Abraham Joshua Heschel Today: Voices from Warsaw and Jerusalem

by Harold Kasimow

Reviewed by Dr. Eugene Fisher Profiles in Catholicism



Harold Kasimov, a student and disciple of the great 20th century Jewish thinker and writer, Abraham Joshua Heschel, collects here six significant essays describing his works and their impact on Jewish thought and Jewish-Christian relations in the 20th century. Several of the essays describe Heschel as a prophet for his and indeed our times in the 21st century. This is not an overstatement. In his introductory essay to the volume Kasimov quotes on p. 2 an article I wrote for the Jesuit journal America on "Heschel's Impact on Catholic-Jewish Relations" which was included in Kasimov's first book, with Byron Sherwin, on Kasimov, No Religion is an Island: Abraham Joshua Heschel and Interreligious Dialogue (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis 1991, pp. 110-123): "when Heschel died, the American Catholic community mourned the loss of one who was, for us, a spiritual mentor and guide, a man whose faith helped form and mold our own faith at its deepest point. When Heschel died the Jesuit journal America, reflecting the mood of the American Catholics throughout the country, took the unprecedented step of devoting an entire issue to discussion of his work by the leading Catholic thinkers of the day." After reading this excellent collection of essays, I stand by that assessment today.


In this work Kasimov provides his own overview and interpretation of his mentor. Essays by Michael Marmur, dean of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, and Alexander Even-Chen, senior lecturer at the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, offer overviews of Heschel's writings and their impact on the understanding of Judaism by the Jewish people, before and after the Shoah/Holocaust.


Alon Goshen-Gottstein, foun der and director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute, digs deeply into Kasimov's prophetic essay, "No Religion Is an Island," which began as an address to Union Theological Seminary in New York and was then re-written as a lecture to the Jewish community. As published, Heschel's essay addresses both Christians and Jews, probing what they/we have in common, what is different between us, and how, through a dialogue of reverence and respect for each other we can learn not only more about the other but more about our own traditions, since Judaism and Christianity share a Bible in common and have been formed by our interpretations and re-interpretations of its meaning not only for our communities but for all humanity.

Shoshana Ronen, head of the Hebrew Studies Department at the University of Warsaw, Poland, and Obireck, a Catholic and theology professor at the University of Warsaw, read Heschel from the perspectives of a "secular" Jew and a Christian deeply involved in dialogue with Jews. In the final essay Stanislaw Krajewski, goes into the important Jewish statement Dabru Emet issued jointly by some 200 Jewish scholars in the millennial year 2000, a statement which affirmed the progress made in Jewish-Christian understanding through and since the key statement on the subject by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, Nostra Aetate, In Our Time, which in fact began a NEW time in the history of relations between God's People, the Jews, and the Catholic and Christian churches of all denominations.


The book closes with a selection of book reviews, by Jews and Christians, of Heschel's various publications, all of which, of course are highly positive about his pioneering work in the dialogue between our two ancient communities.


I cannot recommend this work too highly for all readers, Jewish and Christian, who may want to understand Judaism today in the 21st century and Jewish Christian relations now/ It offers guideposts as well for future dialogues and joint actions by Jews and Christians working together for tikkun olam, the healing of our world and helping all humans who are in need.