// you’re reading...


Abraham Joshua Heschel quotes

(From Wikipedia: watch this website for my review of his daughter’s book about her father).
  • “Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum hatred for a minimum reason.”
  • “All it takes is one person… and another… and another… and another… to start a movement”
  • “Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge.”
  • “A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.”
  • ” God is either of no importance, or of supreme importance.”
  • “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”
  • “Self-respect is the fruit of discipline, the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.”
  • “Life without commitment is not worth living.”
  • “Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”[6]
  • “Remember that there is a meaning beyond absurdity. Be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power. Never forget that you can still do your share to redeem the world in spite of all absurdities and frustrations and disappointments.”
  • “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”
  • “Awareness of symbolic meaning is awareness of a specific idea; kavanah is awareness of an ineffable situation.
  • “A Jew is asked to take a leap of action rather than a leap of thought.”
  • “Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed.”
  • “The Almighty has not created the universe that we may have opportunities to satisfy our greed, envy and ambition.”
  • “The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.”
  • “The course of life is unpredictable… no one can write his autobiography in advance.”
  • “When I marched in Selma, my legs were praying.”
And here are the quotes I selected from Susannah Heschel’s ‘Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings’ (Orbis 2011):
Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a glorious review of [my father’s book] Man is Not Alone, for the New York Herald Tribune…The Sunday it appeared the phone didn’t ring all day… One example of the jealousy and mean-spiritedness of academic life.

Susannah Heschel in Abraham Joshua Heschel, Essential Writings, 2011, 28.

We do not pray in order to be saved; we pray so that we might be worthy of being saved.Prayer should not focus on our wishes, but rather is a moment in which God’s intentions are reflected in us.

~ Heschel 38

We think we are in search of an elusive God, not realizing that it is God who is in search of us…There is in us more kinship with the divine than we are able to believe. The souls of men and women are candles of the Lord.

~ Heschel 44

I shudder at the thought of a society ruled by people who are absolutely certain of their wisdom, by people to whom everything in the world is crystal-clear, whose minds know no mystery, no uncertainty…Wonder rather than doubt is the root of knowledge.

~ Heschel 56,58

What is an idol?Any god who is mine but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you, is an idol.

Faith in God is not simply an afterlife-insurance policy. Racial or religious bigotry must be recognized for what it is: satanism, blasphemy.

~ Heschel 66

The Bible insists that the interests of the poor have precedence over the interests of the rich. The prophets have a bias in favor of the poor…~ Heschel 71

Our people were consumed by fire. And the world is unchanged. The ash of human skeletons emits no odor. The atmosphere of the world is not contaminated. Our bread is fresh; our sugar is sweet. The screams of millions of victims of the crematoria were never transmitted over the radio waves…Perhaps our souls went up in flames along with their bodies in Majdanek and Auschwitz.

~ Heschel 79.

The knowledge of evil is something which the first man acquired; it was not something that the prophets had to discover. Their great contribution to humanity was the discovery of the evil of indifference. One may be decent and sinister, pious and sinful.I am my brother’s keeper.

One of the meanings of the anger of God: the end of indifference!

~ Heschel 86

The question of theodicy: How can we justify a good God in the face of so much evil?But the central question [is] anthropodicy: How could human beings commit mass murder? How can God continue to have faith in our humanity, given the wickedness we commit?

~ Heschel 88

Prayer is a moment when humility is a reality. Humility is not a virtue. Humility is truth. Everything else is illusion.~ Heschel 97

Inherent to all traditional religion is the peril of stagnation. What becomes settled and established may easily turn foul. Insight is replaced by cliches, elasticity by obstinacy, spontaneity by habit.Acts of dissent prove to be acts of renewal. It is of vital importance for religious people to voice and to appreciate dissent… [which] implies self-examination, critique, discontent.

~Heschel 106

It is with shame and anguish that I recall that it was possible for a Roman Catholic church adjoining the extermination camp in Auschwitz to offer communion to the officers of the camp, to people who day after day drove thousands of people to be killed in the gas chambers.~ Heschel 145

Following a service, I overheard an elderly lady’s comment to her friend, ‘This was a charming service!’ I felt like crying. Is this what prayer means to us? God is grave; not charming: ‘Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling’ (Psalm 2:11).Prayer is joy and fear, trust and trembling together

~Heschel 159-160

We preach in order to pray, to inspire others to pray. The test of a true sermon is that it can be converted to prayer…Unfortunately some rabbis/[ministers] conduct services as if they were adult-education programs… Too often explanation kills inspiration.

~ Heschel 168

Tensions between loving compassion and radical demands for truth mark the inner lives of many religious people, who find it difficult at times to keep the two in balance. There is heaven on earth, [and also] hell in the alleged heavenly places in our world…God is both Judge and Father… but mercy rather than justice is the outstanding attribute of God.

~ Heschel, pp. 170-174

A moderately clean heart is like a moderately foul egg. Lukewarm Judaism would be effective in purging our character as a lukewarm furnace in melting steel.~Heschel, p. 176

The problem to my philosophy professors [at the University of Berlin] was how to be good. In my ears the question rang: how to be holy. There is much that philosophy can learn from Jewish life…To Judaism the idea of the good is penultimate. It cannot exist without the holy. The good is the base, the holy is the summit.

~ Heschel, p. 180

The biblical words about the genesis of heaven and earth are not words of information but words of appreciation. The story of creation is not a description of how the world came into being but a song about the glory of the world’s having come into being.
~ Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (Essential Writings, 2011, 155).


Comments are disallowed for this post.

Comments are closed.