Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays

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Macmillan, May 16, 1997 - Religion - 428 pages
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This first collection of Heschel's essays - compiled, edited and with an introduction by his daughter Susannah Heschel, is a stunning reminder of the virtuosity of one of the most well respected minds in Judaic studies.


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Collected essays by Rabbi Heschel (190772), one of our century's most eloquent and challenging theologians. The introduction by daughter Susannah Heschel, herself a Jewish scholar at Case Western ... Read full review

Moral grandeur and spiritual audacity: essays

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Susannah Heschel has compiled, edited, and written a biographical introduction to this first collection of the essays of her father, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-72), a noted scholar and ... Read full review


What Is It?
The Moment at Sinai
Existence and Celebration
Hasidism as a New Approach to Torah
Israel as Memory
A Time for Renewal
To Save a Soul
The Meaning of Repentance
The Reasons for My Involvement in the Peace Movement
A Prayer for Peace
Choose Life
On Prayer
The God of Israel and Christian Renewal
What Ecumenism Is
Reinhold Niebuhr
The Holy Dimension

No Time for Neutrality
The Spirit of Jewish Prayer
Toward an Understanding of Halacha
Yom Kippur
Jewish Theology
The Mystical Element in Judaism
A Preface to an Understanding of Revelation
God Torah and Israel
The Meaning of This War World War II
The Moral Dilemma of the Space Age
The Biblical View of Reality
Death as Homecoming
Interview at Notre Dame
Carl Sterns Interview with Dr Heschel

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About the author (1997)

Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity
I EXISTENCE AND CELEBRATION To Be a Jew: What Is It? THERE IS A HIGH COST of living to be paid by a Jew. He has to be exalted in order to be normal in a world that is neither propitious for nor sympathetic to his survival. Some of us, tired of sacrifice and exertion, often wonder: Is Jewish existence worth the price? Others are overcome with panic; they are perplexed and despair of recovery. The meaning of Jewish existence, the foremost theme of any Jewish philosophy, is baffling. To fit it into the framework of personal intellectual predilections or current fashions of our time would be a distortion. The claim of Israel must be recognized before attempting an interpretation. As the ocean is more than what we know about it, so Judaism surpasses the content of all philosophies of it. We have not invented it. We may accept or reject, but should not distort it. It is as an individual that I am moved by an anxiety for the meaning of my existence as a Jew. Yet when I begin to ponder about it, my theme is not the problem of one Jew but of all Jews. And the more deeply I probe, the more strongly I realize the scope of the problem. It embraces not only the Jews of the present but also those of the past and those of the future, the meaning of Jewish existence in all ages. What is at stake in our lives is more than the fate of one generation. In this moment we, the living, are Israel. The tasks begun by the patriarchs and prophets, and carried out by countless Jews of the past, are now entrusted to us. No other group has superseded them. We are the only channel of Jewish tradition, those who must save Judaism from oblivion, those who must hand over the entire past to the generations to come. We are either the last, the dying, Jews or else we are those who will give new life to our tradition. Rarely in our history has so much been dependentupon one generation. We will either forfeit or enrich the legacy of the ages.
JUDAISM IS NOT a chapter in the history of philosophy. It does not lend itself to be a subject of reflection for armchair philosophers. Its understanding cannot be attained in the comfort of playing a chess game of theories. Only ideas that are meaningful to those who are steeped in misery may be accepted as principles by those who dwell in safety. In trying to understand Jewish existence a Jewish philosopher must look for agreement with the men of Sinai as well as with the people of Auschwitz. We are the most challenged people under the sun. Our existence is either superfluous or indispensable to the world; it is either tragic or holy to be a Jew. It is a matter of immense responsibility that we here and Jewish teachers everywhere have undertaken to instill in our youth the will to be Jews today, tomorrow, and forever and ever. Unless being a Jew is of absolute significance, how can we justify the ultimate price which our people was often forced to pay throughout its history? To assess Judaism soberly and farsightedly is to establish it as a good to be preferred, if necessary, to any alternative which we may ever face. The task of Jewish philosophy today is not only to describe the essence but also to set forth the universal relevance of Judaism, the bearings of its demands upon the chance of man to remain human. Bringing to light the lonely splendor of Jewish thinking, conveying the taste of eternity in our daily living, is the greatest aid we can render to the man of our time who has fallen so low that he is not even capable of being ashamed of what happened in his days. This surely I know--the source of creative Jewish thinking cannot be found in the desire to compare and to reconcile Judaism with a current doctrine. A noble person does not compare himself with anybody else. The intellectual passion of medieval Jewish philosophers was not bent on making Judaism compatible with Aristotelianism but, rather, having absorbed the philosophic ideas of their time, they were anxious to apply and adjust those ideas to the teachings of our fathers. Man is creative only when he is neither apologetic nor propagandistic. It is true, Judaism has no strategic boundaries, being exposed not only to cynicism and the denial of the divine but also to the powerful impact and even deliberate missionary efforts of other creeds. Yet the strength of truth lies not in refuting others but in understanding itself, in being consistent with itself. Judaism is a source, not only an object of philosophy. Jewish philosophy is basically the self-understanding of Judaism, the self-understanding of the Jew, just as the paramount topic of philosophic reflection is man himself. Jewish philosophy is an obligation to the Jewish people. What is going on in the studyrooms of Jewish thinkers has a fateful effect upon what will happen in the lives of the Jews. We have to comprehend in order to prepare for the future of a shattered people. We do not write for a future Genizah. We explore Jewish literature because we love and affirm Jewish living.
WE WERE NOT BORN by mere chance as a by-product of a migration of nations or in the obscurity of a primitive past. The idea of Israel came first, and only then did we come into the world. We were formed according to an intention and for the sake of an idea. Our souls tremble with the echo of unforgettable experiences and with the sublime expectation of our own response. To be a Jew is to be committed to the experience of great ideas, "to act and to hear." The task of Jewish philosophy is to formulate not only these ideas but also the depth of that commitment in vivid, consistent thinking. The task of Jewish philosophy is to make our thinking compatible with our destiny. In trying to set forth that commitment and that destiny we feel a discrepancy between the depth of our experience and the short reach of our power of expression. What we have seen in the lives of our people is so much greater than what we will ever be able to say. We are all involved in the playing of a drama staged by Israel with God as the attentive audience. Philosophy of Judaism is the attempt to write a review of that performance, to formulate its principles, and to say why we take part in that drama. Philosophy of Judaism has often been formulated as a set of dogmas, shed from nature like catkins from a tree. Yet the essence is not in the mature fruit; the essence is in the sap that stirs through the tissue. To understand Judaism we must penetrate to its core. The surface may seem to be gnarled and hard like the branches of an ancient tree, but our faith, suffering, striving cut the crust of dogma off the soft, growing cells. Our dogmas are allusions, intimations, our wisdom is an allegory, but our actions are definitions. Trust in these beliefs is not found in self-detachment, in brooding, gazing, musing--but by striking at the amazing sources that are within ourselves and letting our hidden forces emanate in our thoughts, deeds, words. In exposing ourselves to God we discover the divine in ourselves and its correspondence to the divine beyond ourselves. That perception of correspondence, our discovering how acts of human goodness are allied with transcendent holiness, the sense of the sacred context of our candid compassion--is our most precious insight. Just as humanity is more than a set of principles, so is Judaism more than a set of dogmas. Judaism is our genesis, not our wisdom; it is notgrist for the mill of a mind. It is as real as a law that operates in history, preceding the vicissitudes of contemplation. Not an ideal, a desirable aim of the mind, an eye for the future, but a condition of existence, not choice but destiny. It is impossible for us to survive without the sense of life''s earnestness: as if we had given a pledge in advance of our entrance into the concert of history. Our failure in faith gives us no authority to reject or reduce the inner wealth that has come down to us from our ancestors. Only by applying a clear-sightedness, an urge and a craving comparable to those stored up in the forms of Israel''s faith, only by a spiritual intensity equal to that of our teachers who expressed them, and in whose lives the experience of the spiritual has often been like breathing of the common wind, can we reach the depth of meaning hidden beneath the crust of beliefs. On the other hand, it is absurd to assume that we can heal our shattered souls by outlawing aggressive thinking, that we can revive our suppressed faith by substituting frantic nostalgia for sober conviction or worship of rituals for walking with God.
ONE OF THE MALADIES of our time is shattered confidence in human nature. We are inclined to believe that the world is a pandemonium, that there is no sense in virtue, no import to integrity; that we only graft goodness upon selfishness, and relish self-indulgence in all values; that we cannot but violate truth with evasion. Honesty is held to be wishful thinking, purity the squaring of the circle of human nature. The hysteria of suspicion has made us unreliable to ourselves, trusting neither our aspirations nor our convictions. Suspiciousness, not skepticism, is the beginning of our thinking. This sneering doctrine holds many of us in its spell. It has profoundly affected the character and life of modern man. The man of today shrinks from the light. He is afraid to think as he feels, afraid to admit what he believes, afraid to love what he admires. Going astray he blames others for his failure and decides to be more evasive, smooth-tongued, and deceitful. Living in fear he thinks that the

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