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.
He takes readers on a spiritual and soulful journey through the rollercoaster challenges and fulfillments of Heschel’s motional life, from his early envelopment in a Hasidic community in Warsaw to his explorations of secular Jewish Vilna and cosmopolitan Berlin, from his endeavors to procure his doctorate in Nazi-dominated Berlin to his escaping the Nazis by securing employment in the States and a (rare) visa to enter the country, from his development of original Jewish ideas to his public speaking and prolific writings that disseminated them, from his interactions with Jewish communities that spanned the Jewish denominational spectrum (as Heschel himself largely transcended such categories) to his equally profound interactions with Christian and Protestant groups, from his love of intimate family and friends to his mission to influence as many human beings and as globally as possible, from his spiritual radicalism to his political radicalism with the Hebrew prophets’ ideal of absolute integrity as his model. Combining spiritual inwardness with militant yet non-violent social action, Heschel 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 played a unique role in reversing longstanding antisemitic Catholic Church doctrine on Jews (which encompassed a secret meeting with Pope Paul VI during Vatican II).
Behind all 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.”