Page 76 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

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During the 1950’s and 60’s, the scion of Hasidic sages produced
a series of Hebrew and Yiddish studies on early Hasidic masters.
His last published works deal with the enigmatic R. Mendel of
Kotsk. In a definitive two-volume Yiddish study, Heschel scruti­
nizes the personality and ideas of this militant, uncompromising
Hasidic master who attempted to engender a reformation within
Hasidism by demanding ruthless honesty and authenticity while
disparaging mediocrity and mendacity. In
A Passion for Truth,
Heschel compares R. Mendel of Kotsk with Soren Kierkegaard,
considered by many the father of existentialism, and makes avail­
able to the English reader the essential ideas of his huge Yiddish
tome. While some writers are content to author a single
in a single language, Heschel produced three, each in a
different language:
God in Search of Man
in English,
The Theol­
ogy of Ancient Judaism
in Hebrew and
Kotsk: The Struggle for
in Yiddish. Thus, in forty years, despite having been
geographically transplanted a number of times, notwithstanding
heavy teaching and lecturing loads, Abraham Heschel produced
in four languages over twenty volumes and scores of scholarly
treatises and essays, each a landmark in itself.
T o have excelled as a scholar, teacher, and author would have
sufficed most men, but not Abraham Heschel. Like R. Mendel of
Kotsk, he remained secluded to do his careful and intricate
scholarly work. But like the founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem
Tov, he went directly to people and talked to them about con­
crete issues in strikingly direct terms. Heschel preferred sincerity
and authenticity to popularity, and he told people exactly what
he thought. Like Abraham of old, he believed in smashing idols
rather than in compromising truth. He talked to Catholics and
chastised them for having a Roman Catholic church next to
Auschwitz which offered communion to the officers of the camp
who killed thousands of people each day.
Heschel admonished the General Assembly of the Council of
Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds that its members and
supporters “are often concerned with digits” while the commun­
ity is in “spiritual distress.” He reminded those who measure
commitment to Judaism by the amount of money they donated:
“An old Jewish principle proclaims, ‘The world stands on three
pillars: on learning, on worship and on charity’ (Aboth 1:2). We
are not going to invite a friend to sit on a tripod, a stool designed