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A Christian Reading Heschel in 2008

August 7, 2008

It’s an iconic photograph, taken in March 1965 on the Selma to Montgomery March with Martin Luther King Jr in the clasp of a number of people. But right there, 2nd from the right, is a bearded man looking too old and venerable to be part of such an incendiary gathering. In the full gray beard and the yarmulke of the Rabbi is Abraham Joshua Heschel, the famous Jewish scholar and writer who was by that time 58 years of age.

Though he died in 1972 this man has has intrigued me for some time, ever since my wife bought his book  The Sabbath. He had a remarkable life, born in Warsaw, Poland in 1907, he escaped the city just six weeks  before the Nazi invasion of Poland and made his way to New York to teach, eventually, in the Jewish Theological Seminary there until his death. He wrote with great scholarly depth and with the heart and energy of a poet and became a prominent spiritual thinker in the US during the 50s and 60s, as widely read by Christians as by Jews.

Heschel played a central role in the key developments in Judaism in his day. Much like Christianity Judaism has been riven by theological debates between Orthodox, Reform and Conservative movements. He objected to the extreme legalism of Orthodoxy, as well as the de-spiritualised, pragmatic, sociological interpretations of the Reform movement. Above all, for Heschel, the God of the bible was Personal.

He was also irreversibly altered by his lifelong study of the Hebrew prophets. It was in recognition of the reality that worship of this Personal God must have ethical implications that lead him, even at his advancing age, to walk the streets with MLK and to become a prominent opponent of US policy in Vietnam.

In an effort to keep my mind ticking over this summer I have decided to read more about this man, investigate his writings and his life story and to see how his writings in his era may have contemporary application for life today for a Christian in Northern Ireland.

It’s not an academic study, though I’ll endeavour to get the details right, but it may serve as a light, personal and popular introduction to Heschel’s writing and thinking.

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From → Theology

2 Comments
  1. I’ve also been intrigued by Heschel for a while. He is referenced to in many of the books I read, and I was planning on getting hold of some of his books at some point in the near future… so will be interested to hear what you come across!

  2. Mitch K permalink

    Heschel is one of those transcendent thinkers that I too find very fascinating and encouraging. If you aren’t familiar with “Speaking of Faith,” here is an engaging program on AJH: http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/heschel/.
    I look forward to your thoughts on him.

    ps: loved the ‘bored kids’ post as well, amen!

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