About the Book
In this first one-volume full biography of Abraham Joshua Heschel in English, 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 spiritual and soulful journey through the rollercoaster challenges and fulfillments of Heschel’s emotional life. As a child he was enveloped in a Hasidic community of Warsaw; he grew to explore secular Jewish Vilna and cosmopolitan Berlin. He improvised solutions to procure his doctorate in Nazi-dominated Berlin, escape the Nazis, and secure a rare visa to America. He developed and published strikingly original and profoundly expressed Jewish ideas. His interactions spanned the Jewish denominational spectrum as well as Catholic and Protestant faith communities. A militant voice for nonviolent social action, he marched with Martin Luther King Jr. (who became a dear friend), vocalized strong opposition to the Vietnam War (while the FBI compiled a massive file on him), and helped reverse longstanding antisemitic Catholic Church doctrine on Jews (participating in a secret meeting with Pope Paul VI during Vatican II).
Behind the prodigiously documented stories, we encounter Heschel himself—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 the Kotzker rebbe’s cruel demands for Truth. “My heart,” Heschel acknowledged, is “in Medzibozh, my mind in Kotzk.”
“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 planet and world depend, in part, on the legacy of Heschel’s prophetic witness.”—Cornel West, Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy, Harvard University
“Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was many things: an inspired and visionary theologian, an immensely learned and wide-ranging scholar, an impassioned and courageous activist, and a powerfully eloquent moral voice. It is tempting (and understandable) to mythologize a man who accomplished so much, but it is also easy to lose sight of the real person underneath the myth. In this wonderful distillation of many years of painstaking research, Ed Kaplan presents us with Heschel the man. Kaplan’s love for his subject is so clear, I anticipate readers will find the love contagious.”—Rabbi Shai Held, author of The Heart of Torah: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion
“Edward Kaplan’s lucid biography of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel illuminates the profound contributions of one of the most outstanding religious figures of the twentieth century. Kaplan chronicles the development of this exceptional scholar whose academic career flourished in America not only because of his brilliance but also because he embodied the qualities of one of his principal subjects of study: the prophets. Heschel’s commitment to civil rights, opposition to the Vietnam War, and interreligious relations show us what inspired religious leadership looks like—leadership our world today desperately needs.”—Mary C. Boys, Dean Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
“I loved this book. Kaplan’s engaging, incisive biography brings alive Heschel’s extraordinary personality, theology, prophetic voice, and monumental contributions to Jewish thought, interfaith understanding, and the moral soul of America. Abraham Joshua Heschel: Mind, Heart, Soul evokes a much richer and deeper understanding of this spiritual giant as it simultaneously rekindles the reader’s passion for the work of Jewish social justice.”—Rabbi David Saperstein, director emeritus, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
“Kaplan offers a close reading into the complex emotional, intellectual, and cultural experiences that shaped Heschel’s depth theology, radical mysticism, and social activism, and catapulted him into a fearless champion of human rights. Scholars and concerned citizens everywhere will benefit from the needed reminder that indeed ‘the earth is the Lord’s.’”—Walter Earl Fluker, Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Ethical Leadership, Boston University School of Theology
“Kaplan’s biography masterfully depicts the life of Abraham Joshua Heschel, showing us how Heschel became the great moral and spiritual genius of the mid-twentieth century. We are all in Kaplan’s debt.”— Reuven Kimelman, professor of classical Judaica, Brandeis University
“As one blessed to have sat at the feet of Abraham Joshua Heschel, I enthusiastically endorse my fellow student Edward Kaplan’s biography of our teacher and master. Kaplan’s intimate understanding of Heschel’s great life, work, and thought enables a new generation to at least meet in print what we encountered in person.”—David Novak, professor of Jewish studies and philosophy, University of Toronto and author of Jewish Justice
“Abraham Heschel is one of the most significant American religious thinkers of the past century whose message remains pertinent today not only for contemporary Judaism, but also for followers of other faiths and even those of no specific faith but in search of the meaning of human life in our chaotic world. Professor Kaplan is to be congratulated for summarizing in a single volume his decades of scholarly research into the life and works of Heschel, this unique Jewish thinker who was at once a metaphysician, theologian, spiritual observer and acute commentator of the human condition as well as a social and political activist.”—Seyyed Hossein Nasr, University Professor of Islamic Studies, George Washington University