Explore the Rav’s magnum opus with Rabbi Jeffrey Saks. “Halakhic man reflects two opposing selves; two disparate images are embodied within his soul and spirit.” Who is this complex character and what does he tell us about the spirit and ideals of halakhic Judaism, and the philosophical worldview of the Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l?
Halakhic Man: Lesson 1
INTRODUCTION: I’m looking forward to beginning our exploration of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s Halakhic Man. While I will make scans of certain sections available, I strongly recommend purchasing the book – an important addition to any Jewish library, and a good bargain as we are liable to make much use of it in what will likely occupy us for many, many sessions. (In the meantime I have uploaded Part I chapters 1-4 to give you a head start.) I have attached an Index which I prepared a while back. You may find it handy. Also a copy of my essay “Rabbi Soloveitchik on the Brisker Derekh” which (as you’ll see) is relevant to Halakhic Man. For an introduction to the Rav’s life and thought, listen HERE.
Halakhic Man: Lesson 2
MEETING COGNITIVE MAN AND HOMO RELIGIOSUS: After our introduction in week one we will get further in to the presentation of Cognitive Man and Homo Religiosus (before we can understand how Halakhic Man encompasses and surpasses them both). In light of some of the questions I received, we will also make a detour to lay some of the groundwork in general philosophy. Please attempt to read ahead – at least Part I:2 in Halakhic Man. Again, I strongly recommend you purchase the book.
Halakhic Man: Lesson 3
REALITY POSSESSES TWO FACES: Please read on (from page 7). Explore Footnote 4 (attached), or listen to this discussion of it. Click here for Lawrence Kaplan’s essay about translating Halakhic Man with the Rav. See this video of the Milky Way – do you experience it as a Cognitive Man/Woman or as a Homo Religious?
Halakhic Man: Lesson 6
COGNITIVE MAN’S REALITY: For next week, proceed through Part I chapter 5 (pp. 17-19) on how Cognitive Man perceives reality (as compared to the previous discussion on Homo Religiosus’ reality). The section is in attached PDF. Rabbi Lichtenstein’s Paper “Does the Jewish Tradition Recognize an Ethic Independent of the Halakhah” (as well as an excellent summary-analysis by R. Asher Meir and symposium papers) can be accessed HERE.
Halakhic Man: Lesson 7
HALAKHIC MAN’S REALITY: Please read through next section on the Halakhic Man’s perception of reality (section VI on pp. 19-29). The film clip of Temple Grandin (the film is a good description of how seeing reality differently might be depicted on film; imagine a movie about the Halakhic Man!) is here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=l58MffRIJUQ
Halakhic Man: Lesson 8
HALAKHIC MAN’S REALITY (PART 2): Continuing from bottom of p. 22 on how halakhah serves as the “blueprint” for the world according to the Ish HaHalakhah. Attached is the essat I mention on the Rav’s description of the characteristics of the Brisker Method of Talmud study, which is an important supplement to his description of the personality of Halakhic Man. For those who want more on Euclidean vs. non-Euclidean geometry on the bottom of p. 29, see: http://youtu.be/Jvs_gTrP3wg AND in terms of correlating theory and reality in physics (the Big Bang evidence from today’s news) see THIS.
Halakhic Man: Lesson 9
TRANSCENDENT HALAKHIC MAN: Having completed the description of how each of the three characters approaches reality, the essay now turns to how Halakhic Man views the transcendent realm (section VII, from p. 30). Among the topics explored: How and why Halakhic Man’s worldview inherently leads him away from religious radicalism (or excesses in the name of religion). In the next session we will continue from PART I Chapter 8, on p. 39 – having contrasted Halakhic Man with Cognitive Man and Homo Religiosus, how does he resolve or overcome the tensions between them?
Halakhic Man: Lesson 10
RESOLVING THE TENSIONS: Welcome back to our series on Rabbi Soloveitchik’s Halakhic Man. We’ll begin with a quick review of what we did previously, and continue with a new topic starting in Part I Chapter 8, from p. 39 – having contrasted Halakhic Man with Cognitive Man and Homo Religiosus, how does he resolve or overcome the tensions between them? The next set of classes in this course is dedicated in memory of Rabbi Ezra Labaton z”l by Michael and Tiffany Beyda. Visit WebYeshiva.org/RabbiLabaton to learn more about sorely missed Jewish leader, teacher and thinker.
Halakhic Man: Lesson 11
Halakhic Man: Lesson 12
TZIMTZUM: When we continue after Shavuot we’ll begin get into the “kabbalistic” (TBD if so) components that are featured in Part I chapter 9 (from p. 49). Please take note of the chats and links below which our fellow student Aryeh posted during this shiur re the discussion of infinity as well as the mention of the Vilna Gaon and math (on p. 57): from Aryeh Baruch to Everyone: As an aspiring mathematician I have always found awe-inspiring that in the modern era, we have achieved the beginning understanding of the mathematics of the infinities – and now we can imagine, at least in the idealized world of pure thought, how an infinite can fit into a finite – and that there are recursively infinitely many infinities, each infinitely greater than the last. [Links to some online essays on the topic – for the non-professional math person] http://gizmodo.com/5809689/a-brief-introduction-to-infinity http://h2g2.com/edited_entry/A4080467 http://h2g2.com/edited_entry/A593552 what is learned over the course of grade school [in arithmetic] is comparable to learning the alphabet, and perhaps a few simple sentences. Most people are not given the opportunity to learn the language, nor its beauty nor its power [RE the Vilna Gaon’s book on geometry] the Ayil Meshulash (“A Ram in Three Parts”, a reference to Abraham’s “Covenant Between the Parts” in Genesis 15:9) is generally attributed to him. SEE: link here on GoogleBooks
Halakhic Man: Lesson 14
HEAVEN TO EARTH: Having now described (countless times…) the movement Halakhic Man is making by bringing the world of the spirit down to the world of “reality” (think of our chart), chapter 10 (of Part I) attempts to explain how that is done – via the action of halakhah. Please read from pages 63-66.
Halakhic Man: Lesson 15
HALAKHAH AS THE 3RD VERSE: Part I chapter 11 (pp. 66-72). Given the tension (dualism) previously mentioned – Homo Religiosus is torn between heaven and earth, how does the Halakhic Man resolve the tension? Test case: Yom Kippur with Halakhic Man vs Religious Man – how does it differ?
Halakhic Man: Lesson 16
HALAKHIC MAN’S MINDSET: Given what we’ve established about Halakhah as THE source for molding Halakhic Man – what is the nature of his mindset? How does it impact his attitude to depression, death, or the Musar movement, e.g.? Part I: Chapter 12 (pp. 72-78). (The passage from William James referenced on p. 76 can be found here.) For more on the halakhah’s role in regulating emotion see archived shiurim on the Rav’s essay “Catharsis” – available at the July 15 2014 lesson here: https://www.webyeshiva.org/course/writings-of-rav-soloveitchik/
Halakhic Man: Lesson 18
Halakhic Man: Lesson 19
HALAKHIC MAN’S TRUTH AND KINDNESS: Please read chapter 15 (pp. 89-95) for the conclusion to the description of Halakhic Man’s ” world view and life”. Given what we’ve come to know about him over the past number of weeks – how might we imagine Halakhic Man’s intellect impacts his morality? הדרן עלך איש ההלכה חלק ראשון
Halakhic Man: Lesson 20
HALAKHIC MAN’S CREATIVE CAPACITY: Having completed the first section of Halakhic Man (pp. 1-95) we will now turn our attention to the shorter and arguably more important second section “His Creative Capacity” (pp. 99-137). This file will be used throught the duration of the series. Click here for the archives of the first 19 episodes of the series. For background see also attached: R. Walter Wurzburger, “The Centrality of Creativity in the Thought of R. Soloveitchik,” Tradition 30:4 (1996). Those in need of an introduction to the Rav’s biography and thought should listen to this archived session.
Halakhic Man: Lesson 21
PARTNER IN CREATION: Chapter 2 of Part II (pp. 105-109 in this file) continues the discussion of how man becomes God’s partner in creation, and begins the description of how “creation” is the mechanism through which the Halakhah descends from the ideal to the “real” world. Be sure to see Footnote 114 with the marvelous story by Y.L. Peretz.
Halakhic Man: Lesson 22
TESHUVAH AND CREATIVITY: Just in time for Rosh Hashana… The discussion of Teshuvah (repentance) as an act of self-cretaivity, so central to the character of Halakhic Man. Part II chapter 3 (pp. 110-117). For those interetsed in more on this topic see: Yitzhak Blau, “Creative Repentance,” Tradition 28:2 (1993).
Halakhic Man: Lesson 24
Halakhic Man: Lesson 25
PROPHECY AND CREATIVITY: n the final chapter 6 (of Part II, starting on p. 128) the Rav depicts the Biblical Prophet as the exemplar of the individual who perfects himself via creativity. We will need 2 sessions to finish this chapter (and the book), but try to read ahead to at least to middle of p. 134.
Halakhic Man: Lesson 26
CONCLUSION: In our final session we will conclude Halakhic Man (from p. 134 to end on p. 137) and attempt to summarize the main lessons of this important work. I have attached chapter 30 from Reuven Ziegler’s Majesty and Humility: The Thought of Rabbi Soloveitchik – which summarizes the goals of Halakhic Man.
Rabbi Jeffrey Saks is the founding director of ATID – The Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions in Jewish Education, in Jerusalem, and its WebYeshiva.org program. He is the Editor of the journal Tradition, Series Editor of The S.Y. Agnon Library at The Toby Press, and Director of Research at the Agnon House in Jerusalem. A three-time graduate of Yeshiva University (BA, MA, Semicha), Rabbi Saks has published widely on Jewish thought, education, and literature (see www.webyeshiva.org/rabbisaks).