Rabbi Mauricio Balter

Rabbinical models such as Rabbis Heschel and Marshall inspired my decision to become a rabbi—a rabbi who takes part in “political” topics.

Masorti Olami
Israel, born in Uruguay
A Jewish Perspective

I have not met Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel personally, but from the moment I joined the Masorti Movement in 1974, I started to connect with his philosophy through his disciple Rabbi Marshall Meyer. During those years, a dictatorial government ruled in Argentina, led by a military junta that killed and tortured thousands of people, while many went missing without explanations. The Military Junta had a clear antisemitic bias. It was in that context that I met Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

In a society where fear and terror prevailed, very few voices dared to speak up. One of them was that of Rabbi Marshall Meyer, who had been Heschel’s secretary. Immediately after the establishment of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, Marshall devoted his time to translating Heschel’s work into Spanish and teaching Heschel’s philosophy in his classes. That is how I grew up, hearing the words of Heschel in the voice of Marshall: his relentless fight for human rights, his struggle against oppression and in favor of interreligious dialogue. He fought at the forefront, fearlessly, to show the Godly presence through his acts in favor of life. Marshall used to say that Heschel was a modern prophet.

Rabbinical models such as Rabbis Heschel and Marshall inspired my decision to become a rabbi—a rabbi who takes part in “political” topics, who fights for ethical behavior by the government and society, who gets involved and commits.

Undoubtedly, Heschel is one of the philosophers who had, and still has, a major influence in my life. What has Heschel’s influence been? First, his perception of man, his vision of the role of man in the world and his bond with God. Heschel said, “The supreme message of the Bible and the prophets of Israel is that God takes man seriously.” And “I think that God seeks man more than man seeks God.”

His famous phrase: “When I marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama, I felt that my legs prayed,” taught me that prayers could translate into action.

Marshall Meyer said very realistically:

Rabbi Heschel’s whole life was a prayer pronounced with commitment, love, compassion, and a perception of the final sense of history. The Jewish perception of humane, genuine and profound universalism.

Another idea that marked my vision of Judaism that came from Heschel is the notion of sanctifying life:

The image and similarity to God is not enough to grant immortality to man, but to attain sanctity.

Lastly, this paragraph by Heschel that represents how I view our role today:

This is the time to scream. We are ashamed of being human. We are embarrassed to be called religious, when religion has failed to keep alive the image of God in man’s mind. We see what is written on the wall, but we are too illiterate to understand what it means . . . we have imprisoned God in our temples and in our ‘slogans,’ and now the word of God is dying at our lips.

Related Content

The first Jewish text included on our syllabus was a chapter from Heschel’s God in Search of Man, and I was entranced by it. Rabbi Geoffrey Claussen, PhD Ruth Messinger But for that which is more real than the material world, Heschel showed me the path on which to walk. Dr. Peter Saulson