The Lonely Man of Faith
By Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
Maggid Books and OU Press, 2012, 79 pages
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
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.