to them, and they have the bases in the right place. I also believe they have pilots with more skill than ours, developed because they are more imminently at risk.

          You believe those that are in league with the groups that want us all ‘ingathered’ to witness the second coming, since that is what they believe is prophesied in scripture.

          So I assume you’ve made aliyah and enlisted in the IDF?

          And what is a half a paragraph?

          EvenSteven11 says:

          It’s funny that you won’t or can’t address the vile anti-Semite Obama administration’s posture toward Israel, rather all YOU can do is attack Romney.
          It’s funny that you pretend to care about being in league with groups that want us all ‘ingathered’ but you don’t even believe in the tenets of Judaism. You don’t even believe in a Jewish Messiah, so why would you be concerned about a Christian first or second or third coming? You are in league with a disciple of Rev. Wright, the open anti-Semite and Israel-hater, and the great friend of Rashid Khalidi, radical anti-Israel zealot. How do you live with yourself?
          Your lack of concern for Israel is revealed by your ignorance about Israel’s armaments. Please stop pretending you are Jewish. Your religion is Democratic.
          And if you don’t know what a half a paragraph is, perhaps you should go back to school or ask some of the Mormons who probably were listening in class.

          Guest says:

          A paragraph begins with an indent, or a line break. So unless you were referring to only part of what I wrote, which I don’t believe you were, then it wasn’t half a paragraph.

          You know what? I take back everything I said. You are clearly so anxious, so desperate for a solution, that you will believe what anyone tells you. I commend you for your concern, and for acting If you want to believe what Romney says, that is your right, and you may vote your conscience.

          Chaya, you are wonderful. These boards need you! Come back, please!

          Chaya says:

          A paragraph begins with an indent, or a line break. So unless you were referring to only part of what I wrote, which I don’t believe you were, then it wasn’t half a paragraph.

          You know what? I take back everything I said. You are clearly so anxious, so desperate for a solution, that you will believe what anyone tells you if they tell you what you want to hear, even if it isn’t realistic or they have their own motives. I commend you for your concern, and for acting as you think best. If you want to believe what Romney says, that is your right, and you may vote your conscience, as will I. But believing that anyone who does not agree with you is evil, is a characteristic I do not share, but is a characteristic of some groups. I never said you weren’t Jewish, nor did I make any assumptions about your religious beliefs, as you did of me. Those are the actions of an entirely different group of people, with whom you associate, and I do not. Coming from a religion where the joke is that for 2 Jews there are 3 opinions, it is a shame you can’t have a discussion without resorting to slander.

          I am turning off the tracking of this thread, because I have better things to do than to continue this pointless discussion. So knock yourself out. You may consider that a win. I consider it an example of how discourse has been damaged by a party that has no room for disagreement, and thinks compromise consists of acceding to their wishes.

          EvenSteven11 says:

          Again, you avoid addressing Obama’s actions toward Israel. Pathetic and you are lying to yourself and others. Apparently, a second Holocaust of six million Jews is not of concern to you. Sad and pathetic. I repeat: You are not really Jewish, stop pretending. Your religion is Democratic. You have long ago forgotten what it is to be a Jew.

          Another pathetic trait of yours – you slander Romney and Christian groups continuously, but are so thin-skinned if criticized yourself. Boo hoo. Of course you run away. You’re like Chris Matthews of MSNBC.

          Re paragraphs – your comment is bizarre. You finally mentioned Iran two and a half paragraphs into your three paragraph foolish and diversionary answer above. Is that so difficult to understand?

          Danp359 says:

          “the vile anti-Semite Obama”? Do you think that making such obviously lunatic claims really helps convince anyone?

          EvenSteven11 says:

          IAEA reports today (per JPost) 350 more centrifuges installed by Iran in underground Fordow nuclear facility. But Chaya, of Democratic faith and blind follower of the vile anti-Semite Obama, continues to campaign on Obama’s behalf, though it means enabling another Holocaust, including of her relatives. Sickening.

          Shmooster says:

          I happened to agree with Rev. Wright when he said, “G-d damn America for killing innocent people.” Naturally, you right-wingers only quote the first three words. Go sit on a hilltop somewhere in Arab-frickin’-nowhere and howl at the moon.

        It’s not fair Chana! You stole my line! Bot only are you right on in what you say, you even sound like me, Tired of the silly, shallow, American Jews who lend themselves to believe the most astonishing lies and nonsense if the speaker says he loves Israel and will do what he knows he never will. And Chana, time to come home. Here’s the bottom line:

        Andrew Marc Caplan says:

        You give ’em hell, Chaya!!!!!!!!!!! Kol ha-kavod! :-)

Maurice Solovitz says:

Another branch of the family was English – we changed our name either by intent or via immigration mispelling, to Solovitz. But the family did create and run yeshivot in the east end of London until the beginning of the 20th century.

Sounds like an attractive and gifted person, but a person is also known by the company he keeps. I wouldn’t trust him too far on his showing so far.

It’s a shanda!

leahhb says:

Selection of this Rabbi for this important occasion warms my heart as a Jew and reinforces for me the allegiance of the Republicans. Compare Obama and his bias towards Muslims and his own kind, and his covert and overt aggression to the Jewish nation and Israel. He has insulted out leader in no uncertain terms and that too gave an important message to the world – Jews can be kicked around. His determined need to “be” a good Muslim, by early speeches to the enemies of Israel in my view was a key encouragement for the flood of antisemitism that we see today. Do not underestimate how he gave the nod. Currently, his neglect of Israel and the real dangers that Israel face seems to be a negligible factor in his political equation. He sickens me as I read between the lines: Obama cares about self, about pushing for reelection and making more empty speeches. He is untrustworthy and cares zilch for the Jews.

The Christian right are waiting for the eschaton and the second coming of Christ. Can you connect the dots as to why they welcome Israel dropping a bomb on Iran?

    EvenSteven11 says:

    Is the Christian right supporting Obama who will enable Iran to drop a bomb on Israel and create another Holocaust and murder of six million Jews? Why wouldn’t the Christian right support Obama instead of the Republicans who will actually allow Israel to defend itself? What you say doesn’t make sense.

Sick of GOP says:

can not believe the idiotic comments by people who support the GOP. Grow up and look around and stop being so self-righteous.

Danp359 says:

If Meir Soloveichik was ever really in the running for UK Chief Rabbi (which I highly doubt and is nothing more than an unsubtantiated rumor), he certainly is not after this. Romney is regarded as an idiot in the UK across the political spectrum, and such close identification with a specific political party’s election effort is certainly not becoming or intelligent for a potential communal religious leader.
It’s too bad that Jewish Right-Wingers in the US are so willing to sacrifice communal unity and cross-party support for Israel for their own narrow and short-sighted political views.

Umish Katani says:

There should be no religious convocation in any public political event, Where is the separation fo chuch and state. His great uncle must be turning over in his grave to think his kid support a morman/catholic party conservative party ticket and political event. A ticket that not long ago would have excluded Jews.

herbcaen says:

I think a second term Obama will sign a peace treaty with Iran and tell Israel that it is on its own


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GOP Convention’s Rabbi-in-Chief

Meir Soloveichik, scion of a famous Orthodox dynasty, will give the Republicans’ invocation

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