Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Chasid of the Masorti (so-called Conservative) movement

The yahrtzeit of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel זצ"ל falls this year on the evening of Sunday Januray 14th/ dayof January 15th (or, on the gregorian calendar, tomorrow, the 11th of January).

Here, in his own words:

Towards an Understanding of Halachah, reproduced in Moral Grandeur
I came with great hunger to the University of Berlin to study philosophy. I looked for a system of thought, for the depth of the spirit, for the meaning of existence. Erudite and profound scholars gave courses in logic, epistemology, aesthetics, ethics and metaphysics. They opened the gates of the history of philosophy. I was exposed to the austere discipline of unremitting enquiry and self-criticism… [But I came to realise] that my teachers were prisoners of a Greek-German way of thinking. They were fettered in categories which could never be proved. The questions I was moved by could not even be adequately phrased in categories of their thinking. My assumption was: Man's dignity consists in his having been created in the likeness of God. My question was: How must man, a being who is in essence the image of God; think, feel and act? … They spoke of God from the point of view of man. To them God was an idea, a postulate of reason. They granted Him the status of being a logical possibility. But to assume that He had existence would have been a crime against epistemology.

In those months in Berlin I went through moments of profound bitterness. I felt very much alone with my own problems and anxieties. I walked alone in the evenings through the magnificent streets of Berlin. I admired the solidity of its architecture, the overwhelming drive and power of a dynamic civilisation. There were concerts, theatres, and lectures by famous scholars about the latest theories and inventions and I was pondering whether to go to the new Max Reinhardt play or to a lecture about the theory of relativity. Suddenly I noticed the sun had gone down, evening had arrived.
From what hour is the Shema recited in the evening?
I had forgotten God. I had forgotten Sinai. I had forgotten that sunset is my business, that my task is to repair the world under God's dominion. How grateful I am to God that there is a duty to worship, a law to remind my distraught mind that it time to think of God, time to disregard my ego for at least a moment! It is such happiness to belong to an order of the divine will.

I am not always in a mood to pray. I do not always have the vision and the strength to say a word in the presence of God. But when I am weak, it is the law that gives me strength; when my vision is dim, it is duty that gives me insight.


Pragmatician said...

Never saw that before.
Very interesting that someone with Torah knowledge attracted by the allure of secular philosophy found himself so disappointed.
I know I always had hold back a yawn during philosophy courses.

tarfon said...

Thanks for reprinting that classic quote; it really captures what a halachic system and lifestyle are about. But I don't remember which book it's from -- can you supply a cite?

Kol Ra'ash Gadol said...

Citation before quote. Enjoy!

moderator said...

pragmatician -
i think you are missing the point of rabbi heschel's (zt"l) piece. the idea is not that "secular" learning (i don't think he would call it that) is bad and thus should be avoided in favor of torah. there is a reason he left his scionship in a chassidic dynasty- a premodern lifestyle was simply not intellectually justifiable to him. rather, the attitude that philosophy could provide for one an encompassing system by which one could live one's life is a faulty one.