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Daniel RynholD
 Letting the Facts Get inthe Way of a Good Thesis:On Interpreting R. Soloveitchik’sPhilosophical Method 
itrduct
M
any great thinkers, especially those whose legacy is not con-ned to the academy, suer at the hands o their interpreters,and R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik is no exception. When one beginsstudying the thought o the Rav, one is struck by the at times diametri-cally opposed approaches to his work in the scholarly and not so scholarly literature that it has generated. For example, among the various commu-nities that view themselves as the true heirs o R. Soloveitchik, we nd,on the one hand, those that marginalize the philosophical import o hiswork and, on the other, those that emphasize it almost to the exclusion o anything else.
1
I initially thought that this was merely an expression o theparticular conscious or unconscious prejudices o the scholars in ques-tion, mysel included, but as I continue to engage with R. Soloveitchik’sthought, it strikes me that while this is undoubtedly a actor, the varyingviews oten each have a genuine oothold in his work, making or a rathermore complicated picture o both his thought and its interpreters. In thispaper, I wish to illustrate what I mean with reerence to R. Soloveitchik’s
1. For an analysis o the posthumous treatment o R. Soloveitchik’s work, see LawrenceKaplan, “Revisionism and the Rav: The Struggle or the Soul o Modern Orthodoxy,”
 Judaism
48 (1999): 290-311.
DANIEL RYNHOLD is Associate Proessor o Jewish Philosophy and Director o theDoctoral Program at the Bernard Revel Graduate School o Jewish Studies, YeshivaUniversity. He is the author o 
 An Introduction to Medieval Jewish Philosophy 
(I. B.Tauris, 2009),
Two Models o Jewish Philosophy 
(Oxord University Press, 2005), andnumerous scholarly articles and reviews.
52
The Torah u-Madda Journal (16/2012-13
)
 
Daniel Rynhold 
53
theory and practice o his philosophical method as presented in
TheHalakhic Mind 
.
2
In this case, I began with an initial interpretation o R.Soloveitchik’s method, only to be convinced subsequently that it waserroneous, but then returned to my starting point.
3
I recall, rom my time as a philosophy undergraduate, once sitting amongstudents and lecturers in Cambridge during a meeting o what was stillquaintly called the Moral Sciences Club. During a discussion o some now orgotten metaphysical theory, someone objected to a particular positionbeing taken and interjected, “But the acts are . . . .” He was immediately interrupted by a proessor, who shouted, “For goodness sake! We’re phi-losophers. We’re above acts.” Along these same lines, the objection tomy original reading o R. Soloveitchik’s method was that although my interpretation o the text in question seemed coherent, I was ignoringthe rather recalcitrant act that R. Soloveitchik did not actually use themethod I was attributing to him. At the time, this was a point that I elt Ihad to concede, but on urther refection, I have come to the conclusionthat there is a sense in which both my interpretation and the objectionhave merit. It is this intellectual journey that this paper describes.
4
 I will begin with my reading o R. Soloveitchik’s philosophical meth-od and the central objection to it. I will then examine his philosophy o prayer as a basis or discussion o whether or not the method used in thatcontext is indeed the one I have suggested. This will lead in conclusion toa brie observation on the implications o all o this or the interpretationo R. Soloveitchik’s thought more generally.
T Mtd
What, then, was R. Soloveitchik’s philosophical method as outlined in
TheHalakhic Mind 
? The method he ends up with is one that he terms “de-scriptive reconstruction,” and it is with the details o this method that I amparticularly concerned. In broad summary, the method can be presented
2. Joseph B. Soloveitchik,
The Halakhic Mind: An Essay on Jewish Tradition and ModernThought 
(New York, 1986). Reerences to this work in the text will be in the orm
HMD
 ollowed by page number.3. The objection to my interpretation was brought to my attention by David Shatz at thebeginning o a dialogue that to this day remains a source o immense intellectual value.4. This paper essentially makes good on a promise in an earlier piece to return tothis topic and address these uncertainties. See my “The Philosophical Foundations o Soloveitchik’s Critique o Interaith Dialogue,”
Harvard Theological Review 
99 (2003):101-20, esp. 108-12.
 
The Torah u-Madda Journal 
54
as ollows. In order to do Jewish philosophy, we must reconstruct ourtheory out o the halakhic data o Judaism. As R. Soloveitchik puts it,our philosophy cannot be ormed “through any sympathetic usion withan eternal essence, but must be reconstructed out o objective religiousdata and central realities” (
HMD
, 62). We will leave arguments regardingexactly how R. Soloveitchik understands the concept o objectivity in thiscontext or another time. However, or R. Soloveitchik, it is clearly theHalakhah that is Judaism’s equivalent o this objective order.At this point, I note that one would imagine rom this that R.Soloveitchik’s method is to utilize halakhic data in order to construct aconceptual system that conorms to that data. We begin with the Halakhahand simply build our Jewish philosophy. However, on a closer reading o the work, the approach actually seems a little less straightorward than thisuncomplicated one-way method. As William Kolbrener has pointed out,
5
 at the methodological center o this work is the modern scientist whosemethod becomes the model or the modern philosopher o religion. WhileI would emphasize that one can also clearly detect the infuence o cer-tain philosophers o the human sciences on the argument o 
The Halakhic  Mind 
, Kolbrener’s essential (and to my mind correct) point is that it is asa result o engaging in a two-way rather than a one-way process that themodern scientist becomes paradigmatic or the philosopher o religion.According to R. Soloveitchik, the Newtonian scientist could notbe a role model or the philosopher o religion. The problem with theNewtonian scientist was his method, which R. Soloveitchik terms “atom-istic.” In other words, the Newtonian scientist would build his mechanicalpicture o the universe through a piecemeal approach, taking each indi-vidual element in order to produce a picture o the universe that wouldbe purely quantitative. What is important or our purposes is that suchan approach is rejected as irrelevant to the most central concerns o thephilosopher o religion. The religious philosopher is concerned withmeaning, with what R. Soloveitchik calls the “subjective aspect”—theideas that lie behind the observed phenomena o the objective order. Thephilosopher o religion is not interested in the purely quantitative uni-verse o the Newtonian scientist.It was quantum physics, according to R. Soloveitchik, that necessi-tated bringing a subjective element into the picture. This was occasionedby the discovery o quantum phenomena that could not be accountedor by the old atomistic approach. The quantum scientist was orced to
5. William Kolbrener, “Towards a Genuine Jewish Philosophy:
Halakhic Mind 
sNew Philosophy o Religion,” reprinted in
Exploring the Thought o Rabbi Joseph B.Soloveitchik
, ed. Marc D. Angel (Hoboken, NJ, 1997), 179-206.

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