THE MUSIC provided by Yuri Landsman, Yevgeny Ratner and Miriam Millstein-Ratner at the reception prior to the 14th annual tribute dinner honoring Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz was of a classical and semi-classical nature. As is usually the case at such events, it provided a pleasant background, but few of the guests were really listening until someone suddenly recognized "Ave Maria" - not exactly the most appropriate choice for an event dedicated to a distinguished Orthodox rabbi noted for his Talmud translations and for the educational institutions he has established.
Then again, special guests included Italian Ambassador Sandro De Bernardin and his wife Anna. The rendition of "Ave Maria" may well have been in their honor. Friends of Rabbi Steinsaltz, chairman and master of ceremonies Joseph Gellman worked hard to make them feel welcome and greeted them in Italian.
The highlight of the evening was a dialogue between Steinsaltz and industrialist Stef Wertheimer. Former cabinet minister and well-known attorney Yaakov Neeman confused the issue a little when he introduced them, because the name Steinsaltz never once passed his lips. Several years ago, the good rabbi decided to Hebraicize his name to Even-Israel, but somehow it never caught on - possibly because he had already made such a far-reaching reputation for himself as Steinsaltz that most people simply couldn't call him anything else. Curiously, the dinner brochure listed him as Steinsaltz in English but as Even-Israel Steinsaltz in Hebrew. Neeman chose to refer to him only as Even-Israel.
Many guests had to decide whether to attend this dinner or the opening dinner of the conference of the Orthodox Union. Since the conference was continuing for several days, they opted to demonstrate their support for Steinsaltz.
THE STAMINA and concentration span of participants in various sessions of the OU convention was tested on the evening of the screening of Lonely Man of Faith, a documentary about the legacy of renowned talmudist, revered teacher and philosopher Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, who exerted a profound influence on American Orthodox Jews.
As head of the Isaac Elhanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, Soloveitchik ordained close to 2,000 rabbis - more than anyone else in the United States. He also encouraged more Orthodox young women to study at Stern College (the women's affiliate of Yeshiva University), thus paving the way for numerous institutions of higher learning for Jewish women. Before that, Soloveitchik was instrumental in setting up the Maimonides School, one of the first Jewish day schools in Boston. Soloveitchik also developed a system of synthesis between religious and secular scholarship, so that students could develop their potential by getting the best of both worlds. As a result, many of his students, some of whom were in attendance at the OU convention, became leaders of major Jewish community organizations and institutions.
Known as the Rav, Soloveitchik died in 1993 in Boston at 90. Numerous unpublished manuscripts were discovered after his death. Some of these are gradually being published, and according to OU President Julius Berman, more will be published in the near future.
The title of the film was taken from one of the Rav's books. The documentary, directed by Ethan Isenberg, premiered at the Boston Jewish Film Festival on November 9, and had its second screening in Jerusalem at the OU convention. Initially scheduled for screening on the opening night of the convention, it was postponed due to security restrictions imposed by the presence of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. It was rescheduled for 9 p.m. later in the week. But because a dinner which did not finish in time was followed by evening prayers, the screening did not get under way till after 9:30. The hall was packed, and when the screening concluded at a little after 11:15, few people rose to move. Berman announced that there would be a panel discussion on the film with the participation of Isenberg, Rabbi Herschel Schachter, a former assistant to the Rav and today the rosh yeshiva at the Isaac Elhanan Theological Seminary, and Rabbi Menachem Genack, who was ordained by the Rav, remains one of his most loyal disciples and has for several years served as rabbinic administrator of the OU's Kashrut Division.
Questions and comments from the audience were also allowed, and most people remained for a long time to debate not only the content of the film but many other issues related to the Rav and his teachings.
Over the next few months the film will be screened in Canada and many parts of the US. Like all filmmakers, Isenberg had much more material than he could use and had to cut it down considerably, with the result that many people interviewed for the film do not appear in it. But that doesn't mean no one will ever know what they said; all the material will soon be available for viewing on demand via the Lonely Man of Faith Web site, which is still in the process of development.