On Eagleís Flight and Snailís Pace:
Rabbi Soloveitchik and the Problems of Modernity

How does the thought of Rabbi Soloveitchik speak to the problems of modern Jews? This essay surveys various intersections between the Ravís thought and modernity. Rabbi Soloveitchik broke down the perceived barrier between our detailed halakhah and inwardness by arguing that many halakhic actions must be accompanied by a kiyyum she-balev, a corresponding inward emotion. His thought emphasizes personal creativity as an essential component of learning Torah, achieving personal providence and repentance. Rabbi Soloveitchik affirmed the halakhic sanctification of ordinary, physical existence while seeing this aspect of life as an arena of moral crisis rather than reducing it to a mindless sanctification of everything. Although particularism often bothers moderns, Rabbi Soloveitchikís essays help wrestle with the challenge: In "Confrontation" he argues profoundly for the uniqueness of each faith community, and in U-Vikashtem mi-Sham he worked out an anthropology grounded in revelation that still takes manís reason and intuition seriously.

Some maintain that Rabbi Soloveitchik offers a path too strenuous for the modern Jew, but Rabbi Carmy argues that we cannot escape the challenges posed by the Rav. Judaism will not thrive without a strong intellectual element and without an outlook that incorporates the complexity of real people rather than facile images. Nor can we simply watch the Rav, and other great individuals, do the hard work for us while we cheer them on from the sidelines because we will not truly appreciate their greatness without our own serious efforts toward personal growth.

Click here to read the essay (PDF 950KB).

Tradition 29:1 (1994): 21-31. (© Rabbinical Council of America, with permission.)

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