Marking 100 years of Abraham Joshua Heschel and a quest for religious pluralismReleased on February 02, 2007
Contact: Media contact: Marsha MacEachern, firstname.lastname@example.org or 781-736-4203
Centenary conference at Brandeis will recognize first intellectual and cultural biography of Heschel.WALTHAM, MASS. – Abraham Joshua Heschel is well known for his assertion that “no religion is an island.” More than 30 years after his death those of both Jewish and Christian faith still recognize the famous rabbi as a voice for religious pluralism and the authority on prophetic Judaism in the United States.
Heschel (1907-1972) was a radical religious thinker, a masterful literary stylist and a bold activist. He will soon be recognized for his contributions during a two-day event at Brandeis University. A centenary conference in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth will be held at Brandeis on March 11-12, 2007. Scholars from Brandeis and from around the world will gather to discuss the significance of Heschel’s work and how his messages can be applied today.
To Edward Kaplan, Heschel was not only a leader and scholar, but also a friend. Kaplan, a Heschel interpreter and biographer and the Kevy and Hortense Kaiserman Professor in the Humanities at Brandeis, met Heschel in 1966 due to a common commitment to civil rights.
“We made a deep connection and I used to go for walks with Heschel on Shabbat afternoons,” Kaplan said. “I participated with Heschel in the religious movement against the Vietnam war. That’s how I started to know him on a personal level.”
Kaplan is spearheading the conference, during which the publication of the first intellectual and cultural biography on Heschel will be recognized. Yale University Press will soon release Kaplan’s biography, “Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972.” Volume one of the biography, “Abraham Joshua Heschel: Prophetic Witness,” has been reissued in paperback. Kaplan co-authored the book, a finalist in the National Jewish Book Awards, with the late Samuel Dresner,
“Heschel was a great scholar,” said Kaplan. “He had tremendous knowledge and was a very spiritual person. He was a man of prayer but he also connected this with human sensitivity and a sense of responsibility to act.”
Heschel was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1907. He was able to leave Europe in 1940 and began teaching philosophy and rabbinics at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. In 1945 he became a professor of Jewish ethics and mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
Faithful to Jewish tradition, Heschel pushed the boundaries of conventional approaches to scholarship and public life. Hasidism and the Hebrew prophets inspired his religious philosophy and social activism. A charismatic and controversial public figure, he was an ally of Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement. He was both criticized and respected for his action for Soviet Jewry, his influence as theological consultant at the Second Vatican Council and his leadership in the religious opposition to the Vietnam War.
During the conference, about 30 leading scholars and activists will explore Heschel’s original contributions to the fields of Bible, Talmud, Hasidism and religious education. Susannah Heschel, Heschel’s daughter and professor of Judaic studies at Dartmouth College, will deliver the opening address at the conference. Arnold Eisen, Stanford University professor and chancellor-elect of the Jewish Theological Seminary, will give the keynote address. Also during the event, Steve Brand will show portions of a video documentary on Heschel’s life.
Other highlights include discussions on religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue, Heschel as model for progressive movements, as well as Heschel’s Hasidism, mysticism, holiness and moral integrity. Guest speakers include Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine; Peter Geffen, founder of the Heschel School in New York; Moshe Idel of Hebrew University in Jerusalem; Arthur Green of Hebrew College; Mary Boys of Union Theological Seminary; Philip Cunningham of Boston College; and Barry Shrage, president of the CJP of Greater Boston, among others.
“I expect the conference to be a launching pad for new generations of Heschel readers and Heschel scholars,” Kaplan said. “This conference can create a real community around Heschel’s works that will be inspiring to Christians, Muslims and Jews and people who are non-believers as well.”
The conference will be held in the Hassenfeld Conference Center at Brandeis University located at 415 South Street in Waltham, Mass. For more information log onto the Heschel conference website or call 781-736-2314.