December 6, 2012
Arnold Eisen —
The Spiritual Audacity of Abraham Joshua Heschel

Rabbi Heschel marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr., famously reporting that he felt like his legs were praying. Heschel practiced what he called “radical amazement” in his work with religious others. “The opposite of good is not evil,” he said, “it is indifference.”

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is the chancellor of Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

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As we focus increasingly on ourselves, who do we leave behind, abandon? Abraham Joshua Heschel's prescient words on aging and vanity from his essay "To Grow in Wisdom."

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Rabbi Heschel speaks at an event protesting the Vietnam War on March 10, 1969. The group Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam (CALCAV) convened at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, a Christian institution across the street from Jewish Theological Seminary where Heschel taught.

Photo by John Goodwin

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Heschel is a person who I was unfamiliar with prior to this program.. Listening to his words and philosopy was inspirational. I want to learn more. So many great minds that we don't know about, who can help us understand what is truely important and meaningful in life. Thank you for the program and web information.

My sentiments exactly. This show has pointed me to more education and understanding than I could have imagined.


In a series of speeches at Stanford University called "Who is Man" Heschel stated that a Man can say "I am commanded therefore I am." At one point in my life, this question of commandedness became critical to me and I explored its meaning, and frankly, have never stopped exploring it. After stumbling across that small book, I read all of Heschel that there was in English and worked at Torah Mi Sinai" in its Hebrew. Heschel's thoughts and actions have been and continue to be influential in my life and work as a Jewish educator, and as a human being in this world. He was one major chapter of my dissertation on educating for religious experience; he is my model in my own interreligious work, and he is a source of inspiration as I struggle to make my life and my corner of the world one in which wonder and amazement never gives in to despair.

Thank you for the program with Arnold Eisen, it woke me up today in a very special and important way.

The story on Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a wonderful reminder of what this extraordinary man did in the world. While his work with his clergy brother Dr. Martin Luther King is fairly well known, he and his other good works cannot be spoken of enough. I was happy to learn even more. I have no one moment of inspiration to attach to Rabbi Heschel, rather I see him as an evergreen beacon of moral authority,courage,humanity,and faith. He was that rare voice that is both fierce and loving,challenging and caring and speaks across religions and beliefs -- and does so through the rich traditions of Judaism. Current religious and world leaders -- and all of us -- still have much to learn from this great man.

Sunday Ø6DEC2ØØ9 Ø815CST Dear SOF, I once subscibed to SOF Podcasts and downloaded all the shows of Krista's that were meaningful to me. I shut it down until today as it was downloading all her podcasts and taking up too much space on my hard drive. I listen every Sunday as a home bound handicapped Franciscan Associate to every one of SOF programs. They are all very outstanding, but, todays program about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel blew my mind away! How can I restart my Podcasts again to get this fantastic podcast of Krista's show today? I tried by going to Advanced>Subscribe to Podcast>>OK, but it did not work? Thanks for being All That Matters in my Radio Life! Karl W Kochman, N9iBN 3157 South First Street Springfield, IL USA 62703 217-753-4157 +39º45'26"N -89º39'19"W

On the show today, Krista spoke about a discussion guide resource. I would love to purchase one or download it. I looooooved the show today and want to share the teaching of Rabbi Heschel with my congregation.

I was listening to "Speaking of Faith: Rabbi Heschel" and one thing that caught my attention was "Some are guilty but all are responsible." I think many, many of us are guilty. I have been opposed to the production of nuclear weapons, land mines, cluster bombs, military intervention into Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. but I always felt such a contradiction because my tax dollars paid for these weapons to be built. My tax dollars pay for our young to go to war. Though I did not build the weapons and I did not draft or send soldiers to foreign wars, I paid for it. I have marched and stood at vigils and periodically have gone to jail, but then I hand over the money. In fact, my life's work has been to confront poverty and try to alleviate the pain of hunger and yet participate in so many ways to keep Capitalism alive and well. It makes one feel split.

Barbara R. Mishler

My radio alarm clock goes off at 5 a.m. With eyes not open yet I sluggishly reach over with my right hand; my fingers groping to find the particular shape and feel of the snooze button to gain another nine minutes of this precious commodity called sleep. Ah, there I have found the button and am rewarded with a modicum of half asleep, half awake slumber that is mediocre at best. As I drift away from the shore of consciousness into a quasi ocean realm of bliss and restfulness, I am no sooner rudely awakened again by my radio alarm clock invading my disorderly jumble of scatterbrain thoughts, leaving vestiges of a mixed media radio program that will soon drown in a sea of forgetfulness. Nine minutes goes by fast, and I will reapeat this cycle over and over again several times until the monotonous repetition of snooze button scenarios transform themselves from a sought after pleasure release into an undesired, unwanted regimen of what seems like an undeserved relentless cycle of discipline and punishment. I can't take it anymore as my virtual snooze button movie comes to a grinding halt and I let my radio alarm clock play on, and on.
It is 6 a.m., Sunday morning now. My eyes are more open than closed and my focus of attention is attuned to the radio program I am half listening to on my radio alarm clock. I think I will get up and get ready to go to early morning worship service at Calvary Chapel. On second thought it is cold outside and there is probably 2 inches or more of wet snow on the ground as I reflect on my foreknowledge of the night befores' live WeatherBug alert that flashed on my computer screen. I remain motionless in bed and again attune my attention to the radio program. I am almost fully awake now and I hear the voice of one whom I have never heard before. As the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel penetrate my brain and thoughts in a most compassionate and profoundly spirtually sacred way, I am moved to shedding soft tears filled with my own frailties, inadequacies, and sinfulness. I am 55 years of age now. What have I learned in life about myself, about others, about the world around me, about my own Christian spirituality, about GOD. I am a gentile who should have been born Jewish. My own paradoxical dichotomy is that I believe in the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, Yeshua Hamaschiach. I choose to beleve in Him and cannot give that up. This mornings' worship service for me will be right here in bed as I listen to the radio program, Speaking of Faith in its entirety. As I reflect on what this program means to me, I will have a rare moment of serendipity and realize that no one can put GOD in a box. The moment you do, you not only shortcircuit the very power and presence of GOD out of your life but you also come to a rude awakening that your journey on the spiritual path to discovering and experincing GOD on any level has or will come to a crashing halt and whatever faith you have may become shipwrecked. The end result will be that you will not only shortchange yourself but no one will want to learn or listen to anything you have to share with them about yourself, about others, about the world around you, about your own Christian spirituality but most importantly, about GOD. I will find in Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel a most trusted confidant, friend, and spiritual teacher who's words and wisdom will not only help humble me in a most contrite way in my own practices of prayer and acts of repentance but will also help me transcend my own spiritual learning experience as I come to truly open my heart and mind to continually discovering who GOD is not only from a reading of the sacred scriptures but also from my own existence as a human being by the creative hand of GOD.
Perhaps that book I spied on the bookshelf at work written by a Jew born in Poland back in 1907 is indeed a work written by the profound Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Can it be? A book that someone has thrown aside but one which sorely needs to be read. I humbly believe that I am that person who's hands must lay hold of that book tonite when I journey into work. As I finally get out of bed, I am not saddened that I missed worship service this morning because if I had gotten up and shut off my radio alarm clock, I may have never discovered Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and would have been at a great loss because of my actions but now am the more humbler and and spiritually richer because I discovered him. I am at a loss for words to go on.
I humbly submit my reflection on this mornings' radio program.
I am, BoBByCharles AppleBy

Dear Krista, Listening yesterday to the quotes of Rabbi Heschel brought to mind an ongoing discussion that I have with my son Eric, who teaches Human Rights Law at the University of London. I agree with Heschel's comment..."words have meaning, the holocaust did not start with the bulding of crematoriums". Therefore, I have always felt that "words of hate" should be treated as a crime, because these words may well lead to an actual crime. My son disagrees. His argument is that an actual crime of violence must be commited before the law can act. He thinks it is important to hear hate speech, rather than suppress it. This way, one can be aware of the source and track it. Is there an answer here? D. Heinze

I sure enjoyed the discussion between Krista and Arnold Eisen! I found a missing link for people like me who admire Christopher Hitchens' and Sir Richard Dawkins' critique of mindless obedient belief in unbelievable rigid dogma but who also feel there's something spiritual in the world that needs to be acknowledged. Heschel's placing action, good action, righteous action, like that of Dr. Martin Luther King, as required even when certainty about the supernatural is absent, for me places religion where it belongs. Religion can't do what it said it could for millenia - explain the universe or heal the sick - which science can do - but it can teach human beings how to get along with one another, how to treat one another better. It seems that Heschel's work opens that door to those of us who can't take the dogma but want something.

I really enjoyed the SOF broadcast on Abraham Joshua Herschel. I really learned a lot of his life and legacy as a Jewish Rabbi and a philosopher. He seemed to have devoted his life to speaking out against the suffering of people weather it was race, war or any other kind of human suffering.

I was intrigued by several of his famous quotes, including “The cure for the sole begins at embarrassment”, “Some are guilty but all are responsible”, and “Words create worlds”. These quotes were all but inspiring to me and they all made perfect sense to me, as soon as I hurd them.

Before listening to this interview I had never herd of Abraham Herschel. I am glad to have finally learned of his philosophy and insights of God. I also thought how he joined forces with other religious groups including Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope Paul the second was a very inspiring. I think it was great that he could break down the barriers of religion and find common ground, so that they could all work towards achieving goals like, ending war and the civil rights movement.

I think we are better off because of his works and teachings.
Thanks for putting on his story

I have to be honest… before listening to this program I had never heard of Abraham Joshua Heschel. From listening to your broadcast I discovered how important and thought provoking Heschel’s teachings were personally and historically. I am wondering why Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings and story was so adamant throughout all of my schooling but his colleague and friend, Heschel, is discussed as a historical/religious figure much less. Many of the quotes and points from Heschel, quoted by Arnold Eisen, were extremely relevant to my own life and I am certain the lives of others. "Some people are guilty but all are responsible," is a great mantra to live with. There is always going to be something more you can do to help the world. I was also quite fond of the piece concerning the irrelevancy of age in matters of opinions and having something to say. Being an adequately young person myself (20) I found profound meaning in Heschel's statement. Great broadcast and I can't wait to learn more from each segment!

Thank you for sharing the thoughts and ideas of Rabbi Heschel. I recall hearing his name mentioned when I was a college student as a great religious and philosphical thinker of the 20th Century. A few years ago I received a prayer card when I went on a retreat. It gave a quote from Rabbi Heschel that continues to speak to me. The quote says "All things have a home: the bee has a hive, the bird a nest. For the soul, the home is where prayer is, and a soul without prayer is a soul without a home.
Continuity, permanence, intimacy, authenticity and earnestness are its attributes.
I enter this home as a supplicant and emerge as a witness, I enter as a stranger and emerge as next of kin. I may enter spiritually shapeless inwardly disfigured and emerge wholly changed."
I look forward to listening to the program again and exploring the other resources available on the show website to explore the thought and ideas of this fascinating figure.

First of all I would like to thank Krista and the SOF team for sharing Joshua Abraham Heschel life with me on the program that aired December 3rd. I was so moved by the story of his life. In only 53 minutes, the duration on your program, you were able to convey that this was a man that had a personal relationship with God. His relationship was not limited by the confines of "religon," which was so refreshing to hear from a conservative Rabbi from Poland. I was really shocked to witness how moved I was while listening about his life and his life's work. I felt a true sadness that he is gone and wished that I could have know him personally. It was so interesting to me that he understood his purpose in life by reading about the prophets in the bible/Torah. He learned what we should all learn; we are somehow like a relection of God. We all share an individual responsibility to design our lives to be truly meaningful. Heshel was courageous to step up and truly live his life as a God centered person and to work with others to eliminate pain and suffering. Imagine if we could all have this same courage and connect with our spiritual essence, we could design really beauitful lives. Thank you again for such menaingful pregramming. Bobbi de Winter



On the prophets quote, "Some are guilty all are responsible..." (or something along that line) brought out some old struggles that are still with me...

When we place on the mythical others all of our guilt
we have a shaky floor upon which our morals are built
Responsibility is shared, said an old modern day prophet,
by all of the national and local community lest we forget

Forty-three years and a day ago I waked in a combat zone
with hundreds of others to strive for 364 more of our days
Without much identity formed, of a sudden we were grown
and quickly many forgot how to be joyful and how to play

We and we alone were responsible, us crazy Vietnam vets,
we didn’t need protection by NRA, Uncle Sam issued us a gun
Who is responsible for all that death and for us coming undone?
God has stepped up and holds us in a holy hand without any regret

It's at the point where pluralism and hate interface that we'll find the true nature of Heschel's beliefs. Was he, at his core, a Jewish heretic, or was there something more authentically Jewish?

In her interview Krista highlighted Heschel's pluralism. What I'd like to hear is how Heschel dealt with the haters, specifically those who rejected the right for the State of Israel to exist, and who worked feverishly to exterminate it and all its Jewish citizens.

Eisen notes that at the Passover seder Jews open their doors to invite the world in. What he left out is that at the very same time Jews ask God to totally wipe out the haters.

Eisen's Conservative movement has strongly moved away from a Judaism based on a God-given Torah towards the Reform's world that's devoid of God's law. What would Heschel have thought about that?

I heard a show on Rabbi Heschel maybe two or three years ago and I was so inspired, and now once again ... thank you

I rarely get to listen to "on Being," but happen to catch this week's radio show on Heschel twice. I believe in free will and all that good stuff, yet I also believe that things happen for a reason and that every moment in our lives has a purpose. This is not more true in my coming to know and my relationship with The Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, D.Min.Bishop of Washington, who was formerly the rector at St. John's Episcopal Church in Minneapolis. I found many parallels between Heschel's philosophy and commitments and those of Mariann Budde, Mariann will talk about her own humanity, her doubts, etc. Mariann is a champion of social justice, not only in her talk, but in her walk as well. Mariann has spoken about our collective responsibility as a community. I don't want to mischaracterize or misquote Mariann, so if you like Heschel, and have the chance to hear Mariann in public or read her writings, I encourage you to do so.

Abraham Heschel was a truly great man; his feet always on the ground and his gaze firmly set on the stars.

Many thanks for the great audio program!

Arnold Eisen and Krista Tippett do a great job in portraying the teachings of Abraham Joshua Heschel in this podcast, and I find the words of Heschel quite compelling to say the least. Being I am a young adult in the current generation, I admire what Heschel said about the youth, and the part that we play in this world. He says that we do make a difference, and at times we are confronted with many forms of restriction from authority. I feel like the current generation has some sort of responsibility; an obligation to change the status quo. We have been blessed with the privilege to access internet to spread our word, and to gain a following with our ideas, and our insight, so I believe it is our duty to make something happen, whether it be big or small.

Heschel was right, we do have many restrictions, and previous generations have felt the need to stay inside the lines, and not to stray too far away from the 'norm,' but I see us kids taking a different route than what was once handed to us. I see this generation taking the power from the top, and moving the power in the hands of those who desire it, the ones who deserve it. Not the ones who can purchase it. Heschel could see how other people had the same dedication to their spirituality as himself, and we can too do the same with any aspect in life. We just need to understand that the only way to come together is to be open with one another, and then we can finally work all as a team, and once a team has been put together we can succeed with whatever human affair we find necessary to speak about. And that is what I feel Heschel meant by his quote "Treat your life like a work of art." Art takes time, it is a process filled with different parts, different colors, and different techniques. In the end we do not see the process, only the artwork itself. Therefore, it is not where you are, but more so where we will end up.

Not one moment since Gods call on my life have i been able to articulate what happened. i try and it never does justice, my words jumbled and meaningless in comparison. i left my career without fully being to explain why. We started a nonprofit based more on heart and hard work than an ultra-articulate mission statement....yet its been a success...somehow people "get it."

Now, with Heschel, i realize God may purposely make some experiences ineffable. And thats ok.

This presentation warmed my heart and soul today, just prior to Passover 2013. Thank you so much for the wonderful montage of the past, and indeed the future. The spirit of Abraham Joshua Heschel looms large in our individual growth and that of our temples and synagogues today, and his example can and should inspire us all in our world today, since it has deteriorated in so many ways. Makes me wonder what Heschel would be saying if he were still writing and speaking now. Personally, it's as though I feel a sense of personal responsibility and even pressure to speak up as my tikkun olam. This presentation really inspired me.

I am moved by the teachings and the life of Abraham Joshua Heschel. I would love to be his student even though he is nolonger with us. I love this show it is good for the soul
Stay blessed. I would love to learn more about Heschel's philosophy and teaching

As I started listening to Heschel's words, I am reminded so much of Buber, and my own belief in compassionate communication that can make worlds and change people's lives. I love the way he invents words that have affect and inspire people to be radically amazed at how things are and can be ..... great creative resource for all humanity.

I'm looking to replace a book by Rabbi Heschel that I haven't been able to find through Internet sources. It's a commentary on the Psalms. It was used for a course on the Psalms at a local Catholic church. I would appreciate any lead so I can get it again. It was a small paperback. Thanks in advance.