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In this difficult book, Rabbi Soloveitchik interprets the book of Genesis as a description of humanity's evolution from being purely part of nature to being a more complex, and ultimately spiritual, being. Although he discusses Abraham and Moses, I found his discussion of the Genesis creation story to be more interesting.
At the start, people are part of nature; the author notes that the Torah's reports of the creation of plants, animals and people are almost identical, and that all three emerged from the earth and ultimately return to the earth. Similarly, the Torah does not discriminate between person and animal with respect to food: Genesis suggests that both were intended to live solely on vegetables and fruits, and were instinctively willing to do so. Rather than being completely unique, a person is "a drop of the cosmos." While Christianity seeks to free man of his commitment to the flesh, Judaism "proclaimed the goodness of the whole of man", both his purely human elements and his plant- and animal-like biological urges. (However, I was surprised by Soloveitchik's failure to confront the scientific view that animals, and even primitive humans, were carnivorous).
But how is man different? How are people "created in the divine image"? For one thing, people have a "technical intelligence" guiding their biological drives. To a greater extent than lower animals, a human has the ability to plan, and the ability to create ethical meaning. And humans are capable of misconduct that is "detachment from nature and non-compliance with her dicta." (But if behavior is unnatural, how is it than humanity is capable of it?Read more ›
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993) was and is still considered the leading rabbinical figure of Modern Orthodox Judaism. His writings stressed that Jews must obey Jewish law (halakhah) even though the rule seems anachronistic and harmful, such as only allowing men to secure divorces. He insisted that the mystical other-worldly views of Nachmanides (1194-1270) are correct and eschewed the rational this-worldly teachings of Maimonides (1138-1204).
This book published after his death seems to negate many teachings people thought the rabbi had. The fourth century BCE Greek philosopher Plato stressed that scholars need to hide their true understandings from the general public who would be unable to deal with them. Plato said that scholars may even make remarks that seem to agree with the popular view to appease them. He called this a "noble lie." Even Maimonides wrote books with noble lies. This book leads readers to conclude that Rabbi Soloveitchik did so as well.
In this book the rabbi has many views that are similar if not the same as those of the rational Maimonides. God created or formed the world but is transcendental. God is not involved in worldly affairs. The world functions according to the laws of nature, which are good, and do not require constant divine interference and repair. Events that people considered miracles were natural occurrences that seemed unusual. Prophecy is not a communication with the transcendental God, but the use of a high level of intelligence. There is no promise of an after-life in the Hebrew Bible. The concept of reward and punishment simply means that people must live according to the laws of nature, and if they don't the consequences of natural law will benefit or harm them. However, the rabbi also had ideas that Maimonides would eschew.Read more ›
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