Panel discussion - Rav Soloveitchik: The Complex Legacy
(Sound fuzzy, as switching between multiple speakers, so couldn’t hear so well.)
Moderator, Dr. Eliot Malamet (EM)
Ethan Isenberg, filmmaker (EI)
R’ Shalom Carmy (SC)
Dr. Arnold Lustiger (
Dr. David Shatz (DS)
EM: First issue: secular studies – intrinsic good or instrumental?. RAS maintained that it was purely utilitarian, “handmaid to the queen of Torah” in Leo Strauss’ formulation.
But does secular studies have intrinsic value? Yes, because hard to say “truth is not intrinsically valuable”. Not only a handmaid. RYTwersky: Rav never really justified his view of secular studies. I think he does, but won’t explicate.
SC: Doesn’t like to rely on personal communications, not verifiable.
Uses entire arsenal of secular studies to explain stuff. Didn’t regret secular studies, did regret tzarchei tzibur taking time away from Torah.
EM: question unclear – something about secular studies for the regular yid in the workplace (?)
EI: big push in schools, e.g., Maimonides, to go to good schools, Harvard etc. Rav even pushed people to go to grad school. RHS: when people asked the Rav if they should go to grad school, he said yes, so RHS never asked him. Clear from school that he took a lot of pride in the students who did well in secular fields, even if he never wrote about it.
RSC: real question – can someone without a good liberal arts education do well in life? Guy at 25 or 30 goes out of yeshiva to get a job, can he continue on his own? Best students look back and think it was a good thing, 15-20 years after college. Even those just above average can do well with college.
EM: Types of people – those who are and aren’t bothered by crisis of religion in post-Enlightenment world. Rav was never bothered by issues about evolution and cosmogony, or ahistoricity of Revelation, etc. My question: why not? Were they not questions at all? Were there things that overrode the dilemma?
DS: Reuven Ziegler in his VBM series talks about this. First: what the Rav was interested in was not metaphysics, or truth claims, but phenomenology, or description of personal inner experience. So such questions didn’t fit his project. Ziegler: Rav didn’t regard them as the most important issues. Main field of combat in the modern world is the soul, not the mind. Intellectual questions are only consequential to soul-based experiences.
Second, what does “not bothered by” mean? 1) just have faith. 2) ___ But he does write about these things incidentally. Was clear that he accepted evolution. Teacher at Maimonides asked Rav how to teach biology, Rav answered, “Teach the textbook.” Rav more bothered by rhetorical excess. Memory from shiur “Rav would say this doesn’t bother me, then next day comes in all tormented over it.
RSC: Evolution: not much of a challenge. Criticism: didn’t give it much credence. Was aware of criticism up to a certain period. We make people believe that these questions are important to one’s weltanschauung, hashkafa
EM: Lonely Man of Faith today?
EI: Technology sets background for someone out to rule the world (Adam I) which has infiltrated the world of Adam II. Religious communities becoming more selfish. Religion demands struggle, sacrifice. In making film, about period of 50s-60s, self-help books about living life properly, religious in content. Now yoga/spirituality has taken over what religion means, except in Orthodoxy. Human connections necessary for modern man.
DS: Rav was talking about faith of man in secular society.
SC: Last pages speak about “cultural religion”.
EM Earlier today someone said that main achievement of Modern-Orthodoxy is more brands of chocolate with hechsherim. De facto, people are alienated from religion, don’t want to believe in old ways. In cultural mother's-milk, this religion is not the answer. People want to know “why should I buy into this?”
SC: Kierkegaard: direct vs. inner communication. Barth: belief cannot argue.
EM: Rav held you can take the Jew to water but you can’t make him drink.
SC: UBikashtem note 6 – implies that kind of message. People feel something’s missing, but refuse to respond to what’s being offered.
DS: People want more than criticism. Work essentially on intellectual plane. Often there is a personal “thing” going on, which may be going on for a lot of people. How do you reach these people who think intellectually?
EM: The Rav and Zionism – how did he see
SC: For the Rav, Kedushah always requires a human act (Kuzari), yishuv, etc. Don’t tell me I [Rav] don’t know about kedushas Yisroel, how many shiurim have I given on this, I knew more on the halachic subject when I was a small child in the crib in my little finger than the editor of this newspaper knows in his whole body. In the 70s often said, “You know, if the Arabs came with a peace proposal, the Jews would leap on it right away, even if they knew it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. Rav opposed Israeli militarism. [sound drop] Only time he interfered directly was in 1981