I have heard the idea that the halacha (and the boundaries it creates) provide the basic premises with which our worldview and basic (philosophical/conceptual) understanding of the Torah is created. Can someone explain this to me and also tell me if there is anyone who disagrees?

(Sorry if the idea is presented very vaguely here, but I hope people who have heard this idea get what I'm asking about.)

(I have heard this idea related to the book 'Halachic Man' and to Rav Hirsch.

  • See Rabbi Meiselman's Torah Chazal and Science ....would post an answer, but I haven't finished it yet....he deals with this question a lot throughout the book, but gives it a special focus in the earlier chapters, if I remember correctly. – MTL Dec 7 '14 at 0:11
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/13800 – msh210 Dec 7 '14 at 6:42

This article by Shubert Spero may be helpful.

In terms of explaining this concept, which as you noted, is very much identified with R. J.B. Soloveitchik, Spero quotes the latter's Halakhic Mind (pp 101-102):

[T]here is only a single source from which a Jewish philosophical weltanschauung could emerge: the objective order - the Halakha ... Out of the sources of Halakha, a new world view awaits formulation.

He quotes Marvin Fox's summary of this position:

Religious and philosophical accounts of Jewish spirituality are sound and meaningful only to the extent that they derive from the Halakha. The deepest religious emotion, the subtlest theological understanding can only be Jewishly authentic to the extent that they arise from reflection on matters of Halakha.

Or R. Jonathan Sacks's take on R. Soloveitchik's position:

Halakha is the visible surface of a philosophy: the only philosophy that could legitimately claim to being Jewish.

However, as Spero notes, there were many giants who did not seem to believe that halacha can or must serve as the source for all Jewish philosophy:

If we examine the works of the classical Jewish philosophers - Sa'adya, Yehuda haLevi and Maimonides, we find that the prooftexts they offer are mainly from the Bible, and, if Rabbinic, are generally aggadic in nature. Even if one should disagree with some particular philosophic tenets of these thinkers, one cannot accuse all of them of having looked in the wrong place!

  • That seems like a cheap shot (in that it cites something RJBS was obviously aware of). Not all philosophical claims need to be backed up by primary sources. It's much easier to cite and understand an aggadic statement than to present and derive all the relevant halakha that upon reflection leads to that philosophy. That's like saying Halakha fundamentally derives from the Mishna Berura since rarely do people cite the Talmud lemaaseh. – Double AA Dec 26 '18 at 13:49
  • @DoubleAA Fair point. I think Spero later on in the article modifies what he understands to be the Rav's position to be along the lines of "Any philosophy of Judaism, to be considered adequate, must be consistent with principles logically inferable from halakha." – Joel K Dec 26 '18 at 14:39
  • @doubleAA See "The Rav Thinking Aloud" (Holzer, 2008) pg. 65 a transcript of RJBS: "[To answer a philosophical question] we must first show that halacha is aware of the distinction. With aggada we are not sure that what we say is correct. We have no tradition as to the interpretation of the maxim, as we do in halacha...." It sounds like he's saying we have little mesorah about aggada and thus can't check out the philosophical concept. That's why we need to rely on halacha. But there's no intrinsic problem with using aggada as a basis; thus there's no kasha on RJBS from rishonim. – Binyomin Apr 28 '20 at 17:26

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