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Abraham Joshua Heschel
Cover of Abraham Joshua Heschel
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Mind, Heart, Soul
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In this first one-volume English-language full biography of Abraham Joshua Heschel, Edward K. Kaplan tells the engrossing, behind-the-scenes story of the life, philosophy, struggles, yearnings, writings, and activism of one of the twentieth century's most outstanding Jewish thinkers.
Kaplan takes readers on a soulful journey through the rollercoaster challenges and successes of Heschel's emotional life. As a child he was enveloped in a Hasidic community of Warsaw, then he went on to explore secular Jewish Vilna and cosmopolitan Berlin. He improvised solutions to procure his doctorate in Nazi-dominated Berlin, escaped the Nazis, and secured a rare visa to the United States. He articulated strikingly original interpretations of Jewish ideas. His relationships spanned not only the Jewish denominational spectrum but also Catholic and Protestant faith communities. A militant voice for nonviolent social action, he marched with Martin Luther King Jr. (who became a close friend), expressed strong opposition to the Vietnam War (while the FBI compiled a file on him), and helped reverse long-standing antisemitic Catholic Church doctrine on Jews (participating in a secret meeting with Pope Paul VI during Vatican II).
From such prodigiously documented stories Heschel himself emerges—mind, heart, and soul. Kaplan elucidates how Heschel remained forever torn between faith and anguish; between love of God and abhorrence of human apathy, moral weakness, and deliberate evil; between the compassion of the Baal Shem Tov of Medzibozh and the Kotzker rebbe's cruel demands for truth. "My heart," Heschel acknowledged, is "in Medzibozh, my mind in Kotzk."

In this first one-volume English-language full biography of Abraham Joshua Heschel, Edward K. Kaplan tells the engrossing, behind-the-scenes story of the life, philosophy, struggles, yearnings, writings, and activism of one of the twentieth century's most outstanding Jewish thinkers.
Kaplan takes readers on a soulful journey through the rollercoaster challenges and successes of Heschel's emotional life. As a child he was enveloped in a Hasidic community of Warsaw, then he went on to explore secular Jewish Vilna and cosmopolitan Berlin. He improvised solutions to procure his doctorate in Nazi-dominated Berlin, escaped the Nazis, and secured a rare visa to the United States. He articulated strikingly original interpretations of Jewish ideas. His relationships spanned not only the Jewish denominational spectrum but also Catholic and Protestant faith communities. A militant voice for nonviolent social action, he marched with Martin Luther King Jr. (who became a close friend), expressed strong opposition to the Vietnam War (while the FBI compiled a file on him), and helped reverse long-standing antisemitic Catholic Church doctrine on Jews (participating in a secret meeting with Pope Paul VI during Vatican II).
From such prodigiously documented stories Heschel himself emerges—mind, heart, and soul. Kaplan elucidates how Heschel remained forever torn between faith and anguish; between love of God and abhorrence of human apathy, moral weakness, and deliberate evil; between the compassion of the Baal Shem Tov of Medzibozh and the Kotzker rebbe's cruel demands for truth. "My heart," Heschel acknowledged, is "in Medzibozh, my mind in Kotzk."

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  • Library Journal

    September 27, 2019

    American Polish rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-72) was a man apart, an increasingly rare example of scholarly yet religious leadership in which words and actions came together. Pope Paul VI praised Heschel, who was present at Vatican II, as the "sometimes lonely witness of the great and wise rabbi." He was the only eulogist at the funeral of Reformed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in 1971 and spoke on a panel with Jesse Jackson in 1972 to honor the memory of the slain Martin Luther King Jr. On occasion, Heschel purposely wrote in Yiddish because it was "the language of dissent." Accolades aside, this intellectual as well as spiritual biography by Kaplan (Kevy and Hortense Kaiserman Professor in the Humanities Emeritus, Brandeis Univ., MA), illuminates how the son of Polish Hasidic nobility from Warsaw rose to spectacular heights, fueled primarily by his desire to empower the culturally powerless. While The Prophets (1962) remains Heschel's best known work in academic settings, here his selected bibliography run nearly 20 pages. VERDICT A worthy introduction to a religious and philosophical leader.--Sandra Collins, Byzantine Catholic Seminary Lib., Pittsburgh

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from November 15, 2019
    The principal author of the definitive Heschel biography has distilled its two large volumes into one for a general readership. Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-72) grew up within Hasidism, a profoundly traditional and pious movement in Orthodox Judaism, and clung to its mysticism, confidence in an immanent and personal God, and adherence to ritual. But he was also a determinedly modern man, who pursued secular learning avidly and was acknowledged as a peer by the foremost of Christian philosophers, Reinhold Niebuhr. Most famously and some say prophetically, he was a tireless voice for justice and peace. Arriving in the U.S. in 1940 to take a modest academic post, he continued his prolific writing and began speaking out in defense of humanity, striving first to shake up war-time complacency about the Holocaust and later to put himself in the front lines of the civil rights movement, marching beside Martin Luther King Jr. in the Selma to Montgomery walk and standing by King in opposition to the Vietnam War. He also spearheaded Jewish rapprochement with the Roman Catholic Church in the Vatican II effort to remove anti-Jewish language from official prayers and doctrinal statements. At the time of his death, he had been working on pacifying Jewish-Islamic relations. Kaplan embeds Heschel's activism in his prolific writing career, affording a blazingly impressive portrait of what it means to be a public intellectual.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

  • Cornel West

    "Edward K. Kaplan's magisterial biography of the greatest Jewish prophetic figure of the barbaric twentieth century is a masterpiece! It is also incredibly timely. We need the wisdom, courage, and compassion of the inimitable Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. The very future of our world depends, in part, on the legacy of Heschel's prophetic witness."—Cornel West, Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy, Harvard University

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Mind, Heart, Soul
Edward K. Kaplan
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