Tag Archives: Orthodox Judaism

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

The Rabbi Who Marched With Martin Luther King Jr.

Rabbi Heschel

Avraham Yehoshua Heschel (1907-1972) was born in Poland to a long line of Hasidic rabbis from both his father’s and mother’s side. He was named after his ancestor, the Apter (or Apatower) Rebbe. After receiving semicha (rabbinic ordination) himself, Rabbi Heschel decided to pursue secular studies at the University of Berlin. (There he briefly crossed paths with three other future great rabbis: Yitzchak Hutner, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe.) While earning his Ph.D in philosophy, Heschel also studied at Berlin’s Reform seminary and received a liberal rabbinic ordination to go along with his Orthodox one. Meanwhile, he was part of a Yiddish poetry club and published his own book of Yiddish poems in 1933. Heschel was arrested by the Gestapo in 1938 and deported back to Poland. He moved to London just six weeks before Poland was invaded by the Nazis. (His mother and three sisters perished in the Holocaust.) Heschel eventually settled in New York. He first worked at the (Reform) Hebrew Union College for five years before switching over to the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary. There he spent the rest of his career as a rabbi and professor of Jewish ethics and Jewish mysticism. Despite working at these institutions, Heschel never identified himself with any particular Jewish denomination, and was himself strictly Torah-observant. His discourses often weaved together Biblical, Kabbalistic, and Hasidic teachings. He especially focused on the ancient Hebrew prophets, and sought to revive their message in healing today’s world. Because of this, he was an active civil rights and peace activist. Heschel famously marched alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma. Later that year, he presented King with the ‘Judaism and World Peace Award’. The two formed a very close friendship. Heschel also wrote numerous books, including five bestsellers. These books have been credited both with bringing countless Jews back to traditional observance, as well as opening up the study of Judaism to the wider world. Heschel worked hard to build bridges between Jews and gentiles. He represented the Jewish world at the Second Vatican Council between 1962 and 1965, successfully getting the Catholics to formally abandon the belief that Jews were responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion—and therefore that all Jews are “accursed”—and to remove all prayers derogatory to Jews. Heschel is considered one of the most influential Jews of the 20th century, and remains among the most widely read and studied Jewish philosophers and theologians. Today, the 18th of Tevet, is his yahrzeit.

Words of the Week

Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profane riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet’s words.
– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (second from right) with Martin Luther King Jr. marching on Selma in 1965.

Jew of the Week: Steven Spielberg

The Greatest Film Director of All Time

Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg

Steven Allan Spielberg (b. 1946) was born to an Orthodox Jewish family in Cincinnati, and grew up in New Jersey and Arizona. As a twelve year old boy scout trying to get a photography merit badge, his photo camera broke so he made a short film with his father’s video camera instead. It sparked a life-long passion for film. The following year he made a 40-minute war flick that won a prize, and at 16, made his first full length sci-fi movie, which made $1 in profit. After high school, Spielberg studied film, then got a job at Universal Studios as an unpaid and uncredited intern, working seven days a week in the editing department. During this time, he put together a 26-minute film. A Universal exec saw it and immediately signed Spielberg to a long-term contract, making him the youngest director to do so. He first made 4 TV films, then was offered the chance at Jaws (which had so many production issues it almost never made it). Jaws won 3 Academy Awards and set a box-office record, propelling Spielberg to huge fame. Spielberg continued to make big hits that smashed box-office records, winning two Best Director awards and having his films earn a total of 33 Oscars. Together with two other Jews, Spielberg founded his own studio, DreamWorks, most famous for producing animated hits like Shrek, Antz, and The Prince of Egypt. Spielberg has also participated in many philanthropic causes, including aid to Israel (for which the Arab League voted to boycott his films in 2007). Most notably, he founded the Survivors of the Shoah Foundation to record video testimonies of the Holocaust, lest it be forgotten or denied. Over 52,000 interviews have been conducted in 56 countries and 32 languages. Spielberg was made an honorary Knight of the Order of the British Empire, as well as a knight of the French Légion d’honneur. He has been voted the greatest director of all time, listed as the most influential figure in the film industry, and included by TIME Magazine in their list of 100 Most Important People of the Century.

Words of the Week

Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.
– William Shakespeare

Jew of the Week: Gershom Scholem

Gerhard Scholem (1897-1982) was born to a secular Jewish family in Berlin. At a young age he showed a great interest in religion, but his father was staunchly anti-Orthodox and opposed it. After his mother intervened, Scholem was allowed to study Judaism with an Orthodox rabbi. In university, he studied mathematics, philosophy, and Hebrew, and met other greats like Martin Buber and Hayim Bialik. He later received an additional degree in Semitic languages. During his studies, he discovered Kabbalah and the infinite depths of Jewish mysticism. He ended up writing his doctoral thesis on the oldest known Kabbalistic text, Sefer ha-Bahir. In 1923 Scholem moved to Israel and changed his name to Gershom. He worked as a librarian and spent his time in study. In 1933 he became the first Professor of Mysticism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, teaching a unique view of Kabbalah from a scientific and historical perspective. He stayed at this post for over 30 years, while writing over 40 world-famous texts (in addition to over 700 articles) and winning a handful of prestigious awards, including the Israel Prize. He is credited with being a major force in opening the study of Kabbalah to the masses, both Jews and Gentiles. Despite studying Judaism through a scholarly approach, he maintained that Hebrew is a divine language, alone capable of revealing hidden truths.

Words of the Week

There are two things that are no cause for worry: that which can be fixed, and that which cannot be fixed. That which can be fixed, can be fixed, so what’s there to worry about? And that which cannot be fixed, cannot be fixed anyways so what’s there to worry about?!
– Rabbi Michel of Zelotchov