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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reality & Checks, February 16, 2006
By 
Marni Frankel (Silver Spring, Maryland) - See all my reviews
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Many, many years have passed since I was assigned to read this book in college. It makes me laugh when I reflect on that which we read in class to develop "critical thinking" skills and how much more it all resonates once we experience life and gain smarts that don't come from classrooms and the regurgitation of facts.

I pulled this book out recently. I had marked up many passages, but I'll try to stay focused in this "review", which is really a commentary. In particular, I believe that the passage below has particular relevance in light of the passing of Coretta Scott King and the whole of the Martin Luther King legacy. So, here it is:

"Human existence cannot derive its ultimate meaning from society, because society itself is in need of meaning. It is as legitimate to ask: Is mankind needed? - as it is to ask: Am I needed? Humanity begins in the individual man, just as history takes its rise from a singular event. It is always one man at a time whom we keep in mind when we pledge: 'with malice toward none, with charity for all,' or when trying to fulfill: 'Love they neighbor as thyself.'

The term 'mankind,' which in biology denotes the human species, has an entirely different meaning in the realm of ethics and religion. Here mankind is not conceived as a species, as an abstract concept, stripped from its concrete reality, but as an abundance of specific individuals; as a community of persons rather than as a herd of a multitude of nondescripts. While it is true that the good of all counts more than the good of one, it is the concrete individual who lends meaning to the human race. We do not think that a human being is valuable because he is a member of the race; it is rather the opposite: the human race is valuable because it is composed of human beings."

I find Heschel's explorations compelling because they not only explore the relationship between God and man. Rather, he responds to two questions that challenge: First, what are the fundamental tenets of Judaism? - a much heftier question than might appear at first blush, and second, why should people choose to adhere to the obligation of following laws that appear to restrain actions?

Heschel believes that God is concerned about the world; he holds that God has revealed His moral nature by his intimate involvement with mankind throughout history; his God is principally concerned with fostering unity on earth. For Heschel, God "holds our fitful lives together . . . God means: Togetherness of all beings in holy otherness." And Heschel's perspective on the purpose(s) of the Torah -- to encourage people to sense God's presence in life and to understand the Torah as not a set of provisions that restrict, but, rather an answer to life's difficulties for "the more we do for His sake the more we receive for our sake."

What is particularly intriguing to me is that whether one believes in God or not, Heschel's wisdom prevails. Why? Because there is an opportunity to perform Mitzvot - to do "good." Mitzvot enable us to attain a sense of the holy, to fulfill, if you will, our souls, ourselves. Therefore, mitzvot are for our benefit, inner fulfillment so to speak; the laws are not ever a "yoke."

If through doing "good" by way of our actions, we are afforded the possibility to transcend ourselves; to sense the ineffable as we can by experiencing and appreciating great music. Furthermore, Heschel doesn't behoove us to fulfill "laws" perfectly; only to the best of our ability. In "doing the finite we may perceive the infinite . . (man gains) a perception of life eternal in everyday deeds." It's Kavanah, an awareness not of duty, but of inner spirituality. While the laws (or Halachah) direct, the essence is found in the human. "Without faith, inwardness and the power of appreciation of the law is meaningless." Both faith and action will better the world. Through deeds, we are able to confront the human and the holy. I buy this. It's a reminder that we need to preserve our sense of wonder and respect for that which we don't know or don't yet know.

The beauty of the Torah is that it is always relevant: it preserves life. Religious or spiritual observances are cherished for they are opportunities that allow us to find ourselves. Heschel explains that an internal peace is the result of study, of understanding, of acting and of giving.

Which leads me to my final thought: Heschel is not just talking of Judaism. His thinking applies everywhere we turn. The ethnicity or race - actually, ethnicities and races - all matter. They all count. All we are asked to do is listen, watch, and act. Whom shall we listen to? Whom shall we watch? How should we act? I ask myself these questions; I hope that my daughters will, too.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to Heschel, June 15, 2001
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This review is from: Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism (Paperback)
Heschel's words remain as relevant as they were when they were written. In the beginning of the book, the reader is introduced with a memorable passage describing the problem of religion, that religion has become "dull, oppressive, insipid, irrelevant." From there, the reader is taken on a sort of spiritual and philosophical journey through a refreshing and highly personal way to look at the role of religion in society and one's own life.
Another memorable quote from the book: "As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines." What is amazing is that in college Economics and Sociology classes, the professors have taught similar things: that as our standard of living rises over time, there are both positive and negative consequences of which we should be aware. Heschel's book helps bring out some of what we lose through the advancement of society.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in religious philosophy, and anyone who has found very little solace in spirituality/self help books. (This book is not a self help book, by the way. It's much better than that.)
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Judaism as a Philosophy, December 14, 2003
By 
A. J. Valasek (Clemmons, NC United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism (Paperback)
Heschel has one of those rare gifts of being able to take a subject, break it down, and then present it in a manner that most can understand. In this book, Heschel takes a philosophic look at Judaism and why it much more than a religion, but a way of life.
Even a Gentile or non-religious reader can come away from this reading with a kinder appreciation for the religion and inherent philosophy of Judaism. Heschel is able to dispel much of the ignorance and hate concerning this great religion.
The structure of this book is sound and concise starting with the general notion of why in his mind there simply has to be a creator. Then he moves into the most fundamental of human questions such as good and evil and needs and desires.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mysticism and Monotheism, August 15, 2004
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This review is from: Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism (Paperback)
Heschel's interpretation of Judaism is that of MYSTICISM AND MONOTHEISM, the ineffable and unexplainable, the allusiveness that can only point us to the inner certainty of God.

Heschel is a substantial writer and skilled in both analogy and description. And ultimately, in defining Jewish wisdom in words, is that which cannot be as defined in words as calculable and systematic, but rather as a direction to be pointed. And this is what you will find in most non-fundamental wisdom. It is here that expressions defining God as indefinable are so well conveyed. The SUBLIME, the MYSTERY, wonder, awe, reverence, the idea of the holy and that of revelation are the spontaneous creative events verses that of causal processes.

Here `modern man fell into the trap of believing that everything can be explained, that reality is a simple affair which has only to be organized in order to be mastered. All enigmas can be solved, and all wonder is nothing but the effect of novelty upon ignorance.' P. 40 Such dogmatic fallacies can be found in both science and religion. `The deeper we search the nearer we arrive at knowing that we do not know. The mystery of divinity, `it is a dimension off all existence and may be experienced everywhere and at all times. This sense of the ineffable perceives is something objective, which cannot be conceived by the mind nor captured by imagination or feeling, something real, which by its very essence, is beyond the reach of thought and feeling. What we are primarily aware of is not our self, our inner mood, but a transubjective situation, in regard to which our ability fails. Subjective is the manner, not the matter of our perception. What we perceive is objective in the sense of being independent of and corresponding to our perception. Our radical amazement reasons to the mystery, but does not produce it. You and I have not invented the grandeur of the sky nor endowed man with the mystery of birth and death. We do not create the ineffable, we encounter it. P. 47

Now what underlies this ineffable and non-explanatory presence or allusive presence of divinity beyond discursive analysis, is what Judaism consists of, monotheism, this being an absolute purpose and a CERTAINTY, the certainty of God that finds all other expression.

`God is a mystery but the mystery is not God. He is a revealer of mystery. The certainty that there is meaning beyond the mystery is the reason fore ultimate rejoicing. P. 49 The certainty of the realness of God does not come about as a corollary of logical premises, as a leap from the realm of logic to the realm of ontology, from an assumption to a fact. It is on the contrary, a transition form an immediate apprehension to a thought form a preconceptual awareness to a definite assurance, from being overwhelmed by the presence of God to an awareness of His existence. What we attempt to do in the act of reflection is to raise that preconceptual awareness to the level of understanding. P. 67 `To meet Him is to come upon an inner certainty.' P. 80

Regarding Jewish LAWS, Heschel writes that such laws are not meant as a yoke, nor repressive to desires, nor a straight jacket of rituals, but out of love, from an internal center, the heart, where the soul, the internal motivation of love, must be in harmony with the law

Laws are emphasized not as mechanical duties but rather as artistic acts, as in music one must be what he plays. The goal is to find access to the sacred deed. To do a mitzvah is one thing; to partake of its inspiration another. P. 166

The law is a cry for creativity, not mechanical processes, nor technicalities. The law is only valid with the motivation of the heart behind it. It is both the action and the inspiration behind the action. The laws and traditions are self-defeating without faith and heart motivation. Judaism is more than law, it is purity of the heart, it is faith and love of God. God is called to re-create the world in his likeness. The law must never be idolized. Rules are only generalizations. Judaism is not legalism. Just as proclaimed truths - kerygma, are worthless without the deeper allusive essence - dogma, so is Halakhah - the definite rational instructions worthless without the Agadah - the allusive, non-discursive and immeasurable. The law must have both or its way is perverted.

`It supplies the weapons, it points the way; the fighting is left to the soul of man.' 'Obedience to the letter of the law regulates our daily living, but such obedience must not stultify the spontaneity of our inner life. P. 176

`The true goal for man is to be what he does.' P. 164. `Sacred deeds are designed to make living compatible with our sense of the ineffable. The mitzvot are forms of expressing in deeds the appreciation of the ineffable. P. 182 The soul grows by noble deeds. The soul is illumined by sacred acts. P. 177

'To reduce Judaism to halakhah - defined actions - is to dim its light, to pervert its essence and to kill its spirit. . . . to reduce it to agadah - inward purity only - is to blot out its light, to dissolve its essence and to destroy its reality. Indeed, the surest way to forfeit agadah is to abolish halakhah. They can only survive in symbiosis. The life of the spirit too needs concrete actions for its actualization.' P. 177

Heschel outlines the tension between regularity and spontaneity, how both must be polarized.

`The way to kavvanah is through the deed; the way of faith is a way of living. Halakhah and agadah are correlated; halakhah is the string, agadah is the bow. When the string is tight and the bow will evoke the melody.' `Deeds not only follow intention; they also engender kavvanah.' P. 180

And the PSYCHOLOGY of Judaism:

`We must not indulge in self-scrutinization; we must not concentrate upon the problem of egocentricity. The way to purify the self is to avoid dwelling upon the self and to concentrate upon the task. Any religious or ethical teaching that places the main emphasis upon the virtues of inwardness such as faith and the purity of motivation must come to grief. If faith were the only standard, the effort of man would be doomed to failure. Indeed, the awareness of the weakness of the heart, the unreliability of human inwardness may perhaps have been one of the reasons that compelled Judaism to take recourse to actions instead of relying upon inward devotion.' P. 189 There is power in the deed purifies desires. It is the act, life itself that educates the will. The good motive comes into being while doing the good. P. 190

This review is far from detailed, as their is much more not mentioned, you'll have to read the book for that. However I think this review does reveals somewhat of the religious dimension and insight of the ineffable Heschel lays out, the ideas beyond conceptualization with monotheism at its center. I recommend this book for anyone, the religious - of all persuasions, the non-religious, and/or anyone who wishes to attempt to perceive the idea of the sacred within the de-mystified and rational world we live in. Heschel is worth all the time invested in his writings.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Between God and Man, July 2, 2011
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This review is from: Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism (Paperback)
This is a must for Christians, not only to understand better the root of our own faith, but because it is spiritual as well as theological. Don't read it too fast, it needs savoring.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Too important, January 7, 2010
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This review is from: Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism (Paperback)
I have just begun to read this book and I think it is too important to read it as a study book; it gives you plenty of stuff to meditate and change your view on reality. It has given me daily spiritual food to look deeper and feel more grateful to God for all that is given to us.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, May 18, 2009
This review is from: Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism (Paperback)
This is a book to be enjoyed and savoured for the depth of its content and the authors close relationship with God, which is able to be experienced throughout the book. One of the best books about the human condition for people with faith I have read. I would suggest it is not an easy read at times and if you are new to this sort of text, you will need to take your time to get into it and let the information sink in. The impact of this book on the reader in my opinion is marked and I know it will stay in my memory as a great book that will continue to be on my bookshelf for reference and rereading. Five out of five.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best introduction to Heschel, June 21, 2007
By 
Edward K. Kaplan (Brandeis University) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism (Paperback)
Fritz Rothschild, the editor of this anthology of Heschel's varied writings, was a colleague and friend of Heschel's at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Rothschild became the foremost interpreter of Heschel's thought by 1959 when he first published "Between God and Man," containing selections from Heschel's major books and articles preceded by the editor's lucid and systematic introduction to Heschel's life and thought. "Between God and Man" remains the best introduction to Heschel, a foundation for Heschel studies, a popular classroom text, and a precious resource for the laity as well as scholars and teachers of 20th-century religious thought.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughts on the Existence of God, May 15, 2013
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This review is from: Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism (Paperback)
Between God and Man is a brilliant treatise on the origin of Judaism and Rabbi Heschel skilfully presents a highly convincing argument for the existence of God in terms of awe and wonder of the universe. When I read his comments, I was totally transported to another realm of understanding. I have not yet finished the book, but I would say it has made an enormous impression on me.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction into Jewish religious thinking!, February 24, 2006
This review is from: Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism (Paperback)
One must hang on one's lips when a wise Jew is talking about God. It is as if Einstein is speaking about physics, Mozart composing music, van Gogh painting. Read carefully and with open heart!
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Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism
Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism by Abraham Joshua Heschel (Paperback - October 21, 1997)
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