Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Review: And From There You Shall Seek, by Joseph B. Soloveitchik

And From There You Shall Seek, by Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Published 2008 by Ktav Publishing House.

Click here to buy And From There You Shall Seek from your favorite indie bookstore.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, also known simply as "the Rav," was a seminal figure in the Modern Orthodox movement in Judaism. He wrote several influential books, taught in Boston and New York, and founded the Maimonides School, a K-12 day school in the Boston area, to carry on his beliefs by educating young Jewish girls and boys according to his worldview.

In this book, published in 1978 in Hebrew and appearing now in English for the first time, Soloveitchik uses The Song of Songs as the starting point for an extended argument on the necessity of following Jewish law, or halakah, in order to build a meaningful relationship with God. Soloveitchik's writings reflect many aspects of Modern Orthodox theology and philosophy- the importance of education, of engagement with society at large and of combining studying and living halakah with the performance of good deeds and righteous acts.

Soloveitchik begins his treatise with an analysis of the Song of Songs as the longing of man for God- man constantly cleaves to God, constantly longs for God, but God is elusive and slips away just as man believes he will finally unite with Him. So how then to join with God? Soloveitchik argues that man joins with God through engagement with the world, the study of Torah (including both recitation and studying the works of other Torah scholars) and obedience to halakah. He ends by suggesting that man stays close to God by being part of a larger community and identifying with the fate of the Jewish people.

Soloveitchik's purpose is not to explain or justify individual aspects of halakah but to present an argument which advocates for its adoption as a whole and connects halakah to a deeper relationship with God; this he does persuasively and passionately. His work here is intellectually rigorous and challenging but still accessible and it is highly recommended for academic collections of Judaica and for those seeking a greater understanding of Modern Orthodox theology and principles.