On This Day in Jewish History: Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

On This Day in Jewish History: January 11, 1907

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is Born

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1964
Heschel in 1964

On this day, in 1907, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was born in Warsaw, Poland. During his 65 years, he became a revered figure in Jewish theology and philosophy, a prodigious author, and a civil rights advocate.

A descendant of European rabbis, Heschel received a Yeshiva education and completed his doctoral studies at the University of Berlin. In October 1938, he was arrested by the Gestapo in Frankfurt and deported back to Poland, where he continued to teach Jewish philosophy in Warsaw. Nearly a year later, he fled to London, and in 1940, he immigrated to the United States. Tragically, much of his family, including his mother and two sisters, were murdered by the Nazis.

In the United States, Heschel became one of the most influential Jewish educators. After five years teaching at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, he moved to New York City, spending the rest of his career at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He played a significant role in the American Jewish representation at Vatican Council II in 1962, advocating for the reform of the Catholic Church’s liturgical language regarding Jews.

While at JTS, he authored seminal works on Jewish philosophy, the prophets, and Shabbat, including “Man Is Not Alone”, “God in Search of Man”, and “The Sabbath”.

Known within the Jewish community for these works, Heschel also gained wider recognition as a civil rights champion, joining Martin Luther King in 1965 on the third march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. He was a vocal critic of the Vietnam War, with his efforts reflecting his Jewish practice and commitment to social action beyond a legalistic approach to human behavior.

Heschel passed away in 1972 at the age of 65. He is remembered for his profound insights, including: “…Few are guilty, but all are responsible.” and “…The worship of reason is arrogance and betrays a lack of intelligence. The rejection of reason is cowardice and betrays a lack of faith.” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Written by: @metropolis_starship

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