“Everything depends on mazal, even the Torah Scroll in the Ark” (Zohar 3, 134a). Rabbi Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel’s great work Torah Min Hashamayim B’aspaklaria Shel Hadorot – Torah from Heaven in the Reflection of the Generations suffered from a lack of mazal. Only the first two volumes of the three-volume set were published. The third volume, however, appeared only in fragmentary forms and even then, with incomplete editing. We must thank Dror Bondi, Heschel’s Hebrew translator, for publishing as complete a text of the third volume as possible. Bondi did amazing work by knocking on doors hunting for pieces of the manuscript, by perusing leads of potential copies, and through much archival work. The work certainly suffered a lack of mazal but it also suffered from disrespectful neglect and tampering. Thankfully, in this interview Bondi names the guilty and then moves us to share his vision of how Heschel changed his life.
Dr. Dror Bondi has a doctorate in Jewish Thought from Bar-Ilan University. He lectures at Machon Kerem of the David Yellin College of Education. In 2012 he translated the first Hebrew collection of Heschel’s articles. He also translated into Hebrew Man’s Quest of God, The Shabbat and Heschel’s Yiddish book, Kotzk. His own book Ayeca? about Heschel thought earned him Shalem Prize 2006. In 2017 he published the booklet God, Democracy and Humanism in the Thought of Abraham Joshua Heschel (by The Israel Democracy Institute). His new edition of Torah Min HaShamayim, based on newly discovered manuscripts which were never published, won HaPais Prize 2019. He lives in the Urban-Kibbutz Beit Yisrael in Jerusalem, a community of religious and non-religious who unite together in social and spiritual activism. Bondi’s work on Torah Min HaShamayim creates a beautifully edited edition of a classic of modern Jewish thought, which will be destined to many reprints. And likely, to have changed the mazal of this work for good.
From the new edition, we see the development of Torah Min HaShamayim as a book. There was the idea for book two on revelation, then a turn to book one to describe Rabbinic thought, and finally a conclusion in book number three of the application of the first two books to our own age. Heschel understood Rabbinic texts as theological and as understood by their later developments in Jewish thought through Maimonides and Kabbalah up to Hatam Sofer and R. Zadok Hakohen. In many ways Heschel has provided an annotated Norton’s Anthology of Rabbinic Revelatory Thought in Judaism as well as instructions for the application of those texts.
The first part uses Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann’s dichotomy between Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva. Many think that Heschel always favors one side or the other; in fact, in each chapter he seems to seek an approach that works today. R. Ishmael as a defender of poetic experience, rational cognition, and confronting the needs of the hour. Rabbi Akiva as the mystic, kabbalist, and idealist.
R. Akiva’s conception turned towards the personal God, the Holy One, blessed be He who “participated in the pain of his creature”; in contrast, R. Ishmael surrendered before a God of judgment, mercy, and power . Regarding the relationship of heaven and earth, Heschel presents two chapters on the typological attitudes toward the shekhinah as God’s presence. For R. Akiva, the shekhinah is located spatially, in the west, in the Temple, as in Ezekiel’s vision. This approach, in turn, generated later kavod theories and Kabbalah. R. Ishmael senses God everywhere in the temporal world, as in Maimonidean cognition or Hasidism. One notices the similarity to Moshe Idel’s categories of theosophic and ecstatic. But, Heschel’s categories do not all line up; his two poles are floating. This first section contains Heschel’s views on Judaism including God, mizvot, prayer, ethics, and symbolism. Just the fist book alone would generate a full symposium
The second part of the book discusses Heschel’s view of revelation as a tension of the more textual Rabbi Yishmael and the more experiential Rabbi Akiva. We need to study the text in a rational manner, but Heschel also claims that: “You cannot grasp the matter of the “Torah from Heaven” unless you feel the heaven in the Torah.” You cannot be rational without the experiential sense of God’s wonderous “Whoever denies the wondrous has no share in this world; how much more so can such a person have no dealing with heavenly matters. If this event is like an everyday occurrence, given to accurate apprehension and description, then it is no prophecy. And if the prophetic encounter is sublime and awesome, without parallel in the world, then it is clear that no description will do it justice, and silence becomes it.”
Heschel argues that one needs to experience a feeling of the Torah from heaven: if one does not, one should not be teaching or studying these matters. He declares passionately that Judaism is not limited to the rational non-experiential approach of historians and talmudists. As Heschel already wrote in a 1933 poem, “Let it be clear: enthusiasm or mockery!” One needs to take up the prophetic banner of renewal, the poetic, the kabbalistic or the Maimonidean, or one must openly reject Heschel’s approach. Heschel demands the reader to not limit him for the demands of those who do not hear the voice of God.
When the English translation of the book, Heavenly Torah, came out I gave a multi-week class in Manhattan on the work and wrote a long review article on it.(And see my post about the important review by Gedaliah Haber about the significant changes between the Hebrew and English editions.) I hope to find a venue for a slow and intensive reading of the new third part. I have not yet had a chance to go through Bondi’s reconstruction in detail.
In main contours, the third part of the book, the one newly published by Bondi, deals with the daily life of living a life responsive to God. He deal with ethics, halakha, supererogatory acts, humra and kula, multiple opinions, intentional sin for a higher purpose, Kavod habriot (human dignity). In general, the question of how can we hear God’s voice today and submit to it. For Heschel, accepting only the halakhah is a non-normative position. Halakhah deals with matters that are quantifiable; aggadah speaks of matters of conscience and how to apply the halakhah in real life.
Heschel accepts the position of the Hatam Sofer, who taught that there is no certainty in halakhah, for “even a halakhic ruling that appears to us to be firm and correct may not be so according to ultimate truth”. For Hatam Sofer, the Torah is above any text; aggadic statements such as “no innovations in the Torah” (hadash asur min ha-torah) are valued over halakhic reasoning. Heschel uses this fluidity to prove the need to look toward the ultimately inaccessible divine Torah, wonder, fear of heaven, and conscience, rather than knowing Torah only by means of juridical decisions. As Bondi wrote in the interview: “Modern Jewish movements try to change Halakhah in order to adjust it to modern values, but Heschel asks a Hasidic question: how does it reflect the divine concern.”
Bondi did a wonderful job of providing indexes to Biblical, Rabbinic, and Kabbalistic Hasidic works used by Heschel making the volume even easier to use as a reference for Rabbinic thought. However, the volumes lacks indices to exegetical and halakhic works cited. Hence, there is no way find the pages that Heschel cites the Hatam Sofer, the Kli Yakar or even Rashi. This should not take away from the volume and it can easily be corrected for future editions. The kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero defined mazal as a spiritual conduit for the flow of divine beneficence. We need to thank Bondi who was able to channel the flow of divine beneficence and thereby changed the mazal and the reception of this major work from neglect to widespread distribution. He did a fine job.
- What is the story of the manuscript of the third part of Torah min Ha-Shamayim?
When I worked on my Ph.D. Dissertation, Heschel’s Hermeneutics, which includes a chapter about Torah min Ha-Shamayim (henceforth TMH), I felt that its third volume – published posthumously almost twenty years after Heschel’s death – is simply not reflective of him.
Indeed, the chief English translator of this work, Rabbi Gordon Tucker (together with Leonard Levin), already wrote in his introduction that he found problems in it and that he looked for the manuscript but could not find it. Thanks God, during the last eleven years I discovered many pieces of this manuscript proving that the third volume was incomplete and even misleading.
Here are the parts of the puzzle:
(1) My friend Bini Meir shared with me a treasure. He found in an Israeli archive a collection of Heschel’s letters to Abraham Meir Habermann (an Israeli friend which helped him to print volumes I-II in an Israeli printing house), in which he describes in detail his plan for the first half of volume III. I was shocked to read there that Heschel refers to a written Epilogue as well as to titles of chapters and semi-chapters which were never published. Two of these semi-chapters were published by Heschel himself as articles in HaDoar, but what happened to the rest?
(2) I discovered that during these twenty years the manuscript was being moved between several editors: Prof. David Weiss-Halivni received the original from Heschel’s wife, Sylvia who gave him all what she found, but she missed the Table of Contents and more. Halivni gave it to his student Rabbi David Feldman, who did not finish his work and brought it back to Sylvia; she asked Prof. Shamma Friedman to finish the work and gave him a copy of the original; Friedman gave it to Israel Hazani, who gave it to Prof. Adiel Schremer (who was then a MA student).
I called or wrote to all of them, asking if they know where the manuscript is, and why parts of the work were not published. All of them have nothing to tell me about the place of the manuscript (Schremer told me about the bad condition of the messy copy that he saw), except Rabbi Feldman who wrote to me: “I returned the manuscript to Dr. Heschel for publication, with the exception of perhaps one folder“!!!
Feldman didn’t reply to my further questions (i.e. what did he mean by the words “to Dr. Heschel”, while he gave it to Sylvia). After two months I sent an American friend to knock on his door, and I was shocked to discover that Feldman simply gave him a manuscript of 120 pages, much of it in Heschel’s own handwriting, which he kept at his home almost 40 years. These pages include more than two chapters about the issue of “Sin for the Sake of Heaven” (especially on intermarriage, and with a lot of radical Hasidic sources). We can only guess why Feldman did not give these sections back to Sylvia, but they were the most radical sections.
(3) However, these pages include only part of the chapters which were mentioned in the letters, thus I continued in my search. I found a copy of a copy of more than 500 pages at the home of Rabbi Tamar Kolberg (then, the reform Rabbi of Ra’anana), who was permitted to photocopy it (for her MA thesis) by Shamma Friedman, at the time he had it, at the end of the eighties. This part of the manuscript also includes some material (i.e. a third of a chapter) that were never published. It seems that the volume’s last editors missed it because of the bad condition of the copy they got.
Moreover, one of the errors was an addition to the volume of a marginal note by David Weiss Halivni about Heschel’s interpretation. The editors thought it were Heschel’s words, and made it part of the book. When I showed it to Halivni, he could not believe that such an editorial error could be made in modern times, since he is a scholar who researched such errors in the Talmud!
(4) In the Appendix of my dissertation I examined all these materials, but I understood there are still missing sections.
I continue my search and I discovered that Byron Sherwin published an English translation of a chapter, which supposed to be part of the third volume. I asked Sherwin about it and he replied: “Yes, you are correct that the essay… was originally written by Heschel to appear in volume III”. Sherwin wrote to me that it was to be “a ‘summary, synthesizing’ chapter of the three volumes… Heschel gave me a photostat of a file containing this essay. The file was in a file cabinet along with the mss. of vol III”. Sherwin added that when vol III was published, he did not understand why this chapter was absent. He always wondered what happened to the file and why this essay in Hebrew was never found. I did not understand why Sherwin wondered quietly without corresponding to the editors (or later to Gordon Tucker) to let them know that he had a missing chapter.
(5) Finally, when the Heschel Archive at Duke University was opened (thanks to Susannah Heschel’s support, I was privileged to be one of the first visitors there), I found there almost all the rest of the pieces. The most important piece is the original Table of Contents (very different from the Table of Contents of the previous edition), which gave me the confidence that I figured out the entire puzzle. I also found there drafts of an introduction for volume III, as well as other two chapters (which I cannot explain how they was missed by the previous editors).
Interesting enough is the fact that even though Rabbi Feldman brought back to Sylvia almost all the manuscript, and she gave Shamma Friedman only a copy, I found at Duke only half of the original. In other words, half of the new edition was fixed only due to the copy of the copy, which was found at Rabbi Tamar Kolberg’s home! But where is the rest of the original?
Unfortunately, in my research at Duke I also discovered that R. Feldman made changes in the parts of the original which he brought back to Sylvia, thus I can’t guarantee that I succeeded to recover all Heschel’s authentic intention (and, of course, Heschel himself died before he finished his work). I added to the new edition a record of all my decisions, thus the readers can judge by themselves.
2. What new material is there in Hebrew part III that never came out?
The main materials which never came out are (in their order in the book):
(1) Half of the last chapter of volume II, with the ironic name “Lost Books”, most of it was published by Heschel in HaDoar and the rest was found at Duke.
(2) A chapter about “Views about Prophecy in the Middle Ages” (I added these two materials as appendixes of volume II).
(3) I created from drafts a semi Introduction for volume III.
(4) The first chapter of volume III, “Discussions about belief” (only its first part was published by Heschel in HaDoar).
(5) A third of the chapter “A Sage is Greater than a Prophet” (its other parts were mixed in the previous edition, but not in the right order).
(6) More than two chapters about “Sin for the Sake of Heaven”.
(7) The “summery” chapter which was translated into English and published by Sherwin, but was excluded from the English translation of Tucker.
(8) Many small additions and corrections as well as a rearrangement of the general order, and the correct title for that volume, “Epilogue”.
3. What conclusion can we draw from this new Part III?
The main contribution comes from the very original order. In the mess of the previous edition, one simply could not understand what Heschel was trying to say. For example, Heschel’s scholars debate his preference for R. Akiva or R. Yishmael, the two sages which were presented by him in the first two volumes. Now it is clear that he calls for a polarity between these two perspectives, as well as between their understandings of the belief of Heavenly Torah.
Volume III intended to be Heschel’s Psak (Halakhic decision) about this issue for our time. He wanted to call upon us to accept the humanistic reading of the text of the Torah, namely the Biblical Criticism (in the way of R. Yishmael) together with the deep faith that the Torah is Divine Revelation (in the way of R. Akiva). Indeed, He already wrote about his concept of polarity in this belief in his other writings but not in such depth and detail.
Moreover, I believe that this polarity is also the secret of Heschel’s methodology in volumes I-II, which was criticized by the philological-historical Talmud scholars. For example, Prof. Urbach in the introduction to his book The Sages (1969), castigated TMH as not based on the philological-historical approach. Most of Heschel’s defenders (i.e. Gordon Tucker) explained that Heschel indeed has never intended to engage in historical research, but only in his own Midrash, in order to put his philosophy in the ancient sources. However, as I explained in my epilogue to the new edition, Heschel did intend to offer his own method to gain a deep understanding of the Sages.
4. How would you explain the method of Heschel?
To understand Heschel’s methodology in TMH, one has to see it in the wider context of his last decade. Most of Heschel’s works in that time were dedicated to interpretation – The Prophets (1962), TMH (1962-1965) of the sages and Kotzk and A Passion for Truth (which he submitted to publish in 1972) of Hasidic rabbis – instead of his own philosophy, Indeed, in the forties he has already published academic articles about Jewish figures, but his last decade’s works reflect an independent methodology, on which he wrote in all these works.
Heschel’s introduction to The Prophets focuses on the development of his methodology, from his dissertation (published as Die Prophetie in 1936) where he uses phenomenology, but when he came to translate it into English, he felt that he must develop a new way. Instead of using the phenomenological Epoché process of setting aside any judgement, he tries to combine it with an engaged response to the prophets.
Heschel’s Yiddish work, Kotzk, suffered from a very similar critique which was directed to TMH. The philological-historical scholars (i.e. Yaakov Levinger) claimed that Heschel’s work about the Kotzker is bad scholarship. However, Heschel explains there that he uses the unique Hasidic way of “standing before the author”, which was based upon the saying of R. Gidel (Yerushalmi Kidushin 19b:1): “one who teaches a statement in the name of its author should envision the author (Ba’al HaShmuah) as though the author is standing right there”, an inter-subjective response with the author.
Vol. III of TMH clarifies Heschel’s polarity between phenomenology and this Hasidic way of learning. Just like the polarity between R. Akiva and R. Yishmael so is the polarity between these two methods. The phenomenological is the critical pole, requiring sensitive listening to the text (like R. Yishmael), but one should combine it with the intersubjective pole, with attentiveness to the author (like R. Akiva).
5. Did you update the editions of the Rabbinic texts used?
No, I didn’t. Heschel’s interpretations based upon the sources he had, sometimes, apparently, which he quoted by memory with mistakes. I found at Duke a list of corrections (maybe of Heschel’s student?) for the first two volumes, and I corrected them in the new edition. However, I didn’t correct other mistakes, when I feel that it might harm Heschel’s interpretation.
6. Any insight into Heschel’s Hebrew?
In my previous work I choose to translate Heschel’s English into contemporary Hebrew, which is quite different from his own Rabbinic Hebrew, especially in TMH. I decided to do it in order to bring Heschel to the Israelis of today, as Heschel addressed to the English readers of his days.
During my translation work I was astonished to discover how the Modern Hebrew is a secular-national language which cannot adequately translate Heschel’s English. I.e. there is no good translation for Awe. The biblical term Yirah, which is good translation of Awe, means for the most of the Israelis today only fear. Here is all the tragedy of Zionism in one word. Another example: it is very difficult to translate the word “religious” for Israelis. In Israel the immediate meaning of this word is Orthodox, Halakhic person, while Heschel meant much deeper and universal meaning.
TMH is a work that Heschel choose to write in Rabbinic Hebrew, and the result is fascinating. His language echoes the language of his sources, in a very similar way in which his Yiddish work, Kotzk, echoes the language of the Kotzker.
7. Do you think that Heschel could be accepted in Israeli university departments of Jewish studies? Do you think that he could be accepted in yeshivot?
I deeply hope so. In the academy today, there is new openness, paradoxically due to the post-modern understanding which is breaking the hegemony of the philological-historical approach. If we can use Foucault in order to understand Jewish sources, why not Heschel?
Moreover, I believe that this method can have a unique contribution to the understanding of texts of revelation or of interpretation of revelation. This is a way in which one relates to the polarity of Revelation-Text, to its divine Author as well as its humanistic writer. And especially, this is the only way to read Heschel, if one wants to understand him in his own way.
Of course, we will continue to use all the other wonderful methods, ancient, modern and post-modern. However, if we don’t want to forget that we are dealing with texts of Revelation, at least as its authors experience them, we have to remember that all those methods are only the critical pole. Our deepest challenge remains to meet the living author, as the writers of these texts understood them.
In the Yeshivot there is still a commitment to the Litvak way of learning, which paradoxically reflects the Western way of thinking. Cheftza and Gavra, the famous terms of the Brisker method, are none but other names to the western dichotomy of Object and Subject. Heschel tries to renew the forgotten Hasidic way, the dialogical way of response to the author, which can be described by the two other terms – Duchra and Nukvah, the positive-active divine masculine and the negative-passive feminine of the Kabbalah (of course, we need adaptions to our new understandings of gender).
In some Israeli Hesder Yeshivot which have real openness to Hasidism, Heschel has already started to be part of the theological discussion. Now, I believe, with the new edition of TMH, he is going to get into their way of Talmud learning.
8. What did you learn about Heschel from this process?
I encountered him much more personally, especially in his loneliness. Indeed, I had already met him in his writings. I have never read someone who so deeply present in his words. But during this research I have encountered him in the depths of his own personal situation, as reflected in his letters and manuscripts, which shows his personal difficulties.
The manuscripts reveal that Heschel’s first intention was to publish a small book about the belief of heavenly Torah, but his manuscript was rejected by an Israeli publishing house (even though Buber recommended them to publish). Heschel even promised the publisher a follow-up book about the Besht (never published), but he was rejected.
However, due to this delay, Heschel discovered the whole dispute between R. Yishmael and R. Akiva, which was not part of the original book. Meanwhile, he found a British publishing house (Soncino Press) which agreed to print it by an Israeli printing house (Refael Chaim Cohen), but then Heschel discovered that they simply could not work together. He called Habermann for help, but his friend did not succeed. Paradoxically, all these problems let Heschel add more and more to the original book, until he decided to split it into two volumes, and then into three. I read Heschel’s words to Habermann – “Would you say that there is no end to author suffering?… I have no words and I have great sorrow” – Through these letters, I met Heschel more personally than ever.
When I went to Duke, I found there not only the missing pieces of the manuscript, but also personal materials which shed light about Heschel life. In fact, this archive demands an entirely new biography, as well as to publish a book of Heschel’s correspondences.
For me, it was shock to discover how deep was his Mesirut Nefesh – he simply gave his life in order to save the soul of Judaism, as well as for saving the Western world from its own racism etc. – but almost no one understood him.
9. How do you see the role of halakhah in Heschel’s thought?
Heschel’s understanding of halakhah is Hasidic, in the original sense of the term, as a devotional way of life. For him, there are two independent poles: Halakhah (Jewish law), and Aggadah, (Jewish thought and devotion), only the combination of these two poles creates the complete Torah. Moreover, above the Torah, stands God (who is not a Jewish man!). God’s relationship with human beings opens us to a dialogical co-existence with Him and between fellow humanity.
There is no identity between God and Halakhah, and that’s why there are situations of “sin for the sake of heaven” (i.e. intermarriage, in which we feel the contradiction between Halakhah, the Jewish law, to love, the divine presence). Litvaks think that Halakhah is the only way to God, but Heschel tell us that Agadah is the way of God to us! Of course, we need both of them, like body and soul, but when one realizes that there is no identity between God and Halakhah, one starts asking questions about the gaps between them: to what extent does Halakhah today still reflect God’s care for us and demand from us? Modern Jewish movements try to change Halakhah in order to adjust it to modern values, but Heschel asks a Hasidic question: how does it reflect the divine concern.
10. What are the problems of the English edition of Torah min Hashamayim?
The English translation of TMH is an unbelievable work, I simply cannot imagine how difficult a project it was. However, I must say, the English translators decided to omit many passages from their translation, maybe because they felt it was too long and too complicated. For example, they did not translate half of the introduction for volume II and they omitted a whole semi-chapter from the chapter about Deuteronomy. Moreover, they made changes in the order of the work. For example, they changed the place of chapter 30 of volume II (in their order).Gordon Tucker’s short introduction to every chapter are very helpful, but I made my own introductions for the new edition – and I hope that “these and these are the words of the living God”.
11. Why were you attracted to Heschel’s thought?
I grew up in Shavei Shomron, one of the first settlements, in a very ideological right wing family. The name of this settlement means Samaria Returnees, which echoes “Shavei Zion”, the Zion Returnees from Babylon after 538 BCE. Thus, I was guided by the vision that I am part of the greatest redemption; a vision that I am part of the group leading the Zionist movement to the renewal capital of the ten tribes, to greater Israel. We didn’t hate the Arabs; they simply were part of the landscape. The first Intifada was not easy for us, but the stones and the Molotov bottles only deepen our ideological commitment. Why was my sister’s friend murdered by stones? As a kid, the only reason that I found is that we are part of the greatest mission: the apex of the Zionist movement (which itself is the elite of the Jewish people, who are the pinnacle of humanity).
That’s why the peace process led by PM Rabin, was so hard for the young man I was. Rabin called us the peace enemies. He broke our messianic visions, as well as the illusion that we are the heralds of all Israelis. I was only eighteen when Rabin was assassinated, but I was not surprised; he was our Antichrist. But I was deeply shocked to understand that my land-centeric Judaism murdered my ethnocentric Zionism, that I have to choose between the two sides of my right-wing Torah: the Holy land and the Holy people – and my Holy Tablets were broken.
I had just started studying in a Hesder Yeshiva, but this background made my Yeshiva years a long journey for healing. In spite of all the deep Jewish learning I was privileged to receive it did not succeeded to fix my broken tablets. I even tried to learn a year with Rabbi Shagar, but his postmodernity only further tore my Jewish map into pieces; I did not experience his mystic solution.
Deeply desperate, I became an insurance salesman in our family business. Fortunately, it was too boring for me, thus I went to learn one day a week in the MA program in Jewish Philosophy at Bar-Ilan University. Prof. Ephraim Meir fascinated me with Buber and Levinas, and encouraged me to write a MA thesis about Heschel. I came to Heschel without expectations, after my first reading in the course he sounded to me much less sophisticated than other modern Jewish philosophers.
And then, suddenly, he made me feel my own radical amazement. For an instance, his perspective opened my mind, surprising me with another point of view about my Jewish map. I felt as if he tells me: “my friend, you know why you could not find your way though you deeply know the Jewish map? Because you look at it from the opposite direction! Your national and Orthodox perspectives are idolatrous; they made you look at the Holy Tablets as an idol, which had to be broke. Don’t look for fixing anymore; Get thee to an alternative perspective, unto a land that I will shew thee. I was attracted to Heschel because he showed me God’s Second Tablets.
12. Will Heschel be attractive to young Israeli Jews?
One of the main problems of Zionism, the revolution which states that Judaism is an ethnic phenomenon, is that it made Jewish thought an unnecessary part of the Jewish national culture. The new state of the ethnic Jews creates a lot of important novelists, which describe the Israeli experience, the Israeliyut, but there is no word in Israel for Jewishness (and the term Yiddishkeit here means the primitive costumes of diaspora Jews). There are very few Israeli Jewish thinkers, most of them comes from non-Israeli diaspora backgrounds.
Heschel’s project tries to suggest Judaism as a human alternative to the ethnocentrism. Zionism understands Judaism as another national culture (like Russian or German culture), and Orthodoxy understands Judaism as a particular religion (like Christianity or Islam), Heschel understands Judaism as a unique universal contribution to humanity. The Sabbath‘s subtitle is: Its Meaning for Modern Man (namely, Human Being); not for Modern Jew.
Heschel is attractive to young Israeli Jews who look for a change. More and more young Israelis, seculars as well as religious, suffer from the famous dichotomy of the Jewish vs. democratic state. Why does our Jewish identity have to contradict our democratic values? Many young Israelis come back from India with a spiritual thirst, but they feel that the Jewish sources, in their Israeli interpretation, demand them to pay with their democratic values. Heschel offers them an alternative.
For Heschel, Judaism is not an identity – an answer to the questions what is your ethnicity or your religion? Rather, it is a response to an intimate question of God. The creator of every human being in His image calls us and we respond to Him. God is not a Jewish concept, a part of the Jewish identity, and Judaism is not only an effort for a surviving of a nation or a culture. First and foremost it is a dialogical respond to the universal God, a self-transcendence of a nation, dedicated to Tikkun Olam. For Heschel, this relationship is not an exclusive to Jews, but a model for all humanity and all nations of how to understand their identity as a response to God.
13. Why is it important that Heschel chose time over space?
For Heschel, one of the deepest contributions of Judaism is its unique understanding of time. He claims that in our western civilization we tend to appreciate time only when we move in space or earn space. The Sabbath is the deep alternative: though there is no moving and there is no money, we experience the holiness of Time. Heschel explains that the secret of the Sabbath is the intersubjective moment between God’s revelation and one’s response. Such a moment is a sacred time, without dependence on space. When you respond to God’s concern, you open your mind to His perspective: instead of being a subject who objectifies all around you as a mere space, you experience a sacred time with all the creatures and a sacred solidarity with all the people.
Heschel saw the failure of the western objectification in the racism in Europe and America. Moreover, he was afraid that if the Jews will establish another European national state, it might be another state of objectified space rather than a universal contribution of dialogical Time. In this sense, his Sabbath, published in 1951, is a Jewish alternative to the western Zionism.
However, since 1957, and especially after 1967, Heschel started thinking about an alternative Spiritual-Zionism. In his book Israel: An Echo of Eternity (1969) he developed a dialogical understanding of space. A place in which dialogical moments of time are not alien. The place in which our parents fell in love is deeply meaningful for us. If one comes to such a place with open heart, the place becomes a dwelling place for time (the love of our parents inspires us there). Then, instead of objectification of this place, one will hope to make it a place of love, of equality and peace. Heschel called Israel to remember that the Holy Land is not a place to be objectified. Open your hearts to the moments between God and Isaiah or Jeremiah, and to the true meaning of the temple. Then you will experience the land as a demand for a state of encounter with the divine, and for solidarity between human beings.