Rabbi Ira F. Stone

Reading excerpts from Heschel changed my life.

Center for Contemporary Mussar
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
A Jewish Perspective

Fifty-two years ago I was a college dropout working for Jewish Family Service of Long Island as an outreach worker with drug-abusing teens. My job was to blend in with teens congregating at various hangouts, primarily Jewish kids, and steer them toward social workers, doctors, and other professional services if they found themselves in crisis. At one particular hangout, many of the kids were cutting their evening Hebrew high school classes. I was out on the street for hours and developed the practice of reading the books that were lying around on the pavement. One of these books was Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism from the Writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel by Fritz Rothschild. While I had had something of a Jewish background and education typical for a Conservative Jew of the time—I attended Hebrew school and had even liked it—it had been years since I had had any contact with Jewish life. I didn’t even go to shul on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, much to my mother’s chagrin. Reading excerpts from Heschel changed my life. I will skip all the details of the rest of the journey that began that night, the important points are: I returned to college, graduated with a degree in religious studies, and entered The Jewish Theological Seminary in 1972 with the primary goal of studying with Heschel. He died during that first semester.

During that same first semester, in my first philosophy class in The Rabbinical School, I wrote a paper entitled “On the Possibility for a Modern Mussar Practice.” While I would eventually use the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas to craft what I believed was a theological basis for a contemporary Mussar practice, in this course I propose to honor what I now realize sent me in the direction of Mussar, and more importantly, still very much reverberates in the subconsciousness of my Mussar mind, namely the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Additional Text:

Lectures on Who Is Man?

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