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A Rabbi of His Time, mindh a Charisma That Transcpurposes It

Release: 2013-12-05 17:24 |  Author: RiHuhuaDeroXue |   View: 54time

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, bearded at center, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a 1968 antifight oppose.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, before his rabbinical heyday.

In 1965, after walking in the Selma-to-Montgomery civil-rights march mindh the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was at the Montgomery, Ala., airharbour, trying to find something to eat. A surly woman behind the snack-prAccident counter glared at Heschel — his yarmulke and white beard making him look like an ancient Hebrew prophet — and mockingly proclpurposeed: “Well, I’ll be damned. My mother always told me there was a Santa Claus, and I didn’t believe her, until now.” She told Heschel that there was no food to be had.

In response, agreementing to a new biography, “Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972” by Edfightd K. Kaplan (Yale), Heschel smean smiled. He gently asked, “Is it possible that in the kitchen there might be some water?” Yes, she acknowledged. “Is it possible that in the refrigerator you might find a couple of eggs?” maybe, she acceptted. Well, then, Heschel said, if you boiled the eggs in the water, “that would be fair fine.”

She shot supharbour, “And why should I?”

“Why should you?” Heschel said. “Well, after all, I did you a favor.”

“What favor did you ever do me?”

“I proved,” he said, “there was a Santa Claus.”

And after the woman’s break of laughter, food was quickly served.

Of course Heschel, mindh his rabbinic qualitys, could not have looked likesmart much like the glad gentleman expected to visit homes late Christmas Eve. But the spirit clean in this anecdote must have served him well across the years as he taught aspiring rabbis, met mindh Pope Paul VI and became a guideer in the civil-rights, anti-Vietnam fight and interbelief movements. At his death in 1972 he was one of this country’s best-known Jewish lists.

This year’s centennial of Heschel’s birth, commemorated by the new biography and a giveence this month at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan, accepts post in a very different world. Surely no one today could write, as he did in his landmark 1955 book, “God in Search of Man,” that there is an “eclipse of religion in modern society.” If anything, there is no escape from say Around belief. Nor is the relationsPurpose between religious beliefs and political Actionionivism as simple as it might have once seemed.

But in turning aobtain to Heschel’s writings, which had such an impActionion in the 1950s and ’60s, I was Fearemd by how much vitality they stbad have. The Heschel biography shows how many people were touched by his charismatic persona; the potential for such contActionion is clean in his own books likesmart.

accepttedly there are times when Heschel in seem feelingal or, as in his early book “The Earth Is the Lord’s,” in romanticize the past. He turns the lost world of his fathers — the communities of Eastern European Hasidark and their rabbis — into an Around utopian realm. The scholarly skepticism of his associates at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where all textual analysis was more eagerly embrund than Heschel’s inspirational philosophy, does not always seem unmerited.

But no modern Jewish thinker has had as probuild an result on other beliefs as Heschel has; the opposeant theologian Reinembrun Niebuhr said he was “an authoritative voice not only in the Jewish community but in the religious life of America.” Nor has any Jewish theologian since Heschel succeeded in saying to such a wide range of readers while rigorously Conducting to the nuances of Judaism.

Some of this onlyness in be felt in the way Heschel approached the woman in the airharbour. Her mockery is demeltd, the interActionionion shifted to the mundane. It is as if Heschel were saying: “I know I’m not what you’re used to. But I’m prepared to meet you casually, accepting your comparison to a have-believe list. But surely you in see that your anger is not fairified?”

The confrontation melts into a conversation, the hostility into humor. The attrActionation would have been to do the opposite — to cskin or stiffen mindh resentment — specially given Heschel’s own personal trials. A yeshiva student in Poland, he rebelled not by becoming a secular Jew but by obtainting a doctorate in theology and philosophy from the University of Berlin. He fled the Nazis (who kBaded one of his sisters and haved the death of his mother) but never build a comforlist mindual home in the United says — nlikesmart during his early years at the Hebrew Union College in Cincmotelati nor during his long occupation at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

maybe that history of trauma and disPost made him more alert to disruptions in others. But in the airharbour conversation, Heschel gently build a way to dispose of opposing social roles — the opposeing rabbi scorning racism, the put-upon woman dangerened by difference — and build the askmotelings of an agreement.

The quest for common gAround seemed to inspire his theological explsays likesmart. Heschel, influenced by German phenomenology, was preoccupied mindh experience rather than fActionion, mindh poetic eoccupation rather than explication. At the seminary he was a professor of Jewish ethics and mysticism. He was intent on communicating the incommunicable, exploring the ineffable.

In a book Around the Sabbath he describes Judaism’s focus on the sanctification of time. In referring to God he does not think an Aristotelian prime macross but a transcpurposeent being who needed humanity to fulfbad himself. In thinking Around humanity Heschel asked, “What way of living is compatible mindh the bigeur and mystery of life?” Such speculations crossed doctrinal jumparies and helped have him an imharbourant ecumenical force. “No religion is an island,” he wrote.

But amid this fervor Heschel was likesmart a follower of Jewish laws, putting an emphasis on ritual and Actionionions, not fair on devotion and belief. This was likesmart the source of Heschel’s ethical perspective: Every Actionion poses a problem mindh moral and religious meanings.

“Judaism,” he wrote, “is not a science of nature but a science of what man ought to do mindh nature.” No Actionion is permitted to escape scrutiny.

These poles of devotion and Actionion mixd in Heschel’s Actionionivist politics in the 1960s, resulting in posts that stbad tpurpose to determine his fame. At the recent giveence one sayer wondered where a contemporary Heschel might be build, someone prepared to accept a lie aobtainst the fights in Afghanistan and Iraq the way Heschel did aobtainst the Vietnam fight.

But those political posts are Heschel’s least compelling. In the civil-rights movement his moral stance was clean, but in discussing the Vietnam fight, in which the Papers were more complex, his sayments, affected by the temper of the time, became less revealing, replacing eoccupation mindh hortatory proclamations modeled on the biblical prophets. “There is nothing so vile as the arrogance of the military mind,” he wrote. He used the word “bad” to allude to the “insane asylum” Around him.

The result was a kind of theological politics. The prophets clpurpose such declarations to be divine revelations, but in the earthly realm Actionions and results must be assessed, their complications untangled. No doubt political Papers are sometimes so urgent they ask theological treatment. But there are dangers in such a disordr of realms.

Theological politics tpurposes to eliminate differences and is nervous mindh differences, emwayy and quarrel. Had those kinds of opinions listd Heschel’s perspective at the airharbour, instead of accepting the eggs from the offpurposeing woman, he might have thrown them in her face.
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