Rabbi Abraham Heschel on Racism
Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
About Rabbi Abraham Heschel
By Erica Nadelhaft, HHRC Northern Maine Educator
Abraham Heschel was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1907. He received a PhD from the University of Berlin in 1933 and a liberal rabbinic ordination from the Hochshule fur die Wissenschaft des Judentums in 1934. In 1937, Martin Buber appointed him as his successor at the central organization for adult Jewish education and the Judisches Lehrhaus in Frankfurt on the Main. The Nazis deported him to Poland in 1938, where he taught at the Warsaw Institute for Jewish Studies. From there he went to London, where he established the Institute for Jewish Learning. In 1940 he emigrated to the United States. He was an associate professor of philosophy and rabbinics at Hebrew Union College in Cincinatti for the next five years. In 1945, he became Professor of Jewish ethics and mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
For Heschel, religious belief was deeply tied to social justice and action. Much of his scholarly work focused on Medieval Jewish philosophy and philosophers. He wrote about famous Jewish thinkers such as Sa’adiah Gaon and Maimonides as well as on Hasidism and ultimately became one of the most influential modern philosophers of religion. “Heschel’s lifework can be seen as consisting of two parallel strands: (1) the undertaking to study and interpret the classical sources of Judaism and (2) the endeavor to offer to his contemporaries a theology which results from the application of the insights of the traditional sources to the problems and questions which the modern Jew faces.” (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/abraham-joshua-heschel) One of his most influential texts, The Sabbath (1951), explores the idea of time: contrasting the spatial way of thinking about time of modern, technical societies with the Jewish understanding of time as separated into ordinary and holy time.
Heschel firmly believed that if one understood that each and every human being carried a spark of the Divine within them, one could not harbor hatred for any fellow human being. He used his writing and speaking to promote social justice. In 1963 he spoke at the National Conference on Religion and Race in Chicago alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. There, he proclaimed that Americans had the chance to find redemption through their efforts to combat racism. In 1965 Heschel marched next to King in the Selma to Montgomery March. He also spoke out against the Vietnam War.
The Latest from HHRC
Antisemitism is not a static phenomenon. It morphs; it changes shape; it adjusts itself to time and place. The idea remains the same, but the outward manifestations, rationale, and terminologies used change. In order to understand the antisemitism of the present day, we must understand the antisemitism of the past.
By Erica Nadelhaft, Northern Maine Educator Read at Maine Tisha B’Av Statewide Service on July 29, 2020, hosted by Center for Small Town Jewish Life, Jewish Community Alliance, and the…
Without careful thought and planning, schools risk alienating Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) stakeholders, reinforcing white saviorism and derailing the possibility of future efforts. Standards and skills can always be retaught, but school culture is too important to get wrong. Your north star is always centering your most marginalized and under resourced students.
Below is an excerpt from Frederick Douglass’ speech What to the Slave is the Fourth of July. For teachers, we provide links to incorporate this speech into your curriculum, as…
By CORY COLLINS, Originally published in Teaching Tolerance Magazine, Issue 62, Summer 2019. It was just past 1:00 a.m. in New York City on Saturday, June 28, 1969, when police…