Religious, philosopher or halachic man?

(First in a series summarizing the book Halachic Man)

Halachic Man is an important essay written by Rabbi Josef Dov Soloveitchik that I read a great many years ago. I am coming back to it now because I sense it has an important bearing on logotherapy as a branch of existential psychotherapy, on the deeper meaning to be found in the details of Jewish law and on my world-view generally. I invite you to this process of rediscovery together with me.

Two prototypes can be found in the world: religious man and the philosopher. The Hebrew terms work very well because only one letter is added to the second term. Dat means religion. The extra letter in da’at changes its meaning to man of philosophy (or literally, knowledge).

A third prototype exists, about which the book was written: the halachic man. This third type is neither religious nor a philosoopher but he has a little bit of each of those identities within him. What is the essence of this strange prototype?

The philosopher wants to know the world. He seeks what is orderly and fixed. He is conscious of what will resolve the mystery and solve the puzzle. Ultimately he wants to resolve the problems of existence. To this end he clarifies, analyzes and exposes the rules that make up the order of creation.

The religious person, on the other hand also looks at those same fixed rules but for him they only deepen the mystery. He is not interested in resolving it. He is conscious of the wonder and the miracle within the laws of nature. The mystery of mysteries is the law itself.

We will go on to explore in what way the halachic man carries within him a little bit of each of these while in essence is something else altogether.

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