Poetic Theologian

From the April 2014 Print Edition

Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence
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 meditations—throw 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. Continue Reading »

Halakhic Poetry

From the May 2013 Print Edition

Majesty and Humilty: The Thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik ? by Reuven Ziegler? Urim, 424 pages, $34.95 Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik gave a staggeringly extensive and wide-ranging number of lectures in his life, in addition to teaching his daily Talmud classes at Yeshiva University. His annual . . . . Continue Reading »

Ancient Texts and Technological Change

From First Thoughts

Writing for the Atlantic , Alan Jacobs reports some insightful lessons from a study session led by Rabbi Jacob Schachter aimed at formulating a sound religious posture toward the internet. Jacobs was thrown off at first when Rabbi Schacter introduced the session by handing out a three-ring binder . . . . Continue Reading »

Archaeology’s New Digs

From First Thoughts

Israeli archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel announced earlier this week several findings which may contribute toward a positive case for the veracity of biblical history, in particular the question of whether a centralized Israelite kingdom existed during the era of the biblically purported King David. . . . . Continue Reading »

Israel at 64

From First Thoughts

The State of Israel’s declaration of independence—64 years ago on this day in the Hebrew calendar—was at the time, and has been forever since, a point of impassioned conflict. Even leaving aside the five Arab armies that immediately invaded the country and the substantial . . . . Continue Reading »

Anti-Semitism is for Everyone

From First Thoughts

According to a recent a recent 3-0 decision from The Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court, one needn’t be Jewish to sue for anti-semitic discrimination. The suit in question was brought by a certain Myron Cowher, of German-Irish and Lutheran descent, against Carson and Roberts Site . . . . Continue Reading »

Two Minutes of Silence

From First Thoughts

Today, the 27th of Nissan in the Jewish calendar, marks the State of Israel’s official Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s been seven decades now, but the sheer magnitude of the tragedy still resonates powerfully for Jews both in Israel and across the globe. But the focus is not only on the . . . . Continue Reading »

Leaven, Candlelight, and Self-Searching

From First Thoughts

In preparation for the Passover holiday and its prohibition against leaven bread (Hebrew: “hametz”), Jews spend weeks punctiliously purging their homes of every last crumb of the offending food. Pantries are cleaned, ovens scrubbed, the dark, mysterious regions in between couch cushions . . . . Continue Reading »