In this first one-volume English-language full biography of Abraham Joshua Heschel, Edward K. Kaplan tells the engrossing, behind-the-scenes story of the life, philosophy, struggles, yearnings, writings, and activism of one of the twentieth century's most outstanding Jewish thinkers.
Kaplan takes readers on a soulful journey through the rollercoaster challenges and successes of Heschel's emotional life. As a child he was enveloped in a Hasidic community of Warsaw, then he went on to explore secular Jewish Vilna and cosmopolitan Berlin. He improvised solutions to procure his doctorate in Nazi-dominated Berlin, escaped the Nazis, and secured a rare visa to the United States. He articulated strikingly original interpretations of Jewish ideas. His relationships spanned not only the Jewish denominational spectrum but also Catholic and Protestant faith communities. A militant voice for nonviolent social action, he marched with Martin Luther King Jr. (who became a close friend), expressed strong opposition to the Vietnam War (while the FBI compiled a file on him), and helped reverse long-standing antisemitic Catholic Church doctrine on Jews (participating in a secret meeting with Pope Paul VI during Vatican II).
From such prodigiously documented stories Heschel himself emerges--mind, heart, and soul. Kaplan elucidates how Heschel remained forever torn between faith and anguish; between love of God and abhorrence of human apathy, moral weakness, and deliberate evil; between the compassion of the Baal Shem Tov of Medzibozh and the Kotzker rebbe's cruel demands for truth. "My heart," Heschel acknowledged, is "in Medzibozh, my mind in Kotzk."