Halakhic Man (L’Eylah)

10 April 1985
rav soloveitchik

Volume 19 of L'Eylah (published ahead of Pesach 5745) includes a foreword by Rabbi Sacks, then Principal of Jews' College, his examination and reflections on Rav Soloveitchik (author of Halakhic Man), and a short book review of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin's The Passover Haggadah.


Post-war American Orthodoxy, by some happy combination of circumstance, discovered that the bat kol of Jewish philosophy could be heard once more. 'Modern Orthodoxy' was the label under which were grouped such diverse thinkers as Norman Lamm, Emanuel Rackman and Eliezer Berkovits, Walter Wurzburger and Michael Wyschogrod, and a younger generation which contained the subtle and elegant Aaron Lichtenstein as well as radicals like Irving Greenberg and David Hartman.

Here was a group which, despite its label, had no common programme or stance. It was not a movement or a school of thought. Yet it had a rough­ and-ready kind of unity. It had an institutional focus in Yeshiva University. It had a medium of expression in the journal Tradition. And above all it had a prophet: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, known to an entire section of American Jewry as simply 'The Rav'.

The last few years have seen a flurry of activity in making Soloveitchik's work more accessible. Volumes of his hitherto unpublished or uncollected writings have appeared. Lectures have been transcribed and translated. Recently a massive two-volume festschrift appeared, occasioned by his eightieth birthday and an impressive tribute to the range and depth of his influence.

English readers will be particularly grateful that this literary harvest now includes a translation of the classic essay Ish ha-Halakhah, which had for many years been the single written expression of Soloveitchik's philosophy. Published as an article in 1944 in the journal Talpiot, it had lain like a buried treasure: difficult to track down, hard to read, and imposing formidable intellectual demands on the reader. It subsequently appeared, in 1976 and 1979, in two Hebrew volumes of the Rav's essays, and has now been issued on its own as Halakhic Man in a translation by Lawrence Kaplan, himself a student of the master.

What emerges from the book? What or who is Halakhic man? What is distinctive about the way he approaches the world? And how­ surely the key question - has R. Soloveitchik entered into the confrontation with modernity which others before him had declined.