Page 73 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

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BYRON L. SHERWIN
Abraham Joshua Heschel*
1907-1972
A
b r a h a m
jo s h u a
h e s c h e l
was a jewel from God’s treasure chest.
When he departed life on December 23, 1972, Jewish scholarship
lost one of its most original, erudite and penetrating minds; the
Jewish people lost their ambassador to the Gentile world; victims
of social injustice and social scandal lost a champion; students
lost a teacher and disciples a master. His life was a symphony of
gracious deeds and sublime thoughts. Both in word and in deed,
he scored singular success in relating yesterday’s wisdom to today’s
perplexities. He was the rabbi who could elucidate the fine points
of classical Judaica, the philosopher able to analyze abstruse
medieval concepts and the author who mastered the art of writing
classics.
Heschel was born in Warsaw in 1907, a prince amongst Hasi-
dim. In his late teens, already ordained a rabbi, the precocious
prodigy left the confines of Warsaw to study philosophy at the
University of Berlin. In 1933 he published his first book, a slim
volume of Yiddish poems, and in 1936 his doctoral dissertation
on the prophets of Israel. This extraordinary treatise revolution­
ized contemporary understanding of prophecy. When an ex­
panded English version appeared in 1962, it was eagerly appro­
priated as a textbook for biblical studies by universities and
seminaries.
Already established as a biblical scholar, the young Heschel
immersed himself in medieval Jewish philosophy. He wrote a
series of studies on the unique contributions to the history of
philosophy by the eleventh century poet and philosopher, Solo­
mon ibn Gabirol, who so significantly influenced Christian scho­
lasticism. In 1935, on the eight-hundredth anniversary of Mai-
monides’ birth, Heschel authored an existential biography of
* In the present essay, the author has incorporated aspects of his previously
published work on Heschel in the
Jewish Spectator
(December, 1969; re­
printed February, 1973),
United Synagogue Review
(Winter, 1973) and
Sh’ma,
(January, 1973).
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