50.01 Intellectuality (pps.36-39)

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The highest virtue in life is reason. . . . The soul must further take pains to know its own origin and comprehend its own nature, with the help of Wisdom whose “eyes” are undimmed, bringing the far-off, remote places near to us and making night appear like day.150
It is not a visual image but an intellectual perception, which provides a true vision of God.151

The theme is paralleled by his more famous fellow medieval Maimonides, who considers intellectuality as the route towards ‘cleaving to God.”

For the intellect that God made overflow unto man and that is the latter’s ultimate perfection, was that which Adam had been provided with before he disobeyed. It was because of this that it was said of him that he was created in the image of God and His likeness.152

Moses Ibn Ezra follows through on the theme. “The Active Intellect is the first of God’s creations.153
In contemporary times, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik makes rationality a central concept in his conception of “Halakhic Man,” whom he differentiates from “homo religiosus.”

. . . his most characteristic feature is strength of mind. He does battle for every jot and title of the Halakhah, not only motivated by a deep piety but also by a passionate love of the truth. He recognizes no authority other than the authority of the intellect (obviously, in accordance with the principles of tradition). He hates intellectual compromises or fence straddling, intellectual flabbiness, and any type of wavering in matters of law and judgment.154

A religion which is intellectually elitist in its basic dogma cannot afford weak links in its philosophical underpinning;155 nor can it afford a philosophy not convincing to its educated adherents, which in Judaism’s case involves practically all its adherents. A religion confronted by challenges on all sides,

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150 Abraham Ibn Ezra, Introduction to Ecclesiastes, translation extracts in Stitskin, Eight Jewish Philosophers, p. 127.

151 Abraham Ibn Ezra on Psalms 16:8, 11 ; 17: 15, as cited in ibid., p. 123, and reprinted on p. 186. Cf. Abraham Ibn Ezra, Yesod Mora, Introduction, as cited in ibid., p. 121. “Let me state at the outset that the preeminence of man over the beast is due to his rational soul, derived from on-high, which is destined to return to God who gave it.”

152 Maimonides, Guide 1:2.

153 See Stitskin, Eight Jewish Philosophers, p. 1 10.

154 Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, p. 79. Cf. ibid., p. 89. “Halakhic man does not quiver before any man. . . . He knows that the truth is a lamp unto his feet and the Halakhah a light unto his path. . . . There can be no fear of God without, knowledge and no service of God without the cognition of halakhic truth. . . .The old saying of Socrates, that virtue is knowledge, is strikingly similar to the stance of halakhic man.”
Cf. ibid., p. 41. “Halakhic man differs both from homo religiosus, who rebels against the rules of reality and seeks refuge in a supernal world, and from cognitive man, who does not encounter any transcendence at all.”
See also Soloveitchik. as quoted by Borowitz, Choices in modern Jewish Thought, p. 238. “Precisely because of the supremacy of the intellect in human life, the Torah requires, at limes, the suspension of the authority logos. Man defeats himself by accepting norms that the intellect cannot assimilate into its normative system.”

155 See Schlesinger, “Arguments from Despair,” Tradition 17, no. 4, p. 26. ‘I should like to maintain that the search for reasons fortifying belief-for those who are in need of such fortifications-is a legitimate search. It may of course be easier to avoid the rigors of this search and to abandon reasoning as the monopoly of non-believers. It may be easier to fantasize about the advantages of levitating far above the solid grounds of evidence and empirical confirmation. I believe that our task is to return to earth and to do battle in the arena of rational arguments no matter how arduous the task may seem.”


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