Holiness in Words: Contents and Study Guide by Edward Kaplan

Arthur Waskow

Dear Chevra,

Below you will find the Table of Contents of Holiness In Words, Edward Kaplan's excellent book on Abraham Joshua Heschel's thought and prose, together with the extraordinary Study Guide that appears in the book. I strongly recommend that anyone who wants to explore Heschel get and read the entire book, which is filled with quotations from Heschel and Kaplan's astute understandings of how his work fits together and how he strove to make his writing a fitting medium for his sacred message.

Ed Kaplan, who teaches at Brandeis University, has already (with Samuel Dresner) published vol. 1 and is now at work on vol. 2 of Abraham Joshua Heschel: Prophetic Witness, the major biography of Heschel. The first volume follows Heschel from his birth into a "royal" but poverty-bound Polish Hassidic family, to his landing in America as the Nazis began to swallow Europe.

Dr. Kaplan has given us permission to circulate this material, not only with grace but with joy that it will be used in serious study of Heschel throughout the world.

The Shalom Center's work to stimulate observance of the Heschel Yohrzeit is being assisted by grants from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Gimprich Family Foundation, the Righteous Persons Foundation, the Rita Poretsky Foundation, and The Shefa Fund, and by contributions and support from Members of the Council on the Heschel Yohrzeit.

Shalom, Arthur Waskow


*STUDY GUIDE FOLLOWS AFTER THIS ANNOUNCEMENT: You can take an important part in carrying Rabbi Heschel's lifework forward to the next generation of the Jewish people. Becoming a member of the Council for the Heschel Yohrzeit means joining in a commitment, a covenant, please see the membership form for more information.



Edward K. Kaplan, Holiness In Words: Abraham Joshua Heschel's Poetics Of Piety (State University of New York Press, Albany). Copyright, 1996 SUNY. Reprinted by permission.

Table of Content

Theologian, Zaddik, Prophetic Voice
Writer and Teacher
"A Brand Plucked from the Fire"
Rescuing the Jewish Soul A Zaddik for the 1950s II. A READING STRATEGY
Empathy with Critical Awarene
How to Read Heschel
The First Steps: Close Reading
A Divine Perspective
Prophetic Call
Literary and Theological Insight
Reading toward Community III. THE DIVINE PERSPECTIVE
Learning to Think Religiously
The Dynamics of Theocentric Thinking
A Spiritual Itinerary
Toward a Poetics of Faith
Against Fundamentalism
The Limits of Language
Windows to the Spirit
The Perspective of the Faithle
The Structure of Biblical Metaphor
Three Dimensions of Human Fullness V. MYSTICISM AND DESPAIR
The Threshold of Revelation
Out of the Darkne
Recasting Mental Habit
Mystical Illumination
The Life of Piety
Social Science or God's Will?
Spirit versus Symbol
Law and Inwardne
Buber's Atheistic Theology?
Poetics and Observance
Sacred Humanism and Social Action
Prophecy in the New World
Reverence for the Divine Image
Prophetic Ethics versus Expediency
Prayer and Political Courage
God in Exile
"The Mountain of History"
Writing and Unspeakable Evil
No Post-Holocaust Theology IX. METAPHOR AND MIRACLE
Modern Judaism and the Holy Spirit
The Historicity of Divine Inspiration
Contemporary Judaism and God's Presence
Reverence, Dismay, and Exaltation
A Scholarly Goldmine
A Personality for Our Time
Transcendence in Disguise
Interfaith Activism

Study Guide

What follows is a list of readings related to each chapter of Holiness in Words. It is not necessary to consult all the sources indicated. More specialized information appears in the notes and bibliography. The basic reference work about Judaism is the Encyclopaedia Judaica, 16 volumes (Jerusalem: Keter, 1972).

Chapter One: "Abraham Joshua Heschel in America" Goals: An overview of Heschel's life in Europe and his career and writings in the United States. Introduction to the author's back-ground and standards of religious authenticity.
Heschel, The Earth Is the Lord's, chapters 1-4 (pp. 13-44).
Heschel, Quest for God, chapters 3-4: "Spontaneity is the Goal," and "Continuity is the Way" (pp. 47-114).
Heschel, The Prophets, Introduction, and chapter 1, "What Manner of Man Is the Prophet?" (pp. 3-26).
Heschel, A Passion for Truth, Introduction (pp. xiii-xv). Steven T. Katz (ed.), Interpreters of Judaism in the Late Twentieth Century (Washington, D.C., 1993).

The chapter on Heschel (pp. 131-50) can be studied with the essays on Emil Fackenheim, Will Herberg, Gershom Scholem, Joseph Soloveitchik, and others. Hillel Goldberg, Between Berlin and Slobodka: Jewish Transition Figures from Eastern Europe (Hoboken: KTAV, 1989), provides suggestive biographical and cultural sketches of Heschel and other immigrants such as Harry Wolfson and Joseph Soloveitchik. Some interpretations open to question. Robert M. Seltzer and Norman J. Cohen (eds.), The Americanization of the Jews (New York, 1995). The chapter on Heschel (pp. 355-71) can be studied with articles on American Jewish culture and history and essays on Will Herberg and Mordecai Kaplan. Robert G. Goldy, The Emergence of Jewish Theology in America (Indiana University Press, 1990). Introduction to the field. Awaiting the publication of an intellectual and cultural biography, readers can gain some insight into Heschel's European background from the following novels: Soma Morgenstern, The Son of the Lost Son; Sholom Asch, Three Cities (Petersburg, Warsaw, Moscow); and I. J. Singer, The Brothers Carnovsky.

Chapter Two: A Reading Strategy
Goals: Initiation into slow reading of Heschel and familiarity with his style. Meditative study of his works can enrich our prayer life and critical self- understanding.
Heschel, The Earth Is the Lord's (finish the book): chapters 5-15 (pp. 45-109)
Heschel, Man Is Not Alone, chapters 1-5 (pp. 3-41).
Heschel, The Sabbath (136 pages). Fritz A. Rothschild (ed.), Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism (New York, 1959; 1975).

Introduction to Heschel's philosophy of religion (pp. 7-32), selections, and bibliography.

Some other examples of meditative reflection and reading: Aryeh Kaplan, Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide (New York, 1985); Howard Thurman, The Centering Moment, and Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Reverie.

My original introduction to reading Heschel is still useful: Edward Kaplan, "Form and Content in A. J. Heschel's Poetic Style," CCAR Journal 18, 2 (April 1971): 2-39. Chapter Three: "The Divine Perspective" Goals: To understand Heschel's manner of entering the spiritual dimension, leading to theocentric thinking and insights that pre-cede verbal formulation, the ineffable. Heschel, "Depth Theology," Insecurity of Freedom (pp. 115-26). Heschel, Man Is Not Alone, chapter 26, "The Pious Man" (pp. 273-96). Heschel, God in Search of Man, chapters 1-8 (pp. 3 - 87). Compare with Paul Tillich's analysis of modern religious understanding, The Dynamics of Faith.

Chapter Four: "Language and Reality"

Goals: Link Heschel's theological and his linguistic system. This "poetics of faith" should help readers appreciate religious discourse no matter what one's state of belief. Specialists can evaluate the author's putative anthropomorphism and his rhetoric. Heschel, Quest for God, chapters 1-2, "The Inner World" and "The Person and the Word" (pp. 3-46). Heschel, In Search, chapter 18, "The Prophetic Understatement" (pp. 176-83). Heschel, "Prophetic Inspiration," reprinted in Neusner and Neusner, To Grow in Wisdom (pp. 53-69). Begin reading The Prophets, a somewhat diffuse work which formulates Heschel's theology of divine pathos; read esp. chapter 15, "Anthropopathy" (pp. 268-78). From the vast literature on rhetoric and metaphor, I recommend the book Heschel himself cites: Philip Wheelwright, The Burning Fountain: A Study in the Language of Symbolism (New York, 1954; 1968), chapters 5, 9, "Traits of Expressive Language" and "Expressive Statement and Truth."

Chapter Five: "Mysticism and Despair"

Goals: Define the Kabbalistic or mystical foundation of Heschel's depth theology and ethics. To advance reading Man Is Not Alone and introduce the problem of revelation.
Heschel, "The Mystical Element in Judaism" (1949).
Heschel, Earth Is the Lord's, chapters 10-11, "Kabbalah," "Hasidism" (pp. 69-82).
Heschel, "Prayer as a Discipline," Insecurity (pp. 254-61).
Heschel, Man Is Not Alone, chapters 9-14 (pp. 67-133).
Heschel, In Search, chapter 20, "The Paradox of Sinai" (pp. 191-99).

The writings of Evelyn Underhill on mysticism are fundamental to the field; see also Howard Thurman, Disciplines of the Spirit, and Thomas Merton, Dark Lightning; Herbert Fingarette, The Self in Transformation, studies its personal aspects in detail. For cultural manifestations of mysticism in the United States (with a chapter on Heschel, Thurman, and Merton) see Hal Bridges, American Mysticism, from William James to Zen (New York: Harper & Row, 1970).

Advanced students can compare Heschel and the groundbreaking scholarship of Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (Schocken, 1941; 1967) and Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives (Yale University Press, 1988). The review essay of Hava Tirosh-Rothschild, "Continuity and Revision in the Study of Kabbalah," AIS Review 16 (1991): 161-92, presents a useful summary.

Chapter Six: "Sacred versus Symbolic Religion"

Goals: Apply Heschel's linguistic criteria and depth theology to the mitzvot (commandments), ritual obligations, and ethics. The author refutes anthropological or sociological approaches to reli-gious observance.
Heschel, Quest for God, chapter 5, "Symbolism" (pp. 117 44).
Heschel, In Search, chapters 28-34 (pp. 281-360).

Compare with Ernest Johnson (ed.), Religious Symbolism (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1954), in which Heschel's essay on symbolism first appeared; see esp. essays by Daniel Sullivan (on Catholic worship), Paul Tillich (a Protestant view), and Mordecai Kaplan (a Jewish naturalist view).

One might also compare Heschel with Gershom Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken Books, 1960). Compare with Martin Buber's I and Thou (1923), an epoch-making meditative philosophy that differs from Heschel's biblical perspective. Buber's clear exposition of his theory of "Dialogue" appears in Between Man and Man. Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man, gives an elegent overview of philosophical anthropology.

Chapter Seven: "Prophetic Radicalism"

Goals: Specify Heschel's contribution to American politics and social action. His "sacred humanism" defines an all-inclusive ethics energized by the living God and interpreted through the Hebrew Bible.
Heschel, Insecurity, chapters 1-7 on the moral obligations of institutional religion, medicine, youth, aging, problems of race (pp. 3-114); chapter 10, "Sacred Image of Man" (pp. 150-67).
Heschel, The Prophets, Introduction and chapters on individual prophets.

Readers can skip the scholarly debates (chapters 13, 19-24) and trace Heschel's own theology in the following: "What Manner of Man is the Prophet?" (chapter 1), "Chastisement," "Justice," "The Theology of Pathos" (chapters 10-12), and "Anthropopathy," "Religion of Sympathy," "Event and Experience," and "Conclusions" (chapters 15, 18, 25, 28).
Heschel, "The Moral Outrage of Vietnam," in Vietnam: Crisis of Conscience, with Robert McAfee Brown and Michael Novak (New York, 1967), pp. 48-61. Heschel, Who Is Man? (119 pages).

Heschel opposes philosophical anthropology and other sociological approaches, as valuable as they are. Compare with Martin Buber, "What is Man?" in Between Man and Man and other essays in that important collection.

For a broader comparative study see Heschel, "The Concept of Man in Jewish Thought," reprinted in Neusner and Neusner (eds.), To Grow in Wisdom (pp. 97-145). The original publication in S. Radhakrishnan and P. T. Raju (eds.), The Concept of Man: A Study in Comparative Philosophy (Lincoln, Nebraska: Johnsen Publishing Company, 1960), contains illuminating essays on Greek, Indian, and Chinese conceptions, in addition to Heschel's.

Chapter Eight: "Confronting the Holocaust"

Goals: Provide theological and logical criteria for evaluating attempts to give meaning to the destruction of European Jewry. Heschel's personal responses to radical evil.
Heschel, Quest for God, chapter 6, "The Meaning of this Hour" (pp. 145-1-51).
Heschel, Not Alone, chapter 16, "The Hiding God" (pp. 15~58).
Heschel, In Search, chapters 35-36, "Mitsvah and Sin," "The Problem of Evil" (pp.361-81); compare with "Confusion of Good and Evil," in Insecurity (pp. 127-129).
Heschel, "No Religion Is an Island" (1965).
Heschel, Israel: An Echo of Eternity chapter 3, "Between Hope and Distress" (pp. 93-122). Heschel, A Passion for Truth, chapter 1, "The Two Teachers" (pp. 3-82); chapters 9, 10, "The Kotzker and Job," "The Kotzker Today" (pp. 263-323).
Heschel, The Prophets, chapter 10, "Chastisement" (pp. 187-94), chapter 12, "The Theology of Pathos" (pp. 221-31). As a guide to the vast literature, primary and reflective, on the Holocaust, see Eva Fleischner (ed.), Auschwitz: The Beginning of a New Era (New York, 1977), and Steven T. Katz, Post-Holocaust Dialogues: Critical Studies in Modern Jewish Thought (New York, 1983).

A wise historical perspective is provided by Jacob Neusner, "How the Extermination of European Jewry Became 'The Holocaust,"' in Stranger at Home (Chicago, 1981), pp. 82-96. See also Lawrence L. Langer, Admitting the Holocaust: Collected Essays (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

Chapter Nine: "Metaphor and Miracle"

Goals: Introduce the "esoteric Heschel," the erudite scholar, writing in Hebrew, who implicitly justifies the availability of divine inspiration through Rabbinic and other authoritative sources. God in Search of Man, with its copious footnotes, exemplifies how the author transmutes classical texts.
Heschel, In Search, chapters 13-16, on the mystic insight (pp. 136 66); chapters 17-27, on the doctrine of revelation (pp. 167-280).
Heschel, The Prophets, chapter 18, "Religion of Sympathy" (pp. 307-23).
Heschel, Insecurity, chapters 13-15, "The Individual Jew and His Obligations," "Israel and the Diaspora," "Jewish Education" (pp. 187-241).
Heschel, Maimonides: A Biography.

Specialists can study the original Hebrew monographs comprising Heschel, Prophetic Inspiration After the Prophets (New Jersey: KTAV,1995); Heschel's three-volume compendium of Rabbinic theology in Hebrew, Torah min ha-shamayim.

Chapter Ten: "Heschel's Unfinished Symphony"

Goals: Suggest four main directions of studying Heschel's writings and applying his depth theology and sacred humanism:
(1) scholarly research and interpretation;
(2) personal theology and ethics;
(3) interfaith cooperation;
(4) institutional reform. Heschel, "On Prayer" (1971).

Heschel, "Teaching Jewish Theology at the Solomon Schechter Day School" (1969).
Heschel, In Search (finish the book), esp. chapters 33-34, "The Problem of Polarity," "The Meaning of Observance" (pp. 33~60).
Heschel, Insecurity, chapters 11-12, "Protestant Renewal," "The Ecumenical Movement" (pp. 16-86); chapter 14, "Israel and the Diaspora" (pp. 212-22). Heschel, A Passion for Truth (finish the book).

For the Future

Heschel's depth theology-his insistence that God is real, and that the mitzvot (the commandments) and our ethical actions affect God-provides criteria for evaluating contemporary religion. For example, feminist theology can benefit from a poetics of faith that subverts anthropomorphism and fosters openness to the ineffable. Perhaps the closest to Heschel's starting point, though diverging radically from it, is Arthur Green, Seek My Face, Speak My Name Jason Aronson, 1993); see also Michael Lerner, Jewish Renewal (Grosset/Putnam, 1994). The work of Michael Fishbane, The Kiss of God: Spiritual and Mystical Death in Judaism (University of Washington, 1994), exemplifies a historical hermeneutics compatible with sacred values. Heschel's standards help us restore our religious institutions to their holy mission and ethical obligations.

Jewish and Interfaith Topics: