Interesting Intersection

I’m currently reading two books. Both are non-fiction. Both are simply fascinating, excellent books. I’m reading each for totally different reasons, and in totally different places (one in shul, the other someplace else). One is Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary, by Juan Williams. The second is Community, Covenant And Commitment: Selected Letters And Communications by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, edited by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot. Before discussing the books themselves (not in this post), I wanted to point out a single person who appears, albeit briefly, in both books.

The person is Dr. Milton Konvitz (1908-2003). In the Rav book, he appears as the addressee of the first letter in the collection. In 1950, he wrote to the Rav regarding the Interfaith Chapel that was being constructed at Cornell University. There were certain halakhic issues for which he got the university president to agree to abide by the Rav’s arbitration. It is clear from the correspondence that he was the voice of Halakhic Judaism in Ithaca.

In the Marshall book, he appears on page 125, where he is named as one of two lawyers that Thurgood Marshall hired for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund in 1943. Many black soldiers had been complaining of mistreatment during World War II, and the fact that they were fighting against racism and bigotry abroad led many of these soldiers to fight for the same rights at home.

I found it to be extremely interesting and also very inspiring that the same man would be mentioned in these very disparate contexts. The same man who stood for halakha in a prestigious university also stood up for the rights of black citizens decades before it was in vogue in liberal circles.

I cannot help but sense that these two facets of his personality were integrally connected. The same commitment to halakha which motivated him to protest human images in a place of worship also motivated him to fight for justice on behalf of those created in the Divine image.

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