Academic journal article Shofar

Interfaith Activism: Abraham Joshua Heschel and Religious Diversity

Academic journal article Shofar

Interfaith Activism: Abraham Joshua Heschel and Religious Diversity

Article excerpt

INTERFAITH ACTIVISM: ABRAHAM JOSHUA HESCHEL AND RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY By Harold Kasimow. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2015. xxx + 101 pp.

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) is considered one of the preeminent Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century. Harold Kasimow shows why in his learned and thoughtful interpretation of the philosophical and theological thought of Heschel. Kasimow examines Heschel's writings on issues gleaned from the cultural, religious, and secular spheres of the Jewish experience. Chapters affirm the divine-human relationship, selfhood and freedom, the primacy of ethics, religious diversity, interfaith dialogue, and civil rights, and present salient thoughts on the Shoah. But it is Heschel's insistence on taking God and Israel reciprocity seriously for Jewish theology and his commitment to post-Shoah Jewish survival with dignity and without apologetics that has rendered him a consummate mover and broker of contemporary Jewish life and thought. Genuine Jewishness is living Jewishly, that is, testifying against idolizing nature and paganism; it is to proclaim "God is the God of pathos who suffers when we suffer," a transnatural Creator whose operative commandment is to mend the world (tikkun 'olam) and the faith of the post-Auschwitz Jew (tikkun 'am). Also personally real and important in Heschel's thought is that no "religion is an island" and that diverse religions in activity and in dialogue are the will of God; hence, the book title, Interfaith Activism, a perceptive book written by a foremost student of Heschel and commentator of his thought.

Kasimow's effort to understand Heschel's methodology and objectives is distinguished by a dual accomplishment. First, his revised PhD dissertation, published under the title Divine-Human Encounter: A Study of Abraham Joshua Heschel (1979), is the forerunner of the text under review. Of major importance in understanding this encounter are the three paths to God abstracted from Heschel's seminal work, God in Search of Man (1955), discussed in detail in chapter one of Interfaith Activism and referenced in other chapters. These three paths are sensing the presence of God in the world asher bara' (Creation); sensing the divine presence in the words, events, and encounters in the Tanakh; and sensing the holy presence in doing the mitzvoth (obligatory and voluntary commandments or sacred acts). Heschel's novel theology draws from biblical, rabbinic, and mystical traditions that sprout forth the message that the earth is full of God's glory and that every place conceivably is a gateway to heaven's door. His creation-Bible -deeds interplay parallels the inalienable importance of Torah (teaching) to Israel transmitted by written and oral tradition and sustained by the Mosaic rallying cry, Na'aseh ve-Nishma' ("We shall do and we shall hear [reason] " [Exod 24:7]) in this world. Also, the impact of visual images and metaphors are compelling in Heschel's view of Jewish thought and practice.

Second, Kasimow's chapters are published essays primarily related to Heschel, the man and his influence, and range from a critical view of the literary structures and secondary sources under discussion to popular writing. The author injects additional sources in the basic narrative and his literary-analytical approach enables the reader to appreciate diversified viewpoints on Heschel's philosophy and theology. The author follows his dissertation in style and argumentation but restructured for the non-specialists. Forewords by Edward Kaplan, Alan Race, and Eboo Patel speak on Harold Kasimow's life and expertise in Heschelian studies. …

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