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The Lonely Man of Faith

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The Lonely Man of Faith

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The Lonely Man of Faith
By Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
Maggid Books and OU Press, 2012, 79 pages
ISBN: 978-161-329-0033

Reviewed by Israel Drazin - January 2, 2012

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993) was a highly respected rabbi and teacher and the mentor of over 2,000 rabbis. He had a PhD from the University of Berlin, wrote his doctoral dissertation on the philosopher Hermann Cohen, and was considered a leading authority on Jewish law. He was the chief rabbi of Boston and taught the senior class at Yeshiva University for four decades. His lectures were praised for their depth and breadth.

His The Lonely Man of Faith is a philosophical and religious classic that was first published in 1965. This revised edition translates Hebrew words, adds references, restores the original chapter division, and contains an introductory essay by Reuven Ziegler who explains the book.

Rabbi Soloveitchik interprets the Bible’s Genesis 1 and 2 as teaching about two types of people, Adam I and Adam II. He uses the word "man," as in the book’s title, but he is referring to men and women, Jew and non-Jew. Adam I symbolizes the individual who focuses outside himself. He studies the sciences and is creative; he seeks to improve the world, its people and environment. Adam II looks inwardly at his own personality. He wants to control himself. He is submissive to God and faith. He thinks that faith should be the directing force of his life. He believes that faith is accepting traditional ideas as the truth even though science, one’s senses, and experiences may deny its truth. He yearns for an almost mystical intimate relationship with God. He feels incomplete and inadequate without God.

Rabbi Soloveitchik states that God wants people to combine the attributes of Adam I and II, practicality and religion. People should study science and work for technological progress, but they should also have faith and seek union with God.

He believes that while God wants people to combine both characteristics, the combination of these two different approaches to life creates inner tensions in man. The person who can combine both does not feel at home in the community of Adam I people or those of Adam II. Therefore he is lonely, and by lonely the rabbi means that the person feels unique, unlike others, and unable to communicate his feelings to others. Even when he tries, he is misunderstood. There is no real solution to this problem; it is human nature for the ideal man, the one who combines I and II characteristics, to be unique.

When Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote his book, the world was made up of Adam I people and he emphasized that they should move toward the Adam II type by developing faith. Today, the situation is reversed. The world has become very conservative. Fundamentalism is on the rise. Education is despised by religious people. The rabbi would most likely encourage a movement toward Adam I.

This book is not easy to read. Rabbi Soloveitchik very frequently uses large words that most people do not understand and he doesn’t define them. He refers often to ideas presented by others without stating what they said. He writes with long sentences with thoughts within thoughts. Yet, as previously stated, this is a classic that people refer to frequently. Thus despite these difficulties, and even if readers disagree with the rabbi about the importance of faith, or how he defines it, it is well worth one’s time to read the book because the basic idea about the uniqueness of people who go beyond the ways and thinking of the general population and the tensions they feel is correct.


Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of eighteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides. The Orthodox Union (OU) and Yeshiva University publish weekly chapters of Drazin and Wagner's book Let's Study Onkelos on www.ou.org/torah and on www.yutorah@yutorah.org. His website is http://booksnthoughts.com.
The views expressed in this review/article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Eye.
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