The Analytic Movement: Hayyim Soloveitchik and his Circle by Norman Solomon

Marc B. Shapiro writes:

The history of Torah study is marked by various trends, such as Tosafistic analysis, the combination of philosophy and Talmud study, and pilpul. In this century, it is the “Brisker” method of Talmud study which stands out. The analytic approach developed by R. Hayyim Soloveitchik of Brisk (1853-1918) quickly conquered the yeshiva world and created a revolution in Talmud study. It is true that R. Hayyim did not create the Brisker method ex nihilo. Still, there is no doubt that this method reached its most polished state in R. Hayyim’s hands. He was the major force behind its development and his contribution was unique. Without exaggeration it is possible to say that R. Hayyim raised the quality of Talmud study to a level not seen since the days of the Tosafists. In hands the argumentation of the Talmud and rishonim assumed a “scientific” character, without parallel in previous generations. At the same time, he transformed the practical halakhic work par exellence—Maimonides’ Mishne Tor ah—into both the central feature of his theoretical analyses as well as the most profound commentary on the Talmud. By doing so, he became the first to reveal the profundity of the Mishne Torah in all of its grandeur. The centrality of Maimonides’ code in contemporary Talmudic shiurim is a direct result of R. Hayyim’s influence.1

As is to be expected with anything new, the approach of R. Hayyim met with opposition among many scholars. No doubt, there was a good deal of jealousy and small-mindedness in this opposition. It would not be surprising if there were those who, because of their inability to produce hiddushim of R. Hayyim’s quality, attempted to destroy his influence. Yet it is also true that a number of important gedolei Tisrael distanced themselves from R. Hayyim’s method of study. They did so not merely as a natural conservative response to the new method, but because they believed that R. Hayyim’s approach endangered the tradition of Talmud study.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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