Halakhic Man, by Rabbi J.B. Soloveichik


Written in 1944 by Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveichik, the head of the Rabbinacal school at Yeshiva University, Halakhic Man is a description of the ideal Jew in a modern world.

The Halakhic Man has a number of distinct characteristics.

1) He is rational

Like a mathematician he believes that there is an ideal world, which reality is at odds with. This is the world described by Halakha, and it can be approached only through reason. He studies all of its nuances, so that he can transform his reality into the preexisting ideal.

2) He is optimistic, content

Unlike the prototypical homo religiosus, he does not suffer from a conflict between body and soul. He sees no duality. His purpose is to rectify this world, and to yearn to transcend it, would be evading his purpose. Man can find his perfection only here, not in spiritual realms, or after death.

3) He is creative

“The most fundamental principle of all is that man must create himself.” -pg. 109

Creative as opposed to deterministic. In a deterministic world, time is linear.  You and everything that you do is is simply an effect of an earlier cause. Free choice gives a person the freedom to create each moment as it comes, and with that choice to redefine the past that led to it and the future to which it might lead.

Not a Litvak

As discussed in the essay ‘Rabbi Soloveichik’s Halakhic Man: Not a Mithnagged’, the Halakhic Man proposed here is not at all similar to the Lithuanian tradition from which Rabbi Soloveichik came. HM is similar to the Misnagdic tradition in his appreciation for study, and for the minutae of the law. He is dissimilar, and even contrary, to the idea that man’s purpose is to be found here, in this world. That is a Hassidic perspective, and a relatively modern idea.

However, the implications that RS and Hassidism take from that idea are however, very different. In Hassidism there’s a back and forth between heaven and earth – the desire to transcend the limits of this world, and the need to stay grounded here and carry out G-d’s will. Like the heart pumping, they’re the same movement really. The one drives the other.

According to RS, it’s all about this world. There’s no need to transcend when living a life according to the Halakhic blueprint is the true way to realizing your religious self.

Best quotes ever

Religion is not, at the outset, a refuge of grace and mercy for the despondent and desperate, an enchanted stream for crushed spirits, but a raging, clamorous torrent of man’s consciousness with all its crises, pangs, and torments. – Footnote 4, pg. 142

Take that Raskolnikov.

Choice forms the base of creation. Causality and creation are two irreconcilable antagonists. -pg. 116

Forget evolution vs. creation. Are evolution and free choice (=creation) irreconcilable?

The experience of Halakhic Man is not circumscribed by his own individual past… His time is measured by the standards of the Torah, which began with the creation of heaven and earth. Similarly, Halakhic Man’s future does not terminate with the end of his own individual future at the moment of death but extends into the future of the people as a whole, the people who yearn for the coming of the Messiah and the kingdom of G-d… We have here a blurring of the boundaries dividing time from eternity, temporal life from everlasting life. -pg. 117

Welcome to infinity in the everyday.

2 thoughts on “Halakhic Man, by Rabbi J.B. Soloveichik

  1. I find this sefer intriguing as I experience it through the lens you create. Why does Halachik man need to be validated by showing that a) it is nothing like the Chassidic outlook, and that b) the Chassidic outlook seems to lack something that Halachik man gains. Even if the above said is true, does Halachik man actual exist? If something is limited to a beautiful idea found in a book but is not attainable “b’poel” then its limited to just a nice idea, a Chochmah Binah with no Daas.

    The Ratzo V’Shov concept is found in many Chassidic manuscripts, and almost none are penned by any of the Chabad Rebbeim. The foundation of Chabad Chassidus is Dira B’Tachtonim (Dwelling place below) and while the lights of the Ein Sof unfiltered are on a level that words can not describe, it is very clear that Chabad Chassidus holds of an “in this world to reveal G-dliness” platform.

    I await to hear more of these ideas.

  2. I’ve been thinking about what you said about the feasibility of the Halakhic Man and whether or not such a man could exist.

    In Opening the Tanya, the author writes “Most ethical works failed to improve the behavior of their readers becasue they promoted an ideal that was virtually unattainable. The Tanya’s uniqueness lies in its creation of a new ideal, the beinoni, that is within the reach of every person.” –

    I always thought the line that being a beinoni is within every person’s reach as unfair. We can basically say the same thing to the Alter Rebbe that Abaye said to Ravva.

    But now I’m seeing it in a new light. It may not mean that it’s really possible for a person for me to be a Beinoni, but it is in the realm of possibility, so I can get closer to it. If something is not in the realm of possibility, like being a Tzaddik, no matter what I do I’ll never get closer to being a Tzaddik.

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