Books by Samuel H. Dresner

Released: June 1, 1998

The first part of a two-volume, comprehensive biography of one of the leading Jewish theologians of this century. This volume covers the influential Eastern European thinker's formative years until his arrival in the US. From the subtitle onward Kaplan (French and Comparative Literature/Brandeis Univ.) and Dresner (retired professor of philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary) are irritatingly fond of calling Abraham Joshua Heschel (d.1972) a "prophet." Furthermore, they reduce Heschel's own traditional religious observance to liberation theology and politics. Rabbi Heschel did march with Martin Luther King in Selma and actively opposed the Vietnam War, but if anything, this biography documents in its most compelling chapters the traditionalist Heschel's battle with the secularized Jewish Enlightenment's major ideas and scholars. It was this conflict that made him write, after his emigration from Europe at age 33, such classics of Jewish thought as Man Is Not Alone, God in Search of Man, and The Sabbath. Most significantly, Heschel opposed his mentor, Martin Buber—though he did so with characteristic humility and charm. Against the grain of the Kantian atheists who dominated intellectual discussion at the University of Berlin (where he just managed his doctorate under a Nazi rector), Heschel's main concern was not secularism as much as reductionism, the tendency to explain away religious phenomena (such as prophetic inspiration) in human or scientific terms. Heschel insisted that "divine revelation validated Jewish law" and his "life's mission [was] to maintain a Jewish way of thinking." In an otherwise dry and academic book, the described clashes between this descendant of Hasidic masters and secular humanists like Berlin's David Koigen liven things up. Despite its flaws, this is the first half of a solid biography of one the most important defenders of faith and ethics in modern theology. (34 b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >