Heschel, Abraham Joshua
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Time Period
1/11/1907  - 12/23/1972
Description
Abraham Heschel wrote many theological books regarding the Jewish tradition in light of modernity. He believed that modern humanity had a difficult time believing in a personal God due to increased alienation and disbelief in the supernatural realm. These tendencies of humanity lead to a predilection for meaninglessness. According to Heschel, meaning emerges from realizing God’s need for humanity and responding to divine demands. Thus, it is faith coupled with religious experience that produces meaning.

Heschel also was a social activist. He fought for the right of Soviet Jews to practice their religion and emigrate. He boldly supported the civil rights movement and walked with Martin Luther King, Jr. at Selma, which led to jail time. He opposed the Vietnam War and urged the United States to withdraw its troops. In addition, his advice led Vatican Council II to reject past notions of Jewish culpability for the death of Jesus.
Interactive Timeline(s)
Prominent Religious Events and People in American History
Religious Minorities (Non-Christian)
Browse Related Timeline Entries
Prominent Religious Events and People in American History
Religious Minorities (Non-Christian) in American History
Narrative
Heschel came from a long line of religious scholars and Hasidic rabbis. He immersed himself in the Talmud and the Kabbala during his traditional religious education. Later, he was offered a professorship in the United States at Hebrew Union College. At the time, Germany was about to invade Poland, so six weeks prior to the invasion in 1939, he fled to London with the help of Hebrew Union College’s president, Julian Morgenstern. He arrived in the United States in 1940. While he evaded the Holocaust, he lost his mother and three sisters.

Eventually, Heschel left Hebrew Union College in 1945 and joined Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, the main seminary of Conservative Judaism. While teaching there as a professor of Jewish ethics and mysticism, he wrote many theological books that wrestled with the Jewish tradition in light of modernity, including his famous 1951 publication Man Is Not Alone. Though firmly theistic himself, he believed that modern humanity had a difficult time accepting the belief in a personal God due to increased alienation and disbelief in the supernatural realm. These tendencies of humanity lead to a predilection for meaninglessness. According to Heschel, meaning emerges from realizing God’s need for humanity and responding to divine demands. Thus, it is faith coupled with religious experience that produces meaning.

Heschel also was a social activist. He fought for the right of Soviet Jews to practice their religion and emigrate. He boldly supported the civil rights movement and walked with Martin Luther King, Jr. at Selma. He encountered jail time for this action. He opposed the Vietnam War and urged the United States to withdraw its troops. In addition, his advice led Vatican Council II to reject past notions of Jewish culpability for the death of Jesus.
Religious Groups
Timeline Entries for the same religious group Judaism Family
Judaism Family: Other ARDA Links

Events
Second Vatican Council (Vatican II)
Movements
Civil Rights Movement
Photographs

Rabbi Abraham Heschel- Flickr- photo by On Being (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Abraham Heschel portrait- Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-123692

Abraham Heschel with MLK- Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-114328

Abraham Heschel, cropped from Pinchas Hacohen Peli and Abraham Joshua Heschel- Wikimedia Common (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Book/Journal Source(s)
Queen, Edward, Stephen Prothero and Gardiner Shattuck, 1996. The Encyclopedia of American Religious History. New York: Facts on File.
Web Page Contributor
Benjamin T. Gurrentz
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in Sociology

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