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December 08, 2004

Happy Chanukah - II

This is the second night of Chanukah.

As mentioned before, Chanukah is about the struggle between Judaism and Greek Culture. But what exactly was it in Greek culture that was so objectionable?

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, one of the luminaries of modern Orthodox Judaism, wrote a book, Halakhic Man. It's a dense book, quoting with equal ease the Talmud, later rabbis, Kierkegaard, and Shakespeare. Rabbi Solovetchik received a degree in Philosophy from the University of Berlin; he was clearly no intellectual shut-in.

In it, he compares two aspects of human nature, the "Dignified Man," the man of work, the man who dominates nature, and "Religious Man," who shrinks before God and His infinitude. Judaism seeks a synthesis of the two, Halakhic Man. Soloveitchik's argument is that man's soul can survive neither the self-abnegation of Religious Man nor the self-aggrandizement of Dignified Man. Halakha, Jewish Law, is an attempt to connect the finite & tangible with the infinite.

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, one of the current leaders of Modern Orthodox thought, suggests that Greek culture wasn't wrong, it was just too one-sided. It emphasized Dignified Man at the complete expense of Reigious Man. Judaism was attempting to restore the balance.

In a lecture delivered 30 years ago, long before the current Culture Wars were well-understoof, Rabbi Lichtenstein articulated the faults in Greek culture: a determination than the earth existed for Man, that Man could completely understand and control the universe, and that man is the measure of all things.

Judaism takes a different view. Man is, in some sense, in charge of the physical world. But the universe should be a source of awe, not self-satisfaction. One can understand, but should approach the examination of creation with the proper respect for Creation.

It was this sense of balance that Judaism was seeking to restore.

Posted by joshuasharf at December 8, 2004 05:02 PM | TrackBack

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