July 11, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
July 11, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Imagine you were approached as a consultant for a totally new community that was being developed. They have a number of important, fundamental questions that will determine the nature of the institutions they will be building.

  • What sort of schools should we develop? Should they be mixed-gender or separate? Should time be spent on secular studies or fully dedicated to the study of Torah? If we are teaching secular studies, which ones? For how long? Who should be the teachers–— do they have to be religious or can they be secular or non-Jewish? Should we instruct our teachers to teach to the top, bottom or middle of the class? Should we provide extracurricular opportunities and of what type — competitive sports, creative arts or practical skill development?
  • What is our approach to charity and welfare? Should we levy a heavy tax in order to fund a communal charity and relief fund or leave such issues up to each individual? What is of higher priority — homelessness, unemployment or lack of food? How do we determine triage in situations where we have limited funds to disburse? Do we agree to support people who refuse to search for employment, thus perpetuating their need to rely on handouts?
  • What type of people do we want in our community? Should we only allow those who will maintain a certain level of fidelity to halacha? Should we institute policies that limit conspicuous spending (size of houses, types of cars, ostentatiousness of celebrations) or allow for a spectrum?

Similar questions come up for individuals trying to navigate the challenges and opportunities of life:

  • How do I strike the balance between spending time on my career, spending time with my family and advancing in my own personal development? Especially if we assume that one’s career is not only a means of putting food on the table, but an opportunity to make an impact on the world (which itself is an important question), it becomes that much more difficult to know how to divide the available time.. In other words, should I spend a Sunday afternoon in the office, at the park with my kids or in the beis medrash?
  • How do I navigate the challenges of social media? Is the concept of sharing my thoughts, feelings and experiences with a faceless public an opportunity to influence the broader culture and be enriched by other people’s experiences or a breach of the value of privacy?

In both the communal and personal realms, how is a person meant to navigate these questions? In general, these are issues which don’t have well-defined, hard-and-fast answers; they are often not addressed by pesak halacha. Rather, they are questions of values, ideals and perspectives. What should our value system be? Where are we meant to look for guidance regarding these types of issues?

 

From the Sources of Halacha

The Halachic Mind, one of the Rav’s most difficult and least appreciated works, concludes by addressing the system of Halacha in Jewish thought. The Rav argues that the only meaningful source of a uniquely Jewish worldview is the Halachic system: “To this end there is only a single source from which a Jewish philosophical Weltanschauung could emerge; the objective order – the Halakhah” (pg. 101). Using the nuanced, complex and detailed system of Halacha, we have the opportunity to clarify how Hashem intended for us to think, feel and act. In all areas of life, from religious to interpersonal, from business to pleasure, mitzvos, properly understood, can act as our guides not just for what we must do, but how we should think. In the Rav’s immortal words: “Out of the sources of Halakhah, a new world view awaits formulation” (pg. 102).1

A deep understanding of the underlying principles of each mitzvah provides just the sort of guidance needed to respond to the communal and individual value questions posed above. For example, sugyos about tzedakah don’t only teach me how much I must give and to whom I must give it; they are meant to teach a deep sense of responsibility for others and a recognition that charity is not just a kindness, but an obligation. Dinim, such as hezek re’iyah, convey not just zoning laws describing the fences that can and should be built between neighbors, but the assumption that every person is entitled to their private domain and encroaching on that constitutes a form of damage. Each area of halacha has its own message, with layers of depth to match the nuance of the difficulties of real life.

In addition to this more reactive function, giving us the perspective to navigate the challenges that crop up over the course of one’s life, Torah also incorporates an educational curriculum all of its own, a set of principles Hashem wants us to learn through doing. Shabbos and the Moadim are a perfect example of this instructive function: to drive home the awareness that Hashem is the ultimate Owner of all creation, we have a weekly shevisah from creative, world-altering melacha. To remember Hashem as our Savior, Law-giver and Protector, we observe Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos, respectively. Rather than teaching us how to navigate classic human challenges, these institutions give us opportunities to reflect on unique, fundamentally Jewish ideas and incorporate them into the way we see the world.

Indeed, “Out of the sources of halakhah, a new world view awaits formulation.”2

Tzvi Goldstein graduated from Yeshiva University with semicha and a degree in Psychology. After making aliyah, he taught in Yeshivat Hakotel for five years and now edits sefarim for a number of publishers. He recently published a sefer with Mosaica Press called “Halachic Worldviews,” exploring Rav Soloveitchik’s approach to developing hashkafa from halacha, and writes at tgb613.substack.com. You can reach him at [email protected].

 

1 The Rav develops this theme more in “Halakhic Man,” and incorporates it as the ultimate solution to the conflict between Adam I and Adam II in “The Lonely Man of Faith.”

For others who also advocate this approach to Torah and mitzvos, see:

Rabbi SR Hirsch: Horeb ch. 75; Collected Writings 1, pg. 194; Letters 10, 17, 18 of the Nineteen Letters; Commentary to the Siddur, Birchos HaTorah.

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein: Values in Halakhah.

Ramban: Commentary to Devarim 22:6, Vayikra 19:2.

Rambam: End of Hilchos Meilah and Temurah, Shabbos 2:3, Yesodei HaTorah 4:13, Moreh Nevuchim 3:31.

2 I explore a number of topics from this perspective in my “Halachic Worldviews.”

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles