Magazine article Tikkun

Prophetic Courage in an Imperial Age

Magazine article Tikkun

Prophetic Courage in an Imperial Age

Article excerpt

PROPHETIC COURAGE IN AN IMPERIAL AGE THE MAN WHO KNEW GOD: DECODING JEREMIAH by Mordecai Schreiber Lexington Books, 2010

Review by Barry L. Schwartz

SHORTLY BEFORE HIS DEATH, Abraham Joshua Heschel gave an interview with NBC News correspondent Carl Stern for the television show TneEternalLight. Heschel talked extensively about the ancient prophets of Israel. His description of prophets as those who combine "a very deep love, a very powerful dissent, painful rebuke, with unwavering hope," captures the essence of the prophetic persona better than anything I have ever come across.

Heschel went on to explain how writing a book on the prophets changed his life. He explained how he was compelled to go beyond the comfort of academia "to be involved in the affairs of man, in the affairs of suffering man." Then he added, "And I would like to say that one of the saddest things about contemporary life in America is that the prophets are unknown. No one knows the prophets."

Not much has changed in the threeand-a-half decades since Heschel 's death. As Rabbi David Polish recently lamented:

We are, of course, the people of the Book. But truth be told, the fact that we are "of the Book" does not mean we necessarily read the book. There are whole parts of our own scripture that are virtually alien to most of useven the most learned. Most Jews who hear the snatches of the Prophets that are included in our worship services as haftarot seem to lose focus as they are being read. We regard them as sacred, but they do not fully make sense to us.

Take Jeremiah, for example. How much do we really know about him? To read him straight through is tough- maybe not quite as hard as Ezekiel, but trying and disorienting nonetheless. Yet it is our loss. Jeremiah's life story is compelling, and his powerful challenge to domestic hubris and colonial imperialism resonates in our age: "See, you are relying on illusions that are of no avail. …

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