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The Earth Is the Lord's: The Inner World of the Jew in Eastern Europe (Jewish Lights Classic Reprint) Paperback – March 1, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

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The Earth Is the Lord's by Abraham Joshua Heschel is a story about the daily life of Jews in Eastern Europe before the 20th century. "I have not talked about their books, their art or institutions," Heschel writes in the book's preface, "but about their ... customs, about their attitudes toward the basic things in life, about the scale of values which directed their aspirations." Spare, elegant woodcut illustrations by Ilya Schor complement Heschel's text, deepening its preoccupation with intangibles. (One chapter, for example, describes an indelibly Jewish trait, "The Sigh.") The parallelisms of Heschel's prose are mesmerizing: "Pagans exalt sacred things, the Prophets extol sacred deeds;" "The stone is broken, but the words are alive." There are stories of a seraph in a synagogue, of scholars closing their books and wandering away from home in self-imposed exile, of a rabbi who spent days staring at the same page of the Talmud. ("I feel so good here," he said, "why should I go elsewhere?") The facts of each vignette are suffused with purpose so that when Heschel states his book's reason for being, it seems the most natural thing in the world: "Loyal to the presence of the ultimate in the common, we may be able to make it clear that man is more than man, that in doing the finite he may perceive the infinite." --Michael Joseph Gross

From Library Journal

This thin 1949 volume focuses on the daily life of the Eastern European Jew during the Ashkenazic period.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Jewish Lights Classic Reprint
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Jewish Lights; 1 edition (March 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1879045427
  • ISBN-13: 978-1879045422
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #893,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is arguably the most influential American Catholic author of the twentieth century. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, has millions of copies and has been translated into over fifteen languages. He wrote over sixty other books and hundreds of poems and articles on topics ranging from monastic spirituality to civil rights, nonviolence, and the nuclear arms race.

After a rambunctious youth and adolescence, Merton converted to Roman Catholicism and entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), the most ascetic Roman Catholic monastic order.

The twenty-seven years he spent in Gethsemani brought about profound changes in his self-understanding. This ongoing conversion impelled him into the political arena, where he became, according to Daniel Berrigan, the conscience of the peace movement of the 1960's. Referring to race and peace as the two most urgent issues of our time, Merton was a strong supporter of the nonviolent civil rights movement, which he called "certainly the greatest example of Christian faith in action in the social history of the United States." For his social activism Merton endured severe criticism, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who assailed his political writings as unbecoming of a monk.

During his last years, he became deeply interested in Asian religions, particularly Zen Buddhism, and in promoting East-West dialogue. After several meetings with Merton during the American monk's trip to the Far East in 1968, the Dali Lama praised him as having a more profound understanding of Buddhism than any other Christian he had known. It was during this trip to a conference on East-West monastic dialogue that Merton died, in Bangkok on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution. The date marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of his entrance to Gethsemani.

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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Rabbi Yonassan Gershom VINE VOICE on July 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
If I had to pick just one book to explain my inner life as a Hasidic Jew, this would be it. In fact, now that is is back in print, I shall do exactly that in my FAQ on Hasidic Culture.
Not just about Hasidism, this thin but profound volume, written in such beautifully poetic prose, covers the different types of Eastern European Jews in a way that informs and inspires at the same time. Rabbi Heschel explain so clearly how Jewish spirituality is expressd, not in visible cathedrals, art, or monuments, but in timeless words and values as they are expressed in community through both worship and daily life.
Originally written in 1949, it appears that the author, himself a Holocaust survivor, intended this book to be a memorial to a lost world. Yet 50 years later, the book is as fresh and inspiring as the day it was written. The physical Jewish world he describes may no longer be there in Eastern Europe, but the inner world of religious Jews continues to grow and flourish so that I, as a Hasid in the 90's, can read this book and say, "Yes, this describes my inner life, too!" .
Perhaps, as Heschel himself suggests, this Eastern European "golden age" of Jewish spirituality (his words) can now be fully appreciated by the world. An excellent, EXCELLENT, book! Double 5-stars!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Alyssa A. Lappen VINE VOICE on July 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
This small but brilliant volume condenses and crystallizes Jewish thought and Talmudic methods, but one can read it in three hours.

Central to Judaism are Torah and Talmud--which offer democratic learning systems open to all willing to avail themselves. Heschel uses the great Yiddish writer Mendele Moher Sefarim's description of a typical Eastern European Jewish town--"where Torah was studied from time immemorial; where practically all the inhabitants are scholars, where the Synagogue or the House of Study is full of people of all classes busily engaged in studies, townfolk as well as young men from afar...where at dusk, between twilight and evening prayers, artisans and other simple folk gather around the tables to listen to a discourse on the great books of Torah, to interpretations of Scripture, to readings from theological, homiletical or ethical writings...., where on the Sabbath and the holidays, near the Holy Ark, at the reading stand, sermons are spoken that kindle the hearts of the Jewish people for the Divine Presence, sermons seasoned with parables and aphorisms of the sages, in a voice and a tone that heartens one's soul, that melts all limbs, that penetrates the whole being." Study included all: Indeed, a book preserved at New York's Yivo Institute bears the stamp of the Berditshev Society of Wood Choppers for the Study of Mishnah, the earliest part of Talmud.

A Christian scholar who visited Warsaw during World War I saw many parked coaches with no drivers in sight. In his country, he wrote, "I would have known where to look for them. A young Jewish boy showed me the way: in a courtyard, on the second floor, was the shtible of Jewish drivers. It consisted of two rooms: one filled with Talmud volumes, the other a room for prayer.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Esther Nebenzahl on January 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
A short book in size but a great book in content. It is a description of the spirit of the Jews of Eastern Europe, an exaltation of their culture, their way of life, and above all of the high spiritual development of this ethnic group. The author manifests a certain melancholy for days gone by, for a way of life which he believes no longer exists. Lets leave to the present day Hassids to confirm or deny this statement. Beautiful prose, a must for anyone interested in learning about the essence of Eastern Europe Judaism.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Sylvan G. Feldstein on March 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
Originally written in 1949, this is a delightful introduction to the spiritual life of East European Jewry.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on November 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book gives the niggun( the spiritual melody) of the Jewish soul in Eastern Europe. Heschel writes" The Jews in Eastern Europe lived more in time than in space.It was as if their soul was always on the way, and if the secret of their heart had no affinity with things. .. A niggun, a tune flowing in search of its own unattainable end "

This spiritual music Heschel argues was present in the everyday life of ordinary Jews. In one of the powerful sections of the work he contrasts the elitist static world of the Jews of fourteenth and fifteenth century Spain with that of the Ashkenazim.He talks about the isolation of Ashkenazi Jewry before modern times, and its dynamism in comparison to a more slowly awakening Sephradish Jewry.

The great feeling in this work is somehow sadly underlined when one considers that it was first published in 1945 the year that it became known that most of those who lived in this sacred way were exterminated by the Nazis.
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Format: Paperback
It is moving, almost shocking, to see the publication date of Heschel's THE EARTH IS THE LORD'S: The Inner World of the Jew in East Europe--1950, scant historical seconds after the wartime extermination of six million Jews--and to try to understand how it could have been written at such a distance from rage and bitterness. Perhaps the word "inner" in the title is the clue: Heschel evokes the spiritual sustenance, the manna, of the Ashkenazic tradition, its sustaining piety and love of learning, the bounding energy of the Hasidim, the penetrative gaze of the Kabbalistic texts. "My task was not to explain, but to see, to discern and to depict." This brief (100 page) essay, with its almost bewilderingly beautiful prose, is a work as precious and benign as anything published in the twentieth century. Big words, I know. Prove me wrong.

Glenn Shea, at Glenn's Book Notes, at www.bookbarnniantic.com
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