5 Stars Out Of 5
A philosophy of Jewish religion
October 12, 2010
Abraham Joshua Heschel was a gifted scholar and teacher. He came from an Eastern European Orthodox Jewish background, and he completed higher education studies in Germany and the United States. His emphases were Jewish theology, mysticism, and social justice, and these elements merge into a single system in this dense but elegant philosophy of Judaism.
The book is organized into three parts: God, revelation, and response. The first part describes God, his mystery, and how human beings can experience, approach, and express him. It is more comprehensively expounded in his book Man Is Not Alone.
The second part describes the need for revelation, its nature, its inspiration and communication, its proof, and its appropriation. Much of this part focuses on the Hebrew prophets, an aspect he develops more comprehensively in his book The Prophets.
The third part describes the proper human response to God and revelation, including the place of faith and deeds, the nature and necessity of intention, and the existence of evil.
Heschel is very keen and perceptive. He asks the right questions and goes about answering them in creative and fresh ways. He will often raise a question, leave it, and come back to it. But his arrangement is not haphazard; when he asks a question, leaves it, and comes back to it later, what he does in between those points is absolutely relevant, as he lays the foundation in preparation for the complex answer.
Also, Heschel does not shy away from difficulties and problems. He acknowledges, for example, that the question of prophetic inspiration is an extremely difficult one, and that the character of the Bible could seem to be an embarrassing illusion. Yet he shows cogently and patiently why that solution is not tenable.
One feature that will strike readers is Heschel's familiarity with the theology and philosophy of his day. Although he was raised in a Jewish faith that was not so influenced by Western philosophical questions and problems; and although he was primarily devoted to teaching in order that people may find, experience, and live for God, Heschel is a master scholar, fully aware of and conversant with the scholarly works, theology, and philosophy of his day.
One weakness that characterizes the book is that there is no substantial exploration of Israel and her self-understanding, both in relation to God and in relation to the world/the nations. Otherwise, the book has a very cosmic perspective, and Heschel achieves his goal admirably.
None of Heschel's books is light reading. Many times reading him can be laborious and time-consuming. But be patient and persist. His works are inspiring, encouraging, and challenging. They can transform your world view, even your way of life.