by shai held
indiana, 352 pages, $38.95
Few modern theological personalities have been as widely loved as the inimitable Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. It takes a unique soul and a special voice to exhilarate at once Jew and Christian, conservative and liberal, scholar and layman. The spiritually thirsty of all stripes have found nourishment in his teachings. “Grandeur, audacity, radiance,” wrote Fr. Neuhaus, “that was Heschel.”
Heschel’s enduring popularity has earned for his writing a considerable secondary literature. You have your reader’s guide introductions, your scholarly investigations, your biographies, devotional meditationsthrow in a selected works collection or two and you’ve got yourself a satisfying day at the beach. But abundance does not in itself meet all needs: Too much of the existing commentary on Heschel, Shai Held laments, collapses into “either uncritical adoration or overly facile dismissal”: Loyalists praise and exalt without pause, critics dismiss and deride out of hand. And so Held, a recently minted Harvard Ph.D. and the dean of Yeshivat Hadar (a non-denominational Jewish seminary in New York), aims to fill the gap with a treatment both “genuinely sympathetic and unapologetically critical.” Simply put, Held’s mission is to take Heschel seriously.