Halachic Man and Authentic Man (Ideas #124)



In our appropriate desire to better ourselves, we look to improve our religious infrastructure, to create a more responsive and user-friendly halachic system and so on and so forth. We respond to our malaise about the religious status quo by pondering its various problems, implicitly assuming that if we could only fix them we would be able to create some sort of Brave New Judaism that would put everything aright.


Perhaps if we paid more attention to general trends, we would realize that our malaise is shared by many who don’t know the first thing about Judaism, let alone halacha, which could well mean that the biggest problem with Judaism today has nothing to do with Judaism per se.



Even as Western society has become uncomfortable with religion, it has also become increasingly uncomfortable with its own discomfort. It is more than feeling he has lost its way – Western man feels hollow at the center. Consequently, educator Parker Palmer critiques Western culture for its lack of spirituality and tells us why it led to his own emotional illness:


I was formed … to live out of the top inch and a half of the human self, to live only with cognitive rationality and with the powers of the intellect, out of touch with anything that lay below that top inch and a half: body, intuition, feeling, emotion, relationship.


Such is the Greek cerebralism that has come to dominate Western culture and that threatens to emaciate the soul of Jew and non-Jew alike. As a society, we have come very far from the intuitive and holistic classical man who had an emotional craving for worship. (And the fact that the modern Jew is hardly different in this regard should make us realize to what extent we are subject to the general Western zeitgeist.)


So if many feel that halacha – or our often lifeless response to halacha – has gotten off track, we would do well to realize that this may be all that one can expect from our listless souls. For the main problem in halachic Judaism is not with the halacha, it is with us.


If we are to use the metaphor of halacha as music and the mood created by it as spirituality – even if one becomes a virtuoso, he can still completely miss the impact of the very music that he plays. Indeed, we have become masters of halacha – we have fine tuned it’s performance.  But until we fix our souls we will not be equipped to hear its message – nor that of any strategy meant to enhance something that almost doesn’t exist within us. Some tell us that we should be virtuosos nonetheless. In my mind, if that were all of music, we would soon stop playing.


In that case, the main order of the day is soul rehabilitation. More than anything else, we have to relearn what it is to be human – to reaccept our intuitions, our emotions, our bodies and most of all our souls. There will still be an important place for our intellects. But our intellects cannot become who we are.   


In this vein, it is worth remembering that not only is the study of halacha cerebral, but so is its critique. Thus, important though it may be, it doesn’t deal with the main problem. In fact, on some level, it only perpetuates it.