Spiritual Radical


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Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972

Edward K. Kaplan

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The first full account of the life of one of America’s greatest religious thinkers during World War II and in the decades afterward

Born in Warsaw, raised in a Hasidic community, and reaching maturity in secular Jewish Vilna and cosmopolitan Berlin, Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) escaped Nazism and immigrated to the United States in 1940. This lively and readable book tells the comprehensive story of his life and work in America, his politics and personality, and how he came to influence not only Jewish debate but also wider religious and cultural debates in the postwar decades.

A worthy sequel to his widely praised biography of Heschel’s early years, Edward Kaplan’s new volume draws on previously unseen archives, FBI files, interviews with people who knew Heschel, and analyses of his extensive writings. Kaplan explores Heschel’s shy and private side, his spiritual radicalism, and his vehement defense of the Hebrew prophets’ ideal of absolute integrity and truth in ethical and political life. Of special interest are Heschel’s interfaith activities, including a secret meeting with Pope Paul VI during Vatican II, his commitment to civil rights with Martin Luther King, Jr., his views on the state of Israel, and his opposition to the Vietnam War. A tireless challenger to spiritual and religious complacency, Heschel stands as a dramatically important witness.

Edward K. Kaplan is Kevy and Hortense Kaiserman Professor in the Humanities at Brandeis University where he teaches courses in French, comparative literature, and religious studies. He has been writing on Heschel for many years, and his publications include Holiness in Words: A. J. Heschel’s Poetics of Piety. He lives in West Newton, MA.

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A selection of the Jewish Book Club

“This is a prodigiously researched, sound, and important book. Spiritual Radical  is a substantial achievement, a work of love and devotion and real biographical acumen.”—Steven Zipperstein, Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History, Stanford University

“This second volume of Kaplan’s biography of Abraham Joshua Heschel is an important work by any standard. The care with which it is assembled and the research upon which it is based is truly inspiring. Spiritual Radical is clearly written, insightful, honest.”—Adam Seligman, author of Modest Claims, Dialogues and Essays on Tolerance and Tradition

"This religiously contentious world needs the noble witness of Abraham Joshua Heschel more than ever. Edward K. Kaplan's lucid and compelling account of Heschel's life in America is an urgently important book."—James Carroll, author of House of War

“Kaplan has written a biography that will be appreciated and enjoyed by all those who struggle to be at home in America, and for all those who struggle to be at home with God.”—Martin Kavka, Florida State University

"During a time when deep religious belief is so often associated with intolerance and intransigence, it is refreshing to be reminded that Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King, Jr., once joined in a prophetic, morally courageous pursuit of peace and social justice."—Clayborne Carson, Director, Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University

"Kaplan has managed to capture the magnitude of the man—and that is the real achievement of this book. . . . We will not have the likes of Abraham Joshua Heschel perhaps ever again, but at least we have this spellbinding biography that Edward Kaplan has blessed us with, which will enable a new generation to grasp something of who he was and what he did."—Jack Riemer, Jerusalem Post

"Combining the personal and the academic, Kaplan has . . . written an enthralling work, an homage to Heschel that is also frank about his shortcomings. In a fluid style that captures the changing times and the tremendous contribution Heschel made to them, Kaplan has brought to life this European man who made a deep impact on American Jewish life and American life in general."—Gila Wertheimer, Jewish Star

"This volume traces the development of Heschel's thought about Jewish faith, Israel, prayer and ethics, as well as his interfaith activities, support of civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War. Kaplan draws on previously unseen sources, FBI files and interviews."—Christian Century (Christmas recommended books)

"Authoritative and gripping. . . . Kaplan . . . has produced a biography worthy of his subject and his enduring achievements. It is a work worthy of the highest praise."—Martin Sieff, The Jerusalem Report

"This is a meticulously researched, beautifully written biography that captures the life and thought of a great man."—Harold Kasimow, Shofar

"Kaplan presents [Heschel] through a prism that is at once objective and warm. This is a book to be appreciated by academics, rabbis and general readers alike."—Richard Libowitz, The Reconstructionist

"Kaplan deserves praise for writing a well-documented account of Heschel's life and activities between 1940 and his death in 1972."—Jason Kalman, American Jewish Archives Journal

"Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America provides a fascinating and much-needed acount of this legendary figure's experiences in America."—Noam Pianko, American Jewish History

Winner of the 2007 National Jewish Book Award in the American Jewish Studies category given by the Jewish Book Council
ISBN: 9780300151398
Publication Date: March 17, 2009
544 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
53 b/w illus.
Abraham Joshua Heschel

Prophetic Witness

Edward K. Kaplan and Samuel H. Dresner

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