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Approaching God: The Way of Abraham Heschel
by John C. Merkle
Liturgical Press, 121 pages, $19.99

The task of the Heschel interpreter is not one this reviewer envies. The temptation to mimic the matchless style of his highly poetic prose, to get at the root of his thinking must be great, and it has sunk lesser scholars. But John Merkle, a recognized authority on Heschel’s work, nimbly avoids the snare of trying to duplicate his style, presenting the reader with a brief but authoritative primer on the controlling features of Heschel’s thought. In Approaching God , Merkle lets Heschel speak, the author intruding only to point to common themes and gently to guide the reader. The book is a sort of systematic arrangement of Heschel’s theology, and this is especially helpful because his writings are decidedly unsystematic.

The book does have one flaw: Merkle does not anchor Heschel’s work sufficiently in the context of his subject’s tradition. The author rarely references the rabbinic tradition to which Heschel and all modern Jews are heir. In such a short book, Merkle cannot be faulted for failing to include all the sources of Heschel’s life and work, but apart from rabbinic tradition”the legal foundation and theological speculation that shaped and shapes Jewish life”he cannot be understood. But this small blemish does not mar an otherwise outstanding contribution both to those who are new to Heschel and those with long familiarity.