Rabbi Lenny Levin

Commitment to the divine imperative . . . empathy with the divine pathos.

Academy for Jewish Religion
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
A Jewish Perspective

Where did you first encounter Heschel’s work?

As a teenager, I saw Heschel’s book God in Search of Man on my parents’ bookshelf. My LTF leader and Torah-reading instructor, Dov (Denny) Elkins, said to me at that time that Heschel’s thought was very challenging. He also reported that in the JTS student body (to which he belonged at the time), half the students were Kaplanians and half were Heschelians.

How did Heschel and his thinking inspire your work, religious life, or civic engagement?

My religious life has been a constant tug between the demands of philosophical rationalism (represented by Maimonides and Milton Steinberg) and existentialist commitment (represented by Heschel). From the Maimonidean pole: intellectual honesty; be true to what your reason tells you is true and credible. From the existentialist pole: commitment to the divine imperative, expressed in ethical obligation not as mere humanistic ideal but as empathy with the divine pathos. “Perform God’s will as if it were your will” (Avot 2:4). To Heschel, this meant an integration of the human and the divine wills, and ultimately working toward harmony of all human wills under the aegis of the Almighty.

It has been one of my greatest privileges to work with Gordon Tucker on delivering to the English-reading audience Heschel’s masterpiece on rabbinic thought, Heavenly Torah. Not coincidentally, he makes the tug in my own thinking the axis of rabbinic thought, with the Ishmaelian tradition representing the rationalist side and the Akivan tradition, the side of absolute commitment and mystical ecstasy.

In teaching Jewish philosophical theology, I, too, present Maimonides and Heschel as the two outstanding thinkers of the Jewish philosophical tradition and the integration of their perspectives as the ultimate challenge for the student of Jewish philosophical theology.

Additional Texts

Adult Education Curriculum to Heavenly Torah

Heavenly Torah Handout, Part 1

Heavenly Torah Handout, Part 2

Heavenly Torah Handout, Part 3

Heavenly Torah Handout, Part 4

A. J. Heschel’s Heavenly Torah Epitome

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