Published November 21, 2011
The Legacy of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
by: Nathan Weissler
  Issue: 12.05
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Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is one of my favorite persons in Jewish history. I respect and admire how he inspired others by consistently maintaining his convictions, as showcased by his dedication to the Jewish faith and his participation in the American civil rights movement.

Heschel was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1907. As a teenager, Heschel studied in Vilna. He received semikhah—ordination as an Orthodox rabbi. He also received a liberal ordination as a rabbi and received a doctoral degree from the University of Berlin. Rabbi Leo Baeck in addition to other prominent Jewish scholars taught Heschel.

Rabbi Heschel directed a school for Jewish adults in Frankfurt. In 1938, Heschel, and Jews who were Polish citizens in Germany, were arrested by the Nazis and deported to Poland. Heschel taught at the Warsaw Institute of Jewish Studies. He subsequently moved to England and in 1940 he moved to the United States. From 1940 to 1945, Heschel taught at the Hebrew Union College, now known as the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1945, Heschel began teaching at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York City, where he taught until he died in 1972.

I greatly respect for Rabbi Heschel's commitment to Judaism and his ability to maintain his commitment to Judaism under difficult circumstances. I have equal respect for Heschel's participation in the American Civil Rights Movement. In 1963, he participated in the National Conference of Religion and Race, which took place in Chicago, Illinois. He was also a good friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and participated in the 1965 march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital in Montgomery. Additionally, Heschel delivered a eulogy at King's funeral in 1968.

Rabbi Heschel has written several books including Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion, The Prophets and The Earth Is The Lord's: The Inner World of the Jew in Eastern Europe.

In my opinion, the essence of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's legacy is that not only did he take a moral stand for what he believed to be right but he did so in a way that inspired many people. I found a quotation from Rabbi Heschel's book The Prophets to be especially important and truly profound, "Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible."

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