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The Earth Is the Lord's: The Inner World of the Jew in Eastern Europe (A Jewish Lights Classic Reprint) Paperback – March 1, 1995
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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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Glenn Shea, at Glenn's Book Notes, at www.bookbarnniantic.com
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. All the drivers were involved in fervent study and religious discussion.... It was then that I... became convinced that all the professions, the bakers, the shoemakers, etc., have their own shtible in the Jewish district; and every free moment which can be taken off from work is given to the study of Torah. And when they get together in intimate groups, one urges the other, 'Sog mir a shtickle Torah--Tell me a little Torah."
European Jews studied in their own language--Yiddish--born of what Heschel calls "a will to make intelligible, to explain and simplify the tremendous complexities of the sacred literature. Thus there arose, as though spontaneously, a mother tongue, a direct expression of feeling, a mode of speech without ceremony or artifice, a language that speaks itself without taking devious paths, a tongue that has maternal intimacy and warmth. In this language, you say 'beauty' and mean 'spirituality;' you say 'kindness' and mean 'holiness.' Few languages can be spoken so simply and directly; there are but few languages which lend themselves with such difficulty to falseness. No wonder Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav would sometimes choose Yiddish to pour out his heart to God."
Heschel's words could easily define the Jewish faith itself. The world he describes was lost in the Holocaust, but the faith was not. This book rekindles it.
--- Alyssa A. Lappen