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Abraham Joshua Heschel, descended from a long line of Orthodox rabbis, fled Europe to escape the Nazis. He made the insights of traditional Jewish spirituality come alive for American Jews while speaking out boldly against war and racial injustice.
Heschel brought the fervor of the Hebrew prophets to his role as a public intellectual. He challenged the sensibilities of the modern West, which views science and human reason as sufficient. Only by rediscovering wonder and awe before mysteries that transcend knowledge can we hope to find God again. This God, Heschel says, is not distant but passionately concerned about our lives and human affairs, and asks something of us in return.
This little book, which brings together Heschel’s key insights on a range of topics, will reinvigorate readers of any faith who hunger for wonder and thirst for justice.
Plough Spiritual Guides briefly introduce the writings of great spiritual voices of the past to new readers.
From Robert Erlewine’s introduction to Thunder in the Soul:
Abraham Joshua Heschel is a singular figure in American Jewish history and modern Jewish thought. His life and work defy easy categorization, bringing together an array of seemingly contradictory tendencies. While rooted in traditionalist Judaism, he is attendant to the forces of modernity. A religiously observant Jew, he nevertheless insists that creative dissent is essential for the vitality of tradition. Deeply learned in Talmud, and in traditional Jewish learning more generally, he is also fluent in philosophy and modern biblical criticism. His most significant works address a popular audience, with prose accessible and often quite beautiful, and yet their premises are sophisticated and complex. Additionally, he is the rare modern Jewish thinker whose work reflects a profound knowledge of all genres of Jewish expression: Bible, Talmud, Midrash, medieval philosophy, Kabbalah, Hasidism, and modern thought. Even the language in which he composed his works varied; he wrote eloquent prose in four languages: Hebrew, German, English, and Yiddish.
Heschel offered a galvanizing vision of Judaism that was at times sharply critical of the status quo, while remaining deeply anchored in tradition. He rejected the notion that worship and religious practice were private matters, arguing instead that they have vital relevance for addressing the most pressing concerns of society. And he insisted this was the case even if it meant giving voice to views that were unpopular or controversial. Heschel’s theological commitments undergirded his courageous efforts on behalf of the civil rights movement, his protests against the war in Vietnam, and his work to improve Jewish-Christian relations. Not adhering to any particular denomination of American Judaism, he engaged them all.
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