#4 – Rav Soloveitchik- Religious Definitions of Man and his Social Institutions (1959) Part 4 of 7

Continued from part 3- here.
This lecture is the emergence, if not the origin, of the Lonely Man of Faith essay. We have his oblique thoughts on Biblical criticism fleshed out in that he used Cassutto, we have him as a “being for himself” who wants to flee his students, and his definitions of the isolated self of the inner life. He has some pessimistic ideas of human relations and we even have some interesting Holocaust reflections at the end.

This lecture allows me to start a first draft of an academic article on the history of The Lonely Man of Faith lecture (1957-1978). So please listen to it and let me know: what are the other differences from the printed 1965 version? Where do I have errors in my transcription/summary?

Man is defined as a “being for himself” with its Heidegger and Sartre overtones. In this version there is no cognitive or religious man. There is man as “being for himself” and man as having a religious kerygmatic message for the community.

The biggest difference from the printed version is the reversal of the inner self and the community. In these lectures the isolated lonely self has primacy and the community and its message is a distancing from the self. In the printed version, the community is primary and the individual is the deeper level. This version has the inability of the self to express itself or find articulation, the community reflecting just a pale shadow of the self. In later versions, the self finds fuller articulation in the community or the halakhah. The two sides of man in this version are closer to the distinctions of action and thought (maaseh and kiyyum). In this version dialogue is the social Adam, and incommunicable is the lonely Adam. Help me flesh out more differences.

Rav Soloveitchik relies on the pessimism of relationships as found in Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekov; later he dropped some of his gloomy views of marriage and family life.

His single line in Lonely Man of Faith about “not being bothered about Biblical criticism” is returned to its fuller oral version. Rav Soloveitchik, following Lessing and Hermann Cohen, chooses philosophy over history as a hermeneutical method. In addition, he has read and was influenced by Umberto Cassuto. Of greater novelty, is that he refers to the stories of Adam and Eve as metaphor and symbols. Adam “fell to sleep” metaphorically means that the creation of Eve was not his choice. The phrase “took a rib” means that fellowship and community is part of man’s nature.

As an organizational matter, this recording is actually #3 and should be listened to before the one mistakenly labeled as #3, which is actually #4. The beginning of #3 that had no context is actually the end of this lecture.
Finally, the site seems to be the Catholic seminary in Brighton MA, the same location as the delivery of Lonely Man of Faith. (You can hear bits of Mass before and after 1:16 as if through a window down a corridor.) So it seems the entire series was delivered there.

The Self and Crisis – lecture #3 – labeled as #4
The self always remains lonely. However, we are more aware of it in our times of crisis, then we mention it. During crisis we have disengagement; we lose our interests, even interests in our family. There is a gradual extinction of interest in others. When doomed we retreat into self and solitary self.

Does the child know how much the parent loves him? No, because it is incommunicable. There is no experience, no existential experience. Even man and wife each remain solitary figures. He cannot exist with her but as a partner- but it is an illusion that they are not separable. The self is not entitled to marriage

My own experience: My father was very devoted He took sick and died quickly. My reaction was mental numbness, hysteria. But then I began to see life without father. I began to rearrange my life without my father even while he was alive. We see that here is no merger or communication between individuals, human existences do not merge. Am I really bound up with my father? [no!] there is an unbridgeable gulf. Only surface existence relates to other people. The human core does not. So too husbands and wives are not really bound together.

In the Bible man was created alone (Genesis 1:27) in his own image – male and female. However- in chapter two (Genesis 2:18) it is not good for the man to be alone, he needs a help-mate. In the first version, there was no communication between male and female because he was in the image of God. In chapter 2- where there is no image of God – he tries to step out of his loneliness.

There are two types of man: one with a kerygmatic message and one who is a lonely man engaged in recoil – these two types are in all of us. One is social and seeks to rejoice and share with others. And the other that intrinsically cannot share, has a limit for words, and feels the suffering of creation. He must look for sharing and communication.

Women are not created from Adam’s heart because then there would be togetherness and mutuality. Rather there is the bond of kerygma by dialogue and message. Adam and Eve loved each other but just a dialogue existence. Man remains alone, and in crisis he returns to being alone.

Two years ago my daughter [Atara] had her first child, Moshe. She said “you are my own.” But it is a mistake, he is not your own. To think that all is his as human accomplishment is done by kerygmatic Adam, but he forgets the permanent crisis and distress of Adam.

intercession questions not caught on tape.
After break – better audio

The uniqueness of man not in his intellect, as it was for Maimonides, but in his being for himself.
There are two forms of existence [external] action and hidden within, man is not what he does in action; man is his hidden within.
[kiyyum and maasah]

Biblical Criticism
The Bible is my book of knowledge. I read Genesis in order to understand social institutions and one must understand this dialectic between action and hidden. “Let us make man- singular, then “let them” –plural.

As you know Bible critics already pointed out these two accounts as differing. The Bible critics always claim two sources. The Bible critics, they make one mistake they don’t try to solve the problem philosophically.
[Umberto] Casutto says they substituted source criticism for philosophic ideas. [AB- Cassuto, Genesis, before second account of creation.)

I tell you this not because I am a rabbi and am dedicated to this text, and not because of fundamentalism. I like to understand the text.

The text is about how from estrangement we came to communication, and how fellowship came into being. The text expresses it as metaphor and symbolically as “taking a rib” and “sleep” to express these two aspects of loneliness and fellowship.
The basic Judaic fellowship is between man and women- introduced this dialectic into basic relation.

Even if you want to accept the Bible critics, but I am not interested in the source, rather the literary structure for the two accounts. The story is not something arbitrary. The story of bringing Eve was intended to show that one account is not sufficient.

The two theses are contradictory and Judaism accepts both-man created alone and together. There are two theories about society- the individual and the communal – Robinson Crusoe and the Hegel corporal state.

God is not a marriage broker – “he was asleep” means that the removal was not a consultation with Adam, rather the original intention of creation; nature itself has the contradiction of alone and together.

Marriage and loneliness
If we analyze our own experience: we want to escape people and become a hermit – I want to flee my students. On the other hand we crave fellowship and share experience, which is basic in our experience. We are in crisis because of the tension of loneliness and togetherness, the tension of the solitary Adam and a communicative Adam who wants to share with Eve. Having to give to others is a giving up of solitary self.

What of the sacrament of marriage? Catholics speak of a sacrament. But for Judaism divorce would be the natural state, for Jews marriage is a contractual idea. When I read in Israel about the [debates on] civil and religious marriage, I don’t understand it because all marriage is contractual. Marriage is sacred because all contracts are sacred. Contracts are not sacramental. Therefor divorce is basic institution; no marriage can ever attain perfection. Adam never totally committed himself to Eve. If Adam moves to the pole of recoil and solitude then the marriage is no longer valid. It is only valid as long as Adam upholds it. All commitments and contracts are relative, only the relationship to God is absolute-it is here God communicates His loneliness.

The numinous Adam is not involved in any commitment, the kerygmatic Adam seeks commitment. (AB- There is no numinous without the kerygmatic is a repeated phrase from Rudolph Otto to Karl Barth.) Human vocabulary is limited, certain experiences cannot be expressed at all. Language and metaphor are objective and intellectual, they do not convey the inner meanings.

Love is an inner experience, but passed on as expressed in language. I am not talking about introvert and extrovert, Judaism does not believe in [personality] types. It is dialectic of metaphysical experience in every person. The rebellion against fixed religion and state is the numinous and inner life, therefore it is not introversion. And writing, printing, and communication is kerygmatic, so not extroversion.

We treat even our mother and father as objects – we have no insight into them, we want to believe this lack of understanding is rooted in the numinous, but I don’t know. All human commitments are just relative. The numinous aspects of a person can never be passed on. Human institutions are a failure; Adam and Eve are a failure. They are [externally] one flesh but it is not a reality. Friendship, community, marriage are never perfect.

Voice is midway between physical and spiritual but not pure only with voice is pure. Voice is material but in between. [AB-source in Tanya] For example, take Beethoven – the music is only kerygma, a small part of the inner music that Beethoven heard–it was only the communicable part.

After Eve
The image of God is only in Genesis One concerning the numinous. Once he has Eve he does not need God anymore since he has company.

Unique Value of Each person (continued on prior tape)
What does this numinous Adam mean for social action? We must inequitably state that Judaism insists that the individual’s worth is not in the quality of kerygma he can deliver or even the beauty of the story he tells, or his accomplishments. Rather in the very fact that he exists. Dignity of man is for numinous not kerygmatic man.
Verse 24- “cattle and beast after its kind” means species and genus. What makes man different from the general pattern of creation? The answer that the Sages gave upset classical philosophy. Saving one life is as if saving the whole world. People are not based on their contribution.

The medieval said man was a microcosm. Each man is unique, because there is no mankind. A table is a universal with specific traits – abstracting from specifics. Man is not part of a mankind, he has no commitment to a universal- he rejects standardization and routine Judaism has an idealization of anonymity. The unknown individual, the vagabond and pauper are all equal to the greatest sage.

If a criminal said to a group of Jewish women give one of your number to us or else we will defile you. All need to surrender no matter the number. One must not sacrifice the dignity and individuality of even a single person – even if the woman was criminal. An individual cannot be exchanged for acrowd.

Question from moderator Avrach : What of participation in war? The individual is harmed for the greater good? Rav Soloveitchik- Judaism is opposed to war. We only recognize a war of defense. Self-defense is a basic right. For Judaism, there is no glory in war as in the Odyssey and Iliad. The prophets always condemned war.

Question: During World War II we gave up people to the Nazis in order to save the rest of the community. In Lodz and Vilna- the Jews went along with the Nazi request to deliver people. It is against basic Jewish law and not conformity with basic Jewish ethics. We cannot condemn them. Our religion was realistic but never wise.

Question from a woman- What of saving rabbis and scholars before other people? This is non-Jewish, but I myself may have been involved in it.

Now listen to the end of this lecture as part 3- here.

Adam and Eve-Marvin Werlin

AB- For some context, Rav Soloveitchik’s oscillation between loneliness and fellowship is someplace in between the romanticism of Hesse and the alienation of Plath.
“We must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome, we are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible- Hermann Hesse

“God, but life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the shrill tinsel gaiety of “parties” with no purpose, despite the false grinning faces we all wear. And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter – they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long. Yes, there is joy, fulfillment and companionship – but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering.”
― Sylvia Plath

One response to “#4 – Rav Soloveitchik- Religious Definitions of Man and his Social Institutions (1959) Part 4 of 7

  1. I know this is late, but note that in “Confrontation” the Rav did present some rather pessimistic views about marriage.

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