Abraham Joshua Heschel: Social Activist & Proponent of Interfaith Dialogue

“If you want to know God, sharpen your sense of the human.”

—Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)

Earlier this year, Susannah Heschel, professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth, published Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings (Orbis 2011), a collection of works by the volume’s namesake—her father.  The elder Heschel—born in Poland into a Hasidic family with a long connection to the rabbinate—escaped Warsaw for the U.S. only weeks before the Third Reich invaded in 1939.

Through his subsequent career, Heschel advocated interfaith understanding and was active in many of the leading social issues of his day—marching with Martin Luther King Jr.; protesting the Vietnam War; observing Vatican II in an official capacity; and challenging the Catholic Church to amend its occasional strains of anti-Semitism, both past and present.  The publisher’s abstract follows the jump.

Abraham Joshua Heschel was one of the great religious teachers and moral prophets of our time.  Born in Warsaw to a long line of Hasidic rabbis, he chose instead to study philosophy in Germany.  Expelled back to Warsaw, he escaped just weeks before the Nazi invasion and settled in the United States.  Through a series of books he contributed greatly to the spiritual renewal of Judaism.  But he exerted an equal influence on Christians, so much that he was called another “apostle to the gentiles.”

A passionate champion of interfaith dialogue, he served as an official observer at Vatican II and was influential in challenging the Catholic Church to overcome the legacy of anti-Semitism.  He raised a prophetic challenge to the social issues of his day, marching with Martin Luther King and protesting the Vietnam war.  His writings here on prayer, God, prophecy, the human condition, and the spiritual life vividly communicate his instinct for the “holy dimension of all existence.

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