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Abraham Joshua Heschel

The Call of Transcendence

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) was a prolific scholar, impassioned theologian, and prominent activist who participated in the black civil rights movement and the campaign against the Vietnam War. He has been hailed as a hero, honored as a visionary, and endlessly quoted as a devotional writer. In this sympathetic, yet critical, examination, Shai Held elicits the overarching themes and unity of Heschel's incisive and insightful thought. Focusing on the idea of transcendence—or the movement from self-centeredness to God-centeredness—Held puts Heschel into dialogue with contemporary Jewish thinkers, Christian theologians, devotional writers, and philosophers of religion.

About the Author

Shai Held is Dean and Chair of Jewish Thought at Mechon Hadar, an institute for Jewish prayer, personal growth, and Jewish study which he co-founded. He is winner of a 2011 Covenant Award for excellence in Jewish education, and Newsweek has twice named him one of America's most influential rabbis.


"Shai Held's book is a master class in one of the most significant Jewish voices of our time."—Tablet

"This is an important book for everyone who wants to understand one of the most significant religious thinkers of modern times. It brings the man whom Reinhold Neibuhr described as 'one of Eastern Europe's greatest spiritual gifts to America' to the attention of a new generation, which needs his warning and his vision."—JNS.org

"In Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence, Held, a Conservative rabbi, seeks to make the case for Heschel's contributions to Jewish religious thinking. He succeeds in distilling Heschel's wide-ranging, idiosyncratic, and sometimes contradictory thought for the lay reader in clear and accessible prose. Most refreshing, he is unafraid to criticize aspects of Heschel's theology that deserve censure."—Commentary

"From his perch at the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York, the Warsaw-born rabbi [Abraham Joshua Heschel] cast a long shadow over American Jewry, especially its Conservative variant, during the quarter-century after World War II. He also became a byword for American Jewish social-justice activism—most of all for the alliance between Jews and blacks.Feb. 14, 2014"—New York Times Sunday Book Review

"Shaid Held . . . offers a sympathetic, yet critical, examination of the thought of this influential mid-twentieth century theologian, scholar, and activist."—New Books Network

"Held's study is a book to be savored: it is too richly detailed to be absorbed in anything but short sittings. For the reader with the patience and the necessary philosophical and theological backgrounds, reading Held's work is a decadent and enormously rewarding process to be treasured."—Jewish Book Council

"Held has written a brilliant collection of essays that should help both theologians . . . and philosophers connect to Heschel's work for many years to come. It should be in most academic libraries and all seminary libraries."—AJL Reviews

"Held's study of Heschel's thought is a well-researched and long-needed volume that presents a systematic account of Heschel's ideas, clarifying many things that are obscure or difcult to understand, pointing to both the strengths and the weaknesses of his work."—Jerusalem Post

"Held puts Heschel into dialogue with contemporary Jewish thinkers, Christian theologians, devotional writers, and philosophers of religion.11/12/13"—Menachem Mendel

". . . [a] thoughtful, illuminating new study of Heschel's thought. . . . It is one of the many virtues of Shai Held's book that it helps us to place Heschel alongside not only Kaplan but Halevi, Horovitz, and Rav Nahman—as well as the Psalmist."—Jewish Review of Books

"I recommend this book with enthusiasm for anyone interested in life's fundamental questions, as well as in specific issues of faith, justice, and worship. The presentation is clear, careful, and pedagogically friendly. Readers can benefit from an extensive bibliography and especially the endnotes, richly argued and carefully documented, as the author concisely continues his debates with other interpreters and with Heschel himself. . . . Under the guidance of Shai Held, readers can return with increased confidence to Heschel's . . . own writings and thus trace, and perhaps emulate, his devotion to God, amazement at existence itself, and reverence for all humankind."—Shofar

"Heschel's work had a profound impact on American Jewish readers, and he was a social critic as well as a visionary theologian, fighting for civil rights and fiercely condemning the Vietnam War. The influence of Heschel's writings and activism thus extended beyond the Jewish community. . . Shai Held's book, Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence, is a sophisticated interpretation of Heschel's theology.35.2 May 2015"—Modern Judaism

"Held has reworked his dissertation into an accessible yet carefully argued interpretation of Heschel's most fundamental anthropological and theological intuitions."—AJS REVIEW

"[Held] has written a clear, persuasive, argumentative book . . . .April 2015"—Journal of Religion

"Rabbi Held's . . . writing style fits his subject. He's clear and eloquent, attuned to capture and explicate Rabbi Heschel's complexity."—New York Jewish Week

"Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence is one of the most important works of scholarship on Heschel, resulting from serious, comprehensive, and sensitive reading. Unlike many Heschel scholars, Held has clearly immersed himself in every word of his works. At the same time, his own book is written in language that makes it quite readable. . . . One of the great contributions of Held's work is his summary and critique of the study of Heschel. From now on, no one will be able to write any creditable academic work about Heschel without referring to Held's words and notes."—Tikkun

"Presents a highly compelling theory about the core principles of Heschel's corpus that demands that his thought be studied anew."—Robert Erlewine, Illinois Wesleyan University

"Heschel's work and thought have rarely been subjected to careful, critical exploration. Shai Held's book is a watershed in this regard. It is philosophically and theologically sophisticated, leaves no stone unturned in its effort to clarify the main themes and foundational commitments that shaped Heschel's thinking, and employs a rich array of contextual factors, including attention to developments in Christian theology and philosophical thinking."—Michael L. Morgan, Indiana University Bloomington

"In this lucid and learned account, Abraham Joshua Heschel emerges as a dialectical thinker who holds together such "opposites" as theology and spirituality, the transcendence and self-transcendence of God, the presence and absence of God, the humanity and divinity of the Bible, and prayer as praise and lament.  A powerful challenge to Jewish and Christian readers as well as those who stand outside biblical traditions, including secular readers."—Merold Westphal, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Fordham University

"A masterful work of scholarship and careful thought. In Shai Held, Heschel has found the serious and critical reader he so richly deserves. Through Heschel, Held's work reaches out more broadly to treat us to a profound discussion of the great issues in contemporary Jewish theology."—Arthur Green, Hebrew College Rabbinical School

"In this lucid and elegant study, one of the keenest minds in Jewish theology in our time probes the vision of one of the most profound spiritual writers of the twentieth century, uncovering a unity that others have missed and shedding light not only on Heschel but also on the characteristically modern habits of mind that impede the knowledge of God. The book is especially valuable for the connections it draws with other philosophers, theologians, and spiritual writers, Jewish and Christian. Enthusiastically recommended!"—Jon D. Levenson, Harvard University
Indiana University Press

9780253011268 : abraham-joshua-heschel-held
352 Pages
$45.00 USD
9780253017147 : abraham-joshua-heschel-held
Paperback / softback
352 Pages
$30.00 USD

Other Titles by Shai Held

Rethinking the Messianic Idea in Judaism

edited by Michael L. Morgan, Steven Weitzman, with contributions by Elisheva Carlebach, Emily Kopley, Cosana Eram, Matt Goldish, Shai Held, Motti Inbari, Martin Kavka, Shaul Magid, Benjamin Pollock, Annette Reed, Kenneth Seeskin
Nov 2014 - Indiana University Press
$110.00 USD - Hardback
$45.00 USD - Paperback / softback

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The Philosophy of John Henry Newman and Pragmatism

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