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«by MICHAEL ARTHUR CHESTER A thesis submitted to The University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY Department of Theology School of ...»

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A thesis submitted to

The University of Birmingham

for the degree of


Department of Theology School of Historical Studies The University of Birmingham March 2000 University of Birmingham Research Archive e-theses repository This unpublished thesis/dissertation is copyright of the author and/or third parties. The intellectual property rights of the author or third parties in respect of this work are as defined by The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 or as modified by any successor legislation.

Any use made of information contained in this thesis/dissertation must be in accordance with that legislation and must be properly acknowledged. Further distribution or reproduction in any format is prohibited without the permission of the copyright holder.


Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), a refugee scholar from Hitler's Europe, became a significant Jewish theologian and a famous social activist in the United States of America.

The thesis begins with a brief biography, which puts his work into context, personally, culturally, and historically. There follows an examination of the style and method of presentation ofHeschel's thought, asking why it is that some commentators reject him as a serious thinker. He is then located within the tradition and discipline of theology, with an examination of what he calls "depth-theology". Part II begins with an examination of Heschel's major contribution to modem theology-"the divine pathos"-and its place in the impassibility/passibility controversy. Its influence on other (Christian) theologians is demonstrated, together with a response to major criticism (from Eliezer Berkovits).

Heschel's theological anthropology is then shown to be entirely dependent upon the concept of the divine pathos, and to have lasting value. Finally, the thesis explores Heschel's commitment to interfaith dialogue (specifically with Christians) made possible by the universal applicability of his insights into the nature of God, humankind, and the relationship between them.

My grateful thanks to:

Isabel Wollaston.

Her supervision, criticism and suggestions, and her knowledge of the secondary and general literature have been invaluable.

Those who generously gave some of their time

to talk with me about Abraham Joshua Heschel:

David Blumenthal of Emory University, Atlanta (whilst he was on sabbatical leave in Oxford) Norman Solomon (Oxford) Albert Friedlander (Leo Baeck College, London)

–  –  –

the members of the Bath Methodist Circuit who gave me the "space" and enabled, encouraged, or at the very least tolerated the enterprise;

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I graduated in 1971, with a BA in "Special Theology" (Theology, Philosophy and Studies of Religion) from the University of Bristol. I was twenty-five years old. I had entered the Department of Theology from a scientific career, having left school at the age of seventeen, with a set of modest A-level results in the pure and applied sciences, to work in industry and local government as a control chemist. Alongside my Bristol studies, I trained for the Methodist Ministry at Wesley College. All I knew about Judaism before I entered university and theological college I had learned in Sunday School and church. Three years of higher education left me none the wiser-though I knew more than I needed to know about the Baganda of East Central Africa! My awareness of "The Jews" was gleaned from Biblical studies, and I knew nothing of their two thousand years of history in the Common Era. I knew and used the expression "Judeo-Christian tradition", but for me the "Judeo-" bit was definitely "BC". In my first quarter-century, mostly spent on the outskirts of London, I had never been aware of a single Jewish person, let alone a practising Jewish congregation.

On graduation, with the support of the principal of Wesley College, I was fortunate enough to be awarded a World Council of Churches Scholarship, and my wife of a year and I set off for a remarkably good year in a most unlikely place. We had never before left the

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Prairies, and I became a graduate student at St. Andrew's College, a (formerly Presbyterian) theological college of the United Church of Canada, on the campus of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. We grew up a good deal in that year, and my horizons, like those of the prairies themselves, rapidly became wider and clearer-a process already begun at Bristol. I am grateful to those who encouraged me during the year, both fellow students and members of the faculty, and especially to Professor Douglas John Hall, who seemed ever willing to lay on additional exciting courses to enable me to meet the requirements of the Graduate School of Theology for admission to the degree of Master of Sacred Theology (STM). The requirements presumed an American-style higher education-a liberal arts degree followed by specialisation in terms of a Bachelor of Divinity degree-before admission to the STM course. My arts degree in theology was a puzzle to the faculty, but, after correspondence with Professor Kenneth Grayston in Bristol, I was finally admitted on condition that I took two additional classes in the two year course (one year residence, assessment by examination and dissertation).

It was through Professor Hall that I became familiar with the place-name "Auschwitz". In Holy Week 1972 he read to the college community at worship the story from Elie Wiesel's Night of the little Jewish servant with "the face of a sad angel" hanged at Auschwitz, dying slowly between the two adult prisoners executed at the same time.! The insistent question, "Where is God? Where is He?" is answered, "Where is He? Here He is. He is hanging here on this gallows... "

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So I was introduced to Wiesel's writings. I vividly remember sitting up all one night to read Night from cover to cover, not being able to put it down, and being deeply affected.

Hall also introduced me to the work of Abraham Joshua Heschel, through the medium of

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Heschel's books, being based entirely on a set of lectures. I was instantly hooked! At first it was his poetic language that captivated me. Then I found I wanted to say "yes" to his theological assertions time after time. This surprised me: I did not know why a Christian theologian would find Jewish theology so much to his liking and so helpful to the development of his own theology. I later learned that my response to Heschel is not uncommon.

As my academic year in Canada drew to a close, graduation day arrived at St. Andrew's College, and a deliberate gesture was made that came to the notice of the whole nation through coast-to-coast media attention. There had been alarm amongst some members of the United Church of Canada that an independent journal, perceived to be the voice of the Church, was reprinting anti-Semitic articles from white-supremacist pUblications in the United States. Protests to the Church hierarchy merely elicited an affirmation of the independence of the journal and a commitment to editorial freedom. St. Andrew's College responded to this inaction by awarding an Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree to Rabbi Emil L. Fackenheim, then Professor of Philosophy at Toronto. The connection was a

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At the convocation in Knox United Church, Saskatoon, the local Rabbi, Saul Diamond, read from the prophesies of Isaiah. He read in Hebrew and then in English. Professor Fackenheim gave the convocation address: what he did was to tell stories-stories about "the righteous among the nations" who risked their own lives to save Jews from the Holocaust. We sat spellbound. We would have sat there all night. After the convocation some of us, a small group of Professor Hall's students, were invited back to our teacher's house on Temperance Avenue to continue the conversation. Rabbi Diamond came too. It soon became clear that the Saskatoon Rabbi, quite agitated, had something he wished to share with Fackenheim, and was willing to share with the rest of us. It concerned Wiesel's little servant hanged at Auschwitz: Rabbi Diamond believed him to be his brother, and had some documents he wanted Fackenheim to see.

For those of us who were young students, post-war born and raised, it was a telling moment. A story that had affected us deeply became real: it was no longer a story-here, talking with us, were people who experienced it. We could not stop talking, asking questions, listening. Fackenheim had been ordained as a rabbi in Berlin in 1939. He himself had been incarcerated in a concentration camp, but his release had been made possible. That night I heard about Kristallnacht for the first time: it was an eye-witness account. We talked until 2.00 a.m., when Fackenheim reminded us that in Toronto it was already 4.00 a.m., and would we please permit him to go to bed? The gathering quickly

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In the early 1970s, already more than a quarter of a century (and a lifetime so far as I was concerned) after the end of the Second World War, the Holocaust was something "new"people were only just beginning to speak about it. There was "a remarkable timelag".2

David Blumenthal personalises it:

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attention to the phenomenon merely to underline the timing and the devastating nature of my personal introduction to the Holocaust and to living Judaism.

2 Hans Kling, Judaism, SCM Press, London, 1992, p.585.

3 David R. Blumenthal, The Holocaust as the Central Symbol of the Twentieth Century, unpublished paper, p.4.

4 "The questions were too painful to ask" (Jonathan Sachs, Faith in the Future, Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 1995, pp.237-9). "A prolonged psychic distress rendered modern Jewish theologians mute.

.. There was simply no language with which to talk about the Holocaust" (Zachary Braitrnan, (God) after Auschwitz: Change in Post-Holocaust Jewish Thought, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1998, p.7).

Alan Unterman suggests that a groundswell of emotion prevented rational discussion, which is why the early response was "literature rather than theology" (Alan Unterman, Jews: Their Religion, Beliefs and Practices, Routledge and Kegan Paul, Boston, 1981, p.87).

5 Guilt complex among American Jews; the Eichmann trial; Wiesel's Night; the Civil Rights movement;

The Six Day War; "death of God" theology (Kling, Judaism, p.585). Blumenthal adds the ageing of the survivor generation, and the necessity to record their stories (The Holocaust as the Central Symbol, p.4t).

There is also the emergence of the "third generation" (the "first generation" referring to the massive immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe into the USA, 1880-1924; the "second generation" being more concerned for cultural assimilation than for original religious thought; the "third generation" producing "both theologians and an audience for theology"), Robert G. Goldy, The Emergence of Jewish Theology in Amcrica, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1990, p.1 f.

VI When our year in Canada was over we returned to England, and I began, very modestly, to build my Heschellibrary. We lived in Oxford for a year, whilst I studied at the University Department of Educational Studies, and at the same time completed and submitted my

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Bodleian Library, but browsing was done in Blackwell's Bookshop. Heschel's death at the end of 1972 passed unnoticed in our household, but my copies of Between God and Man (Fritz Rothschild's selection and introduction of Heschel's work) and Man Is Not Alone are inscribed "Oxford 1973". My copies of God in Search of Man, The Prophets and The Insecurity of Freedom, also date from this time in Oxford. Who Is Man? I had brought back from Canada.

If, as has been suggested, we should consider the publication of his American-written books to be the milestones of Heschel's career,6 then that career is not yet over: the English translation of his major Hebrew work on Rabbinic theology, Torah min hashamayim be-ispaklaryah shel ha-dorot, is still awaited;7 some of his essays translated from German and Hebrew, together with a Yiddish poem, appeared for the first time in English in an anthology of 1996 entitled Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity;8 Franklin B. Sherman, The Promise of Heschel, J. B. Lippincott, Philadelphia and New York, 1970, p.18.

6 7 Published in Hebrew in two volumes by Soncino Press, London and New York, 196211965, and to be published in English translation as Heavenly Torah: The Theology of Classical Judaism, (Tr. Gordon Thacker), Continuum, New York, 2000 (the publication having been delayed several times).

8 Susannah Heschel (Ed.), Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1996.

Vll and the first volume of an authorised biography, dealing with Heschel's life before he arrived in the United States of America in 1940, was published in 1998. 9 His major books are still available, many in new editions, and continue to infonn Jewish and Christian Theology. For instance, Walter Brueggemann's major biblical work of 1997, Theology of the Old testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, owes much to Hesche!. 10 And it seems that Heschel' s work is more appreciated amongst his co-religionists twenty-seven years after his death than ever it was in his own lifetime.

Heschel, by his own conscIOUS choice, was "a modem Western man", I I studying and

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