The Halakhic Community

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8 Responses

  1. YD says:

    I’m a pretty smart guy, and I didn’t understand half of what you wrote.
    But I believe that was exactly your point.

  2. micha says:

    YD: I’m not sure what you mean by that. Either it was an insult, that I was trying to speak over people’s heads. Or, you meant that my point was that the masses can’t really understand RYBS’s position, so of course they’re doing it wrong.

    Neither was my intent. Although I do think it’s true that there are so many different versions of who RYBS was because no one could capture the entire picture. Each only could grasp a piece, and that piece tended to be the aspect of the full idea that they best related to — and therefore that RYBS most showed them. Something similar could be said of Rav Kook. Or the Besh”t. But here I was saying something else.

    RYBS carried through the Brisker emphasis on halakhah. Despite all his philosophizing, the essence of life is to be a halachic man. His philosophy was a collection of descriptions of the human condition, and now halakhah reflects them and addresses them. His recipe for being an Orthodox Jew in today’s world is all about creativity in halakhah — figuring out how halakhah’s eternal truths address our current situation. This is the resolution between the twin peaks of what his students called “Torah uMadda”.

    However, it’s a call for personal creativity. Halakhic Man is cognitive because he joins with G-d to make new halakhah. People along the majority of the bell curve doesn’t know enough of halakhah’s eternal, a priori, categories to do so safely. To us, it’s less a cognitive enterprise, and more an act of submission. Regardless of whether they understand how RYBS underpinned the role of such creativity, most people will get it wrong. Rather than finding the way for both to coexist, compromise is bound to ensue.


  3. YD says:

    Sorry about the misconstrued comment. I just meant that although I didn’t understand half of the article, I thought one of your points was to say that a lot of the aspects of integrating the secular world are above people’s heads:

    * Madda:Would the masses relate to the academic orientation of RYBS’s ideal?

    Again, I think the answer is “no”. Maybe the typical person who wades though this blog has an interest in heavy thought where words like dialectic or antinomy are thrown around, where I speak of the Maharal’s model of halakhah sounding fundamentally Platonic, or I use examples from Quantum Mechanics or Information science to illustrate a point. But this isn’t the Orthodox world’s most popular blog.

    Most people see academia as “ivory tower”. Rather than giving someone a more precise and informed perspective of reality, they perceive the academic as disconnected from the real world and their experience. *

    So when I, as a smart but not philosophically eduacted Jew (I assume like most of us) read articles like yours, I don’t really get the crux of the arguments or how ot apply them to my life. This is something that always bothered me about how Torah U’ Madda is presented. Just like those would argue that Kollel life is for those who can really become prominent Rabbanim/Poskim/Leaders, it seems to me that practicing true Torah U’ Madda is really only appropriate (and possible) for those who understand things a bit better than myself.

    I’ll try to explain my comments better in the future. I guess this is one of the hazzards of on-line commenting. (Maybe you should give us your home number.)

  4. Arnie Lustiger says:

    Not much time to respond to this thoughtful post in the detail it deserves. I would mention, however, that 23 years ago I heard R. Aharon Lichtenstein give a talk in Rehovot regarding whether or not Halakhic Man provides a role model we should emulate . His conclusion was that it does not, citing the story of R. Moshe and his Ba’al Tokea, then adding the famous story of the Vilna Gaon and his sister as another example. Yechidei segulah can act in the ideal realm – it is not a prescription for society.

  5. lawrence kaplan says:

    A very thoughtful post. Re Halakhic Man,I do not agree with you. The halakhic man of that essay IS a synthesis of cognitive man and religious man. See my essay, “Joseph Soloveitchik and Halakhic Man” in the Cambridge Companion to Modern Jewish Philosophy. To be sure, as he stated in his famous Yiddish derashah on Shirah — alas there is still no English translation of the derashah and the Hebrew translation is execrable–, the Rav did not believe in a synthesis of Torah U-madda, but that is another issue.

    (Copied with permission off the author’s comment to Hirhurim. -micha)

    Re the issue of the Rav’s position concerning the synthesis of Torah and general studies: In his famous 1958 Yiddish derashah on Shirah –alas, there is no English translaton of the derashah and the Hebrew translation is execrable — the Rav first speaks of the two peaks of Torah and Western culture and of the need for the individual to live on both peaks, in both of these worlds, and to move back and forth between them. He then adds that though, on the one hand, there is an abyss separating these two peaks, and that no one –not even the Rambam — succeeded in building a complete and fully adequate bridge between them, on the other hand, the peaks must be brought into contact, into relationship with one another, they must understand one another. He then goes on to state– my translation from the Yiddish–
    “We want the man who studies gemara to understand the other peak, the entire physical-mathematical world and the philosophical interpretation of that world, differently than the dry mathematical physicist who dwells entirely in the realm of the profane, in the secular work-a-day (vokhedik) world; and we ALSO [emphasis mine: L.K.] want to bring some of that experience, that depth and exactitude that we acquire while the other peak, the peak of culture, into the peak of holiness, into Judaism, in order to deepen it and broaden it and GAIN NEW INSIGHTS INTO IT [emphasis mine: L.K.]. We must bring the beauty of Yefet into the tents of Shem.”

    I fail to understand why this critical quote of the Rav is not better known. (I cited it in my essay, “The Multi-Faceted Legacy of the Rav,” BDD, Summer, 1998, p.60, note 14.)

  6. efrex says:

    While the post is, in general, extremely thoughtful, I think there’s an inherent fallacy in its initial statement. R’ Soloveitchik’s writings (certainly “Halachik Man” and “Lonely Man of Faith”, to my understanding) are inherently limited to studies of the individual condition, rather than the communal. There are few, if any, practical applications in the books for a community, simply because that was not the Rav’s intent. Contrast that, for example, with R’ SR Hirsch in “The Nineteen Letters,” where he provides visions of individual, national, and universal scope.

    In addition, I think it’s a bit unfair to talk about the Rav’s vision of “Madda.” While comfortable using analogies from math and the sciences, the Rav was not a mathematician or a scientist. He was interested in philosophy, avidly studied philosophy, and wrote philosophical works. Trying to apply concepts like ontic vs. ontological realities to general “Madda” is like trying to taste the color red (unless you’re a synesthete, I suppose).

    For my way of thinking, there’s a large space for individuals and communities to operate in ways that are consistent with the Rav’s approaches, even if (perhaps especially if) they do not explicitly address his philosophical queries.

  7. micha says:


    I saw the Halachic Man as someone who had the tools — ie halakhah — to know when to be which. Being neoKantian, he was unlikely to believe that synthesis is achievable in any realm. Halakhah is thus knowing when to advance, and when to retreat.

    I don’t have the 1998 BDD. Could you please send me the relevant pages, either to (if you have your manuscript or a scanner) or faxed to (270) 514-1507 which also drops off to that email address.

    However, the question of synthesis vs coexistence isn’t really at the heart of the concern I express here. Here I’m more addressing the role of creativity in whichever. I discuss synthesis vs dialectic in a different blog entry, at Synthesis and Dialectic. I also have a survey of Torah-and philosophies, and a piece trying to explain why G-d would create man as a dialectic being to begin with.

    (Most of the above was crossposted back to Hirhurim.)

    R’ “efrex”:

    I am not really writing about a Halakhic Community — the title is a misnomer. It’s about inspiring a community of individuals to try to each be Halakhic Men. I’m saying it’s an ideal shouldn’t be attempted by the majority of people. (As per above reasons about needing a certain basic toolset before the attempt would be constructive.)

    I think that when Rabbi Belkin called YU’s secular dept “Madda” he wasn’t thinking of science and math. (BTW, RYBS majored in the sciences before switching to philosophy. He wasn’t a mathematician or a scientist, but that would explain his comfort pulling metaphors from that domain.) After all, Yeshiva College is a liberal arts college. In my day, it didn’t give a Bachelor’s of Science; I got a BA in Computers. (Did that change since?) I think you’re conflating the modern Israeli translation of the term with Rabbi Belkin’s more classical intent. In any case, I was just hunting for a buzzword, and even apologized a few times for borrowing one RYBS himself didn’t use.


  8. lawrence kaplan says:

    What I wrote in my post re the Rav’s derashah is all I wrote on the subject in my essay in BDD. As I understand the Rav’s statment in theDerashah, the point is that the individual must be provided with and thereby helped to acquire the best and the most rigorous education in both Torah and general culture separately — and this is the task of YU– and then it is incumbent upon the individual not to synthsize these two bodies of knowledge, but to bring the together into some sort of fruitful and mutally lluminating relationship. The Rav in his derashah refers primarily to the mathematical sciences and philosophy and ignores the humanities, but it seems to me that his position can and should be logically extended to include the humanities as well.

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