Provocative New Book On Orthodox Jewish Philosophers

Rabbi Gil Student writes:

When I first opened R. Ira Bedzow’s recent book, Halakhic Man, Authentic Jew: Modern Expressions of Orthodox Thought from Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits, I was surprised. I had expected to find summaries of each thinkers’ approach and then a constructive comparison and contrast of their views. That’s not what I saw at all. Instead, I found something much bolder and more original.

Halakhic Man, Authentic Jew consists of four daring chapters, book-ended by a very brief introduction and conclusion. In the introduction, R. Bedzow states that Modern Orthodox thought is orthodoxy merely translated into contemporary language and thought structures. In the conclusion, he suggests that R. Soloveitchik and R. Berkovits did more than merely translate; they innovated and deviated from traditional Jewish thought.

The intervening chapters are where R. Bedzow attempts to prove this daring thesis. In the first two chapters, he raises point after point from each thinker and then critiques them, attempting to prove their incompatibility with Jewish tradition.

A CAREFUL READER POSTS: The truth is that all great Jewish philosophers innovated and deviated from prior Jewish thought. That’s why we consider them to be great thinkers and not Joe Schmoe. Joe Schmoe philosopher works within the given paradigms. Great philosophers shift the paradigms. If a Jewish philosopher’s innovations are viewed by most readers as being consistent with our traditions in general terms, then they become part of the Jewish philosophical tradition; this does not at all mean that they are not innovative and do not depart from previous thought.

While individuals do not generally innovate in the area of Halacha, individual innovation in the area of philosophy and thought is ancient and well accepted.

I’m sure that exactly the kind of analysis the the author did for these two great figures could easily be done for Rambam, Rav Yehuda Halevi, Maharal, Besht, Rav Kook, etc. Our Talmudic tradition is sufficiently rich and varied that many different philosophical systems can be developed which are both Jewish and consistent with our sources.

By the way, I recommend the excellent article "What is Jewish Philosophy?" which appears in the Spring 1961 issue of Tradition. This article sorts out, very intelligently in my opinion, what distinguishes a Jewish Philosophy from a philosophy developed by a Jew. The author: Eliezer Berkovitz.

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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