09 July 2006

Understanding איש ההלכה (Halakhic Man or Man of Halakhah)

On Friday (our first Friday), we learned our sources on ממזרות for a couple of hours and then Rabbi Klapper gave a שיעור (lecture) on Rabbi Soloveitchik's "איש ההלכה" ("Halakhic Man" is the English translation given to the work by Professor Lawrence Kaplan, though Rabbi Klapper preferred to translate it as "Man of Halakhah") (for a couple of other postings on the JBlogosphere about Halakhic Man, see Sarah's At Least I Can Still be a Lonely Woman of Faith! and Shira's Halakhic Man and the Mentor/Apprentice Model of Ancient Greece). This was certainly neat, though I would have been better served to have read it more recently than a few years ago, as I have noted elsewhere. What was particularly interesting was how Rabbi Klapper connected Rabbi Soloveitchik's work to one of Plato's works (the allegory of the cave) through a term used by the Rav (if you're interested in listening to the lecture, I have uploaded it here):
So we have, now, where the Rav got this from: He had Plato and he mapped Plato onto Halakhah into this spectacular intellectual thing.
What I want to argue, though, is Plato's vision is written from the perspective of the philospher. The poet, however, would write a very different book - he would write a very different allegory. Ish haHalakhah, the Rav tells you over and over again, is written from the perspective of the person who sees Halakhah as the central aspect of reality. From the perspective of the person who sees lomdus, specifically, as the central aspect of reality, this is what psak is. It doesn't mean you couldn't write an entirely different book called Ish haPsak. And Ish haPsak would use a totally different metaphor in which poetry would be at the apex. So, the question is "Is the Rav committed to this vision as the only vision? or is the purpose of this book designed to tell you that for the person who is the Ish haHalakhah, this is how they conceive the world - they conceive the world the same way that Plato's philosopher conceived the world. But we don't necessarily have to perceive the world that way.
While this sounds interesting, there is much more to it, in addition to his setting up his points more, so it's worth a listen if you are into this work.
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2 comments:

Sarah said...

Hey Drew,
Thanks for the shout-out. Alot of my post was inspired by R. Klapper in the first place, so its especially good that you made the connection. But to be fair, I spoke to a professor at Harvard, Jay Harris, about the theory of Halakhic Man as not being the Rav's ideal and he thought that it was a bit of a stretch. I assume there's a reason he didn't write "Ish ha Psak" that we probably also keep in mind. Also, Im ok with Halakhic Man being the Rav's ideal and still not my own, but thats another story.

David said...

>>Plato's vision is written from the perspective of the philospher. The poet, however, would write a very different book - he would write a very different allegory.

Plato believed that doing philosophy was the most (perhaps the only) worthwhile activity.

I get the impression that the Rav believed the same about lomdus. That said, I don't think he's "committed to this vision as the only vision". One certainly could write "Ish Ha-Pesak" and I suspect the Rav recognized the great Torah scholars who didn't conform to the Rav's portrayal of "Halakhic Man".

But Sarah's right, the Rav didn't write "Ish Ha-Pesak". I read "Halakhic Man" as a portrait and defense of the Brisker lamdan par excellence. I think it was indeed his personal approach (which is why he didn't write "Ish Ha-Pesak") but that's not to say he thought it was the only one.