Golden Mind, Golden Heart, Golden Tongue

Riveting. Moving. Inspiring. Such is the documentary A Lonely Man of Faith produced by Ethan Isenberg. The golden mind, heart, and tongue belonged to Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik, known to his students simply as the Rav.

The highlights of the film for me:

  • The early influence of the Rav’s mother. The film emphasized her love of secular knowledge and only hinted at her real contribution — the emotional warmth the Rav’s strict father could not provide.
  • The Rav’s emphasis on higher learning for women, by insisting on teaching the first Talmud class for women at Stern College. Maimonides, the Boston day school he founded, had mixed classes through high school because the Rav feared that separate classes would lead to inferior education for girls.
  • His support of the State of Israel, secular education, and cooperation with the non-Orthodox (on issues affecting the entire community), causing a rift between modern Orthodoxy and the Yeshiva world that has not been repaired.
  • The Rav’s combination of a love of learning, personal integrity, and an emphasis on ethics and morality including business ethics. He believed that the goal of learning Torah and doing mitzvot is to lift us to a higher moral level. Too often they are seen as the ends in themselves.
  • The discussion of faith that he brought into modern-day consciousness. He was disturbed by those who asked, “What can religion do for me?” instead of “What does God want from me?”
  • His unique and well-trained mind–head and shoulders above any other — combined with unusual sensitivity, oratorical genius, and levelheadedness — placed him, arguably, as the savior of the precarious American Orthodoxy that existed when he arrived in the 1930’s.
  • The Rav’s personal and professional challenges.
  • The unfortunate lack of a successor, or even a clear legacy, because every decision occurred in a specific context that cannot be reproduced.

I only mention a small portion of the vast material that the producers managed to include in an hour and a half. Even though it ignored or glossed over many negatives, A Lonely Man of Faith made me proud to call myself modern Orthodox and a religious Zionist.


  1. Rafi, it’s not. I’ll reword the post.

  2. very nice write-up.
    I fail to understand why the lack of a successor or legacy is a good thing

  3. hi, i am interested in finding out how i could see this documentary- is it open to the public? the link did not work for me.
    while i am writing to you, i just want to say thank you for all of your posts, especially on parenting (and parenting in israel, i guess). i would love to just email you and ask you lots of questions about raising a family and finding the right balance (which i assume is always changing) between being a selfless giver as a mother and wife without losing your self; retaining your own identity and interests, fueling your own mind and spirituality so you can encourage the same in your own home; how to encourage your husband to learn more Torah without being pushy or seeming disappointed or critical…so many thoughts! the recent topic of keeping children at home while young was a sensitive one for me. I feel so guilty for not spending more time with my children, even though i only work part time out of the home, i always feel like i am missing out. part of me always wonders though, if i only miss them as much as i do because i leave them- what is the quote- absence makes the heart grow fonder? when we reunite and hug and play it is with a renewed vigor, I am afraid that otherwise it would drag out and i may begin to resent being home all the time…it is challenging and impossible to ever know.
    thank you for sharing your life and insight with all of us…
    thank you so much
    shabbat shalom

  4. mominisrael says

    Thank you, anon. Feel free to write me. I fixed the link, and I hope to cover some of your points in future post.

  5. mominisrael says

    SL, the link should send you to a list of viewings.

  6. Where can we find this movie? It looks great.