Jordana Horn: Discussing the Legacy Of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The main task of prophetic thinking," Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-72) wrote in his seminal book, "The Prophets," "is to bring the world into divine focus." For two hours at New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage last week, Dartmouth Prof. Susannah Heschel (the rabbi's daughter) and Princeton Prof. Cornel West used Rabbi Heschel's words to discuss whether there is a "prophetic spirit" in modern America.

The answer, more than a century after the rabbi's birth, was a resounding "yes." But the question of how that spirit can manifest itself -- and in whom -- turned out to be more complex.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, born in Warsaw, was the descendant of two Hasidic rabbinic dynasties. He grew up in Poland and received his doctorate from the University of Berlin. His dissertation was later published as "The Prophets." In 1940, he left Europe for the U.S., and in 1945 he became a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

Heschel's writings -- studied extensively in Jewish and Christian communities alike -- give great consideration to the relationship between man and God and the potential for individuals to imbue their own lives with a sense of sanctification and purpose. "We are called upon to be an image of God," he said in an ABC interview in 1971. "You see, God is absent, invisible, and the task of a human being is to represent the divine, to be a reminder of the presence of God."

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Filed under: * Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsJudaism

2 Comments
Posted May 30, 2008 at 1:24 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. physician without health wrote:

I am not convinced that any of the principals mentioned in this article, including Rabbi Heschel, really understand the gift of prophecy.

May 30, 9:18 pm | [comment link]
2. John Wilkins wrote:

Rabbi Heschel may have not understood what #1 considers the “gift” of prophecy, but he did understand scripture, and what was prophetic.      He did understand the relationship between God and Man.  His writings speak for themselves.

May 30, 10:49 pm | [comment link]
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