Abraham Joshua Heschel, the renowned theologian of 20th-century Conservative Judaism, is best known for the writings he produced after his arrival in the U.S. in March 1940. Thanks to a new volume, a selection of his work from his final years in Europe, spent mostly in Germany, is now accessible in English. Reviewing the book, titled In This Hour, Michael Marmur writes:
In This Hour does not, of course, include all of Heschel’s output from his German years. . . . It is a slight volume, and, as is often the case with Heschel, one must occasionally read between the lines, but it still packs a punch.
Much of Heschel’s musing on the interplay between the present day and the past is written in coded language. Against the backdrop of Nazi rule, Heschel writes “between the lines.” Take, for example, his eight biographical essays about the early rabbis who also had to cope with tyrannical overlords. . . . It has always been difficult to recognize divine providence in the maze of events, but, Heschel tells us, intellectual moderation and uncompromising morality can at least help to distill the call of the timeless from the rush of actuality.
In the last of the rabbinic portraits, Heschel offers a description of [the talmudic sage] Rabbi Ḥiyya, in some ways an outlier compared to the other figures profiled. It is hard not to see the link between ancient struggles and contemporary anxieties in [his description of a time when the Jews] “had lost their land, their leaders had been killed, and all security was taken from them. Most of them were refugees, emigrants, and martyrs.”
Heschel’s readers may have found solace in the notion of a rebuilding of Jewish life after destruction, or they may have noted Ḥiyya’s strategy of immigration to the Land of Israel as a source of hope. Certainly, these essays represent an act of consolation through history, contemporary comment through deflection, and an affirmation of the Jewish propensity for recovery.
Read more on Jewish Review of Books: https://jewishreviewofbooks.com/articles/5560/in-and-out-of-time/