AN ANTHOLOGY OF THOUGHT & EMOTION... Un'antologia di pensieri & emozioni

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

THE SABBATH AND RABBI HESCHEL

“Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel” by Pamela Chatterton-Purdy. Based on a photo from March 21, 1965, this mixedmedia piece shows Heschel arm-in-arm with Rep. JohnLewis, Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Bunche,
and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth during the march from Selma to Montgomery.
In 1951, the Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) published a small book¹ that has inspired a whole new generation of Christian theology concerning the Sabbath. J. A. Sanders suggests that Heschel's "influence on Christianity, especially since the publication . . . of The Sabbath and Man Is Not Alone, has been remarkable."² In fact, some Christians are using Heschel's ideas to call Christianity back to the Sabbath. For instance, Philippe de Robert notes that while
the sanctification of time is characteristic of biblical thought and of Judaism . . . , it can be asked, however, what has become of this conception in Christianity. Is there a place for Sabbath in our spiritual life? . . . Abraham Heschel says that Jewish ritual can be characterized as "an architecture of time." Is there not a need to rebuild such a structure, to order our time, which has been dislocated in function from the sabbatical rhythm? Isn't the sanctdying of time to first enter into a discipline of personal prayer, comunal worship and family renewal? Isn't this wisdom that has been lost, and that we can learn anew from Judaism?³ 
Perhaps what has made Heschel's view of the Sabbath so revolutionary is the practical nature of his approach to the subject. Instead of focusing on the importance of avoiding the retribution of an offended God, he focuses on the advantages to be gained by keeping the Sabbath and the disadvantages of not keeping it. He demonstrates that we could be missing an extraordinary - possibly even necessary - experience by allowing the Sabbath time period to come and go without benefitting from it.⁴ In fact, he even goes so far as to suggest that the quality (and quantity?) of human existence is jeopardized by an absent-mindedness of the Sabbath in our exploitation of time to conquer space:
How proud we often are of our victories in the war with nature, proud of the multitude of instruments we have succeeded in inventing, of the abundance of commodities we have been able to produce. Yet our victories have come to resemble defeats. In spite of our triumphs, we have fallen victims to the work of our hands; it is as if the forces we had conquered have conquered us.⁵ 
In spite of all the Jewish and Christian commentary on Heschel's writings, less discussion about his views on the Sabbath has taken place compared to some of his more philosophical works. In fact, there is no published critique of The Sabbath. Christian writers' references to the ideas in this work seem to be done with little or no question as to their relation to Scripture.

Is it really safe to assume that Heschel's view of the Sabbath is grounded in the OT? Actually, the book makes no explicit claim to be an  exposition of the OT teaching on the Sabbath. Thus, the problem is not with the claims of the author (since he makes none concerning the biblicity of the work), but rather the problem is that the work continues to be used by Christian theologians without any explanation or critique of its relation to Scripture. In order to address this problem, a comparison will be made between The Sabbath6 and Scripture, especially the OT, on their views of time, holiness, and the Sabbath.

Heschel's Understanding of Time, Holiness, and the Sabbath
Time 

In an allegory regarding the origin of the Sabbath, Heschel suggests that time was "one," "eternal," and "transitory," preexisting the spatial aspects of creation.⁷ The process of creation, however, divided time into seven days whereby it "entered into an intimate relationship with the world of space."⁸ But in humanity's experience, time and space become antagonistic.⁹ Human nature tends to favor space over time and we are the worse for it. This is not to say, however, that Heschel denies the value of space. He affirms both as long as each are given their due significance.¹⁰

But, though space cannot be replaced by time, time gains the priority due to the fact that "it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things."¹¹ Heschel goes on to show that this is demonstrated in the religion of the OT, which emphasized time over space.¹²

According to Heschel, time gains a superior significance in religion due to the special relationship between it and holiness. Thus, time gains its significance over space in that it is a "means" of attaining holiness.¹³ "Time is the presence of God in the world of space, and it is within time that we are able to sense the unity of all things."¹⁴ In the words of one of his commentators: "It is a form of the Shechinah."¹⁵ Thus one cannot help but ask how Heschel distinguishes between time and ultimate reality, between time and God.

Holiness 

Heschel wishes to emphasize that "holiness is not an unearthly concept."¹⁶ He sees no "dualism of the earthly and sublime."¹⁷ Rather, "all things are sublime."¹⁸ Anything in the universe that obeys God's command to exist is holy; by existing, humanity is in "contact with His will."¹⁹ The implication of this view is not always explicit, though in at least one instance Heschel is quite clear that "man is the source and the initiator of holiness in this world."²⁰

Notice that Heschel's emphasis is on the activity of the human. Perhaps Heschel views holiness as "innate" or "potential" in the works of creation, which would include humanity. Of course, Heschel could be trying to emphasize the attitude of the human, rather than the behavior, but the "source" is still the human.

Sabbath 

Probably the most significant element of Heschel's view of the Sabbath is its potency for the sanctification of its observers. Heschel says that "something happens to a man on the Sabbath day."" On the Sabbath neshumuh yeterah ("additional soul") is given to the worshiper and it is removed at the close of the Sabbath.22 In another statement he adds: "Nothing is essentially required save a soul to receive more soul. For the Sabbath 'maintains all souls.' It is the world of souls: spirit in the form of time. . . . Every seventh day a miracle comes to pass, the resurrection of the soul, of the soul of man and of the soul of all things."²³

Heschel defues this extra "soul" through a statement by Rabbi Hayim: "We have seen the tremendous change that the holiness of the Sabbath brings about in the life of the saint. The light of holiness blazes in his heart like tongues of fue, and he is overcome with rapture and yearning to serve God . . . all night and all day."²⁴ In other words, through the Sabbath, the human soul connects with the divine soul in the form of sanctified time:
What is the Sabbath? Spirit in the form of time. With our bodies we belong to space; our spirit, our souls, soar to eternity, aspire to be holy. The Sabbath is an ascent to the summit. It gives us the opportunity to sanctlfy time, to raise the good to the level of the holy, to behold the holy by abstaining from profanity.²⁵ 
It is in this realm of holiness that the human can interface with the divine. The source of change is not from outside, but from within: "For Heschel, the human psyche undergoes a "self-transformation." In poetic reflection on the discouragements of the weekdays, Heschel exclaims: "All week there is only hope of redemption. But when the Sabbath is entering the world, man is touched by a moment of actual redemption; as if for a moment the spirit of the Messiah moved over the face of the earth."²⁶

It can be said that Heschel sees time as a means of attaining holiness, where it is the innate presence of the divine will being accomplished in the life of creation. The Sabbath is the point where humanity sanctifies time and the individual transforms the self into a state in which he or she communes with the divine. How, then, does Heschel's view compare with Scripture?

Time, Holiness, and the Sabbath in the Bible 

The most significant and positive comparison between Heschel's view of the Sabbath and the Bible is ironically in the NT accounts of Jesus' liberating the Sabbath experience from burdensome regulations ("the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath," Mark 2:27)²⁷ Heschel is in agreement with Jesus' spirit of freeing both Jews and Christians from making the Sabbath a drudgery that is far from a "delight."

There are, however, some contrasts between Heschel's view of the Sabbath and that of the Bible. Three issues best describe this contrast. Before looking at these, however, it should be noted that Heschel never claims that his view is biblical. He uses Scripture when it appropriately emphasizes his thought, but there is no indication that his view is intended to be a biblical theology of the Sabbath. Rather, it might be better described as a Jewish philosophy of the Sabbath. The validity of Heschel's views, in light of his apparent intentions, is not being questioned or criticized. What is questioned is the validity of using Heschel's views as biblical theology.

Time vs. Space in Genesis

 To begin, Heschel's argument is founded on the idea that the significance of the Sabbath lies in its creation in time, whereas all other aspects of the creation process took place in space. While the creative process that took place during the first six days was called good, the Sabbath was pronounced "holy."

It would, however, be difficult to support from Scripture the idea that the seventh day was holy simply because the Sabbath involved "time." Genesis 2: 1-3 states that the seventh day was blessed and sanctified "because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made." Thus, it is God who sanctifies the day, not its temporal nature. The focus of this narrative is on God, not time. And it is his "finishing" and "resting," rather than a movement from spatial to temporal realities, that is emphasized. If Heschel's philosophical suggestions concerning space and time are supported by this narrative, they are definitely not central to the thought being expressed.

Further, Heschel argues that the designation of "good" for what was created on the first six days and the holiness bestowed on the seventh demonstrates a hierarchy of the time/space dimensions. But can it be demonstrated that God's "work" on the six days is limited to space, whereas his "rest" on the seventh involves only time?

In this context, the word "rested" (from shabat) means "to cease," "to stop working." But this "ceasing" was because God had "completed His work." He was not merely taking a break. Thus, God sanctified the Sabbath, not because of his inactivity, but "because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made [completed]." Therefore, sanctification does not appear to be the result of a shift from spatial to temporal dimensions, but rather it comes as a result of God's celebration of the completion of his work.

Heschel rightly argues that labor focuses on space, whereas rest does not. This must be granted. However, the text does not support the idea that space or time are the causes behind the declaration of holiness in regard to the Sabbath. Rather, the text suggests that it is the celebration of the completion of Creation that prompted God to sanctify this day.

Time, Sabbath, and Holiness in the Old Testament 

Although there is a connection between the Sabbath and holiness, there is no evidence to support the idea that time serves as a medium for holiness any more than space does. If this were the case, why do the terms "holy" and "most holy," as they are used in Scripture, almost exclusively refer to things or places? Heschel's explanation for this is that it is only through their relationship to time that these things are made to be holy. Contra Heschel, the OT suggests that something's relationship to God is what makes things, time, and people holy.²⁸ All holiness, whether of time or any other manifestation, is derived from God, the only one who can claim to own this unique quality. As Scripture says: "There is no one holy like the Lord, indeed there is no one besides you" (1 Sam 2:2).

Regarding the Sabbath and holiness, Heschel's view consists of two conclusions: that by keeping the Sabbath holy humans are sanctifying time,²⁹ and that through this process of participating with holy time humanity achieves holiness for itself.³⁰

First, the Sabbath commandment does not say that humans sanctify time, including the seventh day. Rather, it says to "remember" the Sabbath day, "keep" it holy, and "guard" its holiness (Exod 20:8). The Sabbath was not instituted by humanity, but by God (Gen 2:l-3) with humanity in mind. Therefore, if we are to benefit from the Sabbath, it must be remembered. Furthermore, the Sabbath was not made holy by humanity, but by God (Gen 2:3). Thus, humans must keep it holy. That is, its holiness must not be jeopardized (profaned) by working, pursuing our own pleasure, or doing evil (Exod 20:9ff; 31:14ff; Isa 58:13-14; Ezek 23:38). Of course in this sense, humanity affects the Sabbath's holiness by arming it or denying it through personal experience, but nowhere does the OT state that humans make it holy. Therefore, the OT does not seem to support Heschel's view.

Second, concerning the holiness achieved by humans through the keeping of the Sabbath, God states: "You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you" (Exod 31:13, emphasis added). Thus, it is not a holiness that I achieve for myself, but as I keep his Sabbath holy, God promises to make me holy. Therefore, the Sabbath is a promise of redemption.
__________________
NOTES
1. Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (New York: Noonday, 1951).
2. J. A. Sanders, "An Apostle to the Gentiles," Consemtive Judaism, 28 (Fall 1973): 61-63. Also, Cottrell claims that "Jewish rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel has had considerable impact on Christian as well as Jewish thinking through his book The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man" (Raymond F. Cottrell, "The Sabbath in the New World," in The Sabbath in Scripture and Historyed. Kenneth A. Strand [Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1982], 260).
3. Philippe de Robert, "La Sanctification du Temps Selon Abraham Heschel," Foi et Vie 71 (1972): 4-10.
4. Heschel, 13ff.
5. Heschel, 27; see also Sakae Kubo, God Meets Man: A Theology of the Sabbath and Second Advent (Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1978), 23ff.
6. Fortunately, Heschel's views on the Sabbath are expressed in a single work (The Sabbath), which will be the focus of this study.
7. Heschel, 5 1.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid., 5
10. Ibid., 6
11. Ibid. Heschel states: "We appreciate things that are displayed in the realm of Space. The truth, however, is that the genuinely precious is encountered in the realm of Time, rather than space" (The Earth is the Lord's: The Inner World of the Jew in East Europe [New York: Farrar, Strause & Giroux, 1949], 13.
12. Heschel, The Sabbath, 8.
13. Heschel states: "The universe was created in six days, but the chax of creation was the seventh day. Things that come into being in the six days are good, but the seventh day is holy. The Sabbath is holiness in time" (God In Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism [New York: Farrar, Strause & Giroux, 19551,417, emphasis original).
14. Heschel, The Sabbath, 100; see also Donald J. Moore, The Human and the Holy: The Spirituality of Abraham Joshua Heschel (New York: Fordham University Press, 1989), 155.15. Franklin Sherman, The Promise of Heschel (New York: Lippincott, 1970), 63.
16. Heschel, Man Is Not Alone, 266-267.17. Ibid.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.
21. Heschel, The Sabbath, 87.
22. Ibid.
23. Ibid., 82-83.
24. Ibid., 88-89.
25. Ibid., 75.26. Heschel, The Sabbath, 68.
27. All scriptural references are from the NASB.
28. For instance, "be holy, for I am holy" (Lev 11:44); holy ground due to God's immanence (Exod 3:5); the holy and most holy places of the sanctuary in relation to the shekinah (Deut 7:6; 14:2,21; 28:9; Josh 5:15).
29. Heschel, The Sabbath, 75.
30. Ibid.
Praying Rabbi, by Marc Chagall
The Legacy of Abraham Joshua Heschel

by Robert Erlewine*

Abraham Joshua Heschel
was a singular figure in American Jewish history and, indeed, in Jewish thought. Born in 1907 and reared in the world of Polish Hasidim, Heschel studied philosophy and Biblical criticism in Berlin before becoming a pivotal figure in American Jewish and non-Jewish religious life, galvanizing Americans on issues of social justice. The conditions that produced a figure capable of such depth and breadth of traditional Jewish learning and secular studies seem no longer possible in our age, focused as it is on hyper-specialization. Heschel shared a vision of Judaism at once profoundly rooted in tradition and simultaneously subversive of the status quo. He offered a vision of Judaism that did not espouse separation from the larger society but rather demanded critical engagement with it. His theological commitments undergirded his courageous, outspoken efforts on behalf of the Civil Rights Movement, his protests against the war in Vietnam, and his work to improve Jewish and Christian relations. Given the singularity of his vision and the strength of his character, it should not be surprising that—nearly four decades after his death—his legacy remains towering and majestic in the consciousness of the American Jewish community and beyond.

In the wake of the centenary of his birth, a flurry of conferences and publications made clear that many find him to be a source of inspiration. And yet, while many claim discipleship and loyalty, there continue to be wide-ranging differences concerning his legacy and its relevance for our contemporary concerns. How fortunate then that Susannah Heschel has given us a new edited collection, Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings. Not only does this remarkable collection provide a sense of the breadth of Heschel’s interests and writings, but the ordering of the selections and the insightful introductions highlight the deep coherence of the different dimensions of his work. This volume brings together particularly rich and striking passages from Heschel’s oeuvre sure to draw readers into fresh and thoughtful conversations with this remarkable figure in modern Jewish thought.

Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings is perhaps the single best introductory text to the work of Heschel. There are six sections, which can stand alone or be read together. Passages from well-known works such as The Sabbath, Man’s Quest for God, Man is Not Alone, God in Search of Man, and The Prophets rub shoulders with lesser-known works such as Who is Man?, The Insecurity of Freedom, and A Passion for Truth, as well as previously unpublished works. In this context, with passages from various texts juxtaposed thematically, we see how Heschel’s philosophical theology undergirds his politics and his groundbreaking strides toward improving Jewish-Christian relations. Susannah Heschel’s substantial introduction to the volume provides an excellent biography of Heschel filled with insights into his life and thought. Additionally, she provides a helpful essay to introduce each section. The rich introductions and the previously unpublished material make this work of significant interest for scholars; the thematic focus and the editor’s guidance make the work accessible and relevant for students and thoughtful people interested in Judaism, Jewish-Christian relations, and American religious history. Moreover, the anthology illuminates the deep coherence of the different dimensions of Heschel’s work.

A Philosophy of Wonder

Heschel’s writings on prayer, race, Jewish education, and the prophets all find their roots in his theocentric, or God-centered, vision. Heschel’s theocentrism does not simply challenge, but rather uproots and disrupts, our sensibilities. We moderns are accustomed to distancing ourselves from that which we think about; we believe that detachment or disinterestedness is the key to thinking carefully and critically. However, when it comes to matters of ultimate concern, Heschel charges that this mindset leads us astray. When it comes to religion, rather than doubt and disinterest, authentic thinking begins with “wonder or radical amazement.” When in the grip of wonder, we face a “state of maladjustment to words and notions,” because our ability to reason, our capacity to think and to judge, reaches its limits.

As a philosopher of wonder, Heschel offers a distinctly critical vision of modernity. Juxtaposing reason and wonder, Heschel explains that through reason “we try to explain or to adapt the world to our concepts,” while through wonder “we seek to adapt our minds to the world.” Reason assumes that we can grasp the world, that we can understand all that there is. However, as Heschel repeatedly asserts, there are levels of reality that cannot be brought into the “discursive levels of the mind” that we “see more than we can say.” Wonder and awe, dispositions that open us to the vastness of the universe, make us receptive to aspects of reality that lie beyond the categories of reason. The modern West has done a wonderful job cultivating the capacity to reason. Yet, as Heschel points out time and again, we have all but lost our ability for wonder and awe, and as a result, we have faced—and continue to face— a spiritual crisis.

The privileging of wonder and awe as opposed to reason can be seen throughout many aspects of Heschel’s work. He critiques philosophy of religion for viewing God as an object to be known, subject to proof and validation. He suggests that from the point of view of the pious person, the point of view proper to religion as such, “God is the subject.” The key is “not to know Him but to be known by Him; not to form judgments about Him but to judged by Him.” Heschel also advocates an inversion of our “common sense” in which we, as knowing selves, bestow meaning upon the world through our minds. For Heschel, it is not the act of knowing, or cognition in general that gives or creates meaning. Rather, according to the pious person, religion celebrates humility before the divine, the awareness that God’s overwhelming priority decenters us and puts us in our proper place. Religion involves humility, which means that we recognize that God is the true subject and we are but objects, “dust and ashes” who hope to be known to God. Heschel’s evocative language does not mean that he is literally denying that we have subjectivity; rather, he claims that human beings are situated in much grander horizons than many might think. There is a judge and center of meaning apart from and beyond our own minds.

Indeed, Heschel thinks that the forfeiture and loss of the sensibilities of piety, awe, wonder, and humility have been disastrous for Western civilization. In light of the atrocities of the twentieth century—the Shoah prominent among them—Heschel emphasizes that the public and private spheres, i.e., religion, politics, and ethics, are intimately interwoven, and any separation is artificial and dangerous. Religion is a public concern because it is inherently concerned with justice. However, Heschel is far from a conservative who turns to religion as a source of salubrious authority and legitimacy in civic life—although some of his disciples later take this path.

A Prophetic Call to Political Action

For Heschel, the exemplar of the conjunction of religion and politics is the prophet. The prophet is a human being seized by God’s pathos and through whose voice God’s concern, “God’s sense of injustice,” is expressed. The prophet does not celebrate but rather brings to light the guilt of an entire culture. Heschel writes, “Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world.” Anywhere injustice takes place it is the case that “few are guilty, but all are responsible.” We are all responsible for evil because only a world indifferent to suffering will tolerate injustice and systematic inequality. Thus, the prophet teaches, “indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself.”

The prophet and his intolerance for indifference is central for Heschel because he roots his ethics in imago dei, the concept that all human beings—regardless of race or religion—are created in the image of God. If one properly recognizes God’s radical priority to one’s self, and one accepts that the only legitimate image of God is the human being, then one cannot remain uninvolved in political action. As Heschel bore witness to with his life and in his more politically explicit works, to continue to conduct business as usual, including the business of religious worship, when segregation is the law of the land or when one’s country conducts an unjust war is inexcusable, morally and religiously impossible.

And yet, we do all too frequently countenance injustice unmoved by what we see, as if nothing calamitous were happening. This is a result of our spiritual crisis, our loss of awe and wonder. Heschel writes, “The root of sin is callousness, hardness of heart, lack of understanding what is at stake in being alive.” When we lose sight of God’s priority to our very selves, of our proper place in the order of things, when we lose a sense of scale, we become callous and indifferent to our fellow human beings. Indeed, in his celebrated speech from 1963, “Religion and Race,” Heschel provocatively asks, “The Negro’s plight, the blighted areas in the large cities, are they not the fruit of our sins?” He suggests we are accessories to crimes by our indifference, our failures “to demand, to insist, to challenge, to chastise,” which true religion demands that we do. The problem of evil—whose manifestations include the Holocaust and the terrible poverty and racism that beset the United States—is a result of human failure. It is human beings who bring about evil, who close off the world to God and force God into hiding.

Heschel often reflects upon prayer and suggests that it is both an essential component of religious life and a key element in social action. Prayer, for Heschel, is an exercise of exorcising ourselves of callousness, of recognizing our failures before God. For Heschel, prayer causes “a shift of the center of living—from self-consciousness to selfsurrender.” In prayer we realize God is the supreme Subject, and this demands that “humility is a reality ... [that] humility is truth.” In prayer we recognize that God is the ground of all value and that our worth, like that of all things, derives from God. Prayer decenters us and places everything under much wider horizons, breaking our egocentrism, thus both forcing and allowing us to see the world from this new perspective. Prayer allows us to recognize our own vanity, our tendency to make ideologies absolute, and the fact that we never cease to fail, even in our efforts to be good. Prayer allows us to break down the walls of our own self-righteousness and approach the world with fresh eyes, lest easy and convenient answers appear sufficient. Prayer is both a consolation and a demand. If we pray properly, so Heschel avers, we will be unable to live indifferently to what is going on around us. And what is going on around us cannot be separated from how we pray. Indeed, in a remarkable anecdote that Susannah Heschel includes in her introduction, Heschel explains to a rather flummoxed journalist that he is attending a protest against the Vietnam War because while it is going on, he cannot pray.

A New Take on Jewish-Christian Relations 

Perhaps it was the priority of a God-infinitely-greater-than-ourminds-can-grasp over that which the finite human mind can know or formulate into creeds and dogmas that enabled Heschel to offer a groundbreaking vision of Jewish-Christian relations. As Susannah Heschel points out, “My father did not consider it helpful to discuss with Christians those issues that divide us, such as Christology, but to focus instead on the dimensions of faith: ‘sharing insights, confessing inadequacy.’” Heschel’s vision for interreligious dialogue was “mutual enrichment and enhancement of respect and appreciation.” He said that it was time to forsake “the hope that the person spoken to will prove to be wrong in what he regards as sacred.” Focusing on depth theology, that level beneath or beyond what can be put into language and creeds, religious leaders can fruitfully discuss issues with one another without diminishing or disrespecting each other. While acknowledging the importance of doctrinal differences, Heschel’s focus on the self-as-God’s-object, where the affects become a site where more happens than can be said, allows a common ground to develop while preserving difference between religious traditions. Given the level of Jewish-Christian dialogue today, it is hard to recognize the radical nature of this teaching and indeed the way Heschel embodied it in his life full of encounters and friendships with Christians.

Heschel’s view marked a sharp break with past Jewish thinking about Christianity. Unlike German Jewish liberal philosophical theologians like Moses Mendelssohn, Hermann Cohen, and Leo Baeck, Heschel attempts neither to read Jesus as a Jew nor to invert the dominant German trope of viewing Christianity as rational and universal at the expense of an irrational and particularistic Judaism. He also does not follow either Buber or Rosenzweig, who turn to highly stylized readings of the Bible or abstract philosophical systems to provide perspective for the disagreements between Jews and Christians. Of course, there were important historical circumstances that underlay, or at least were conducive to, Heschel’s rather significant divergence from his distinguished predecessors. As Susannah Heschel points out, unlike in Germany, where the antagonisms between Christians and Jews were poisonous, in the United States, many of Heschel’s closest friends and associates were Christians who deeply appreciated what he had to say. Undoubtedly, the United States provided a more hospitable environment for such discussions and diplomatic efforts, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the tactical brilliance and moral courage on Heschel’s part, which brought these efforts to fruition.

While Heschel was critical of the critics of religion, he was also critical of its practitioners. Although deeply tied to Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism, Heschel claimed allegiance to none, and criticized all. Judaism was not finished, but in constant need of innovation: “Human faith is never final, never an arrival, but an endless pilgrimage, a being on the way.” On the one hand, too many observant Jews, Heschel charged, are satisfied with the Halachah and thus feel that no creative thinking is needed. On the other hand, too many liberal Jews simply do not know enough about Judaism to be able to innovate at all. Innovation requires “creative dissent,” but the very ability to dissent creatively seems endangered by the conditions of Judaism in the United States. That is, there are no longer those who are deeply knowledgeable about Judaism, rooted in deep learning, and have the courage and love to bring about change. Deeply critical of Jewish education in the United States, Heschel saw it as too often rooted in “obsolete liberalism or narrow parochialism” and often simply “insipid, flat, and trivial.” In various writings and speeches, he urges rabbis, cantors, and educators to have concern with the inner lives of Jews and not just the survival of the Jewish people as a whole.

Perhaps given the singular conditions that produced Heschel’s sensibilities, it should not be surprising that Heschel has produced a rather variegated legacy. Heschel’s presence is indubitably felt in contemporary theology, not only in the sense that many leading contemporary theologians were his students, but also in that these same figures claim his theological works as significant influences on their own work. However, certain elements have been absorbed more than others. Among contemporary theologians we see that the distinct vision Heschel brought to life has been refracted through different lenses: conservative traditionalism, new age spirituality, and naturalism.
(continued...)
________________
* Robert Erlewine, author of Monotheism and Tolerance: Recovering a Religion of Reason (Indiana University Press, 2010) is an assistant professor of religion at Illinois Wesleyan University. He writes on German and American Jewish thought and philosophy of religion.
Memorial, by Samuel Bak