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Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: God’s Parenthood

Dr. Dror Bondi
| 01/01/2024

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the seminal 20th century thinker and activist, articulates why we are all God’s Children. Dr. Dror Bondi discusses the image of ‘God’s Parenthood’ as an aspect of our relationship with the eternal. 

For us, the disciples of Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Jewish philosopher and social activist, this week, every year, is very special. Last Shabbat, Yud-Het (18th) Tevet, we marked his Yahrzeit, and next Shabbat, Kaf-Hey (25th) Tevet, we mark his birthday.

He was born on 1907 in Warsaw to be a Hasidic Rabbi, went as a young poet to learn in Vilna, faced the Nazis as a doctoral student in Berlin, taught in the US at HUC and the JTS, marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama, and passed away in NYC on December 1972.

MLK Jr. took his slogan “Let My people go” from the story of Exodus. A few chapters before this verse we find in our Parasha a similar saying from God: “Let My son go.” This is the first place in the Torah in which we can find this image of God’s parenthood.

What is the meaning of this image?

In Heschel’s first meeting with MLK Jr., in a 1963 conference on “Religion and Race,” in Chicago, he explained why God’s parenthood is the very opposite of racism or religious bigotry:[I quote]

What is an idol? Any god who is mine but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you, is an idol… Racial or religious bigotry must be recognized for what it is: blasphemy… To think of man in terms of white, black or yellow is more than an error. It is an eye disease, a cancer of the soul… God is every man’s pedigree. He is either the Father of all men or of no man. The image of God is either in every man or in no man… Equality as a religious commandment goes beyond the principle of equality before the law. Equality as a religious commandment means personal involvement, fellowship, mutual reverence and concern.[end of quote]

According to Heschel, every time we experience deep fellowship with another human being, with every kind of human suffering, we feel how God’s parenthood has opened our hearts to relate to each other as siblings. And vice versa, every time that our faith brings us to feel or to behave as if we are a supreme nation or religion – we worship an idol, we idolize ourselves instead of worship God.

In 1965, in his speech “No Religion is an Island,” Heschel used this image to explain the importance of inter-faith dialogue as well as the moral line which explain why sometimes you have to fight against another religion: [I quote]

Above all, while dogmas and forms of worship are divergent, God is the same… there are levels of existence where Jews and Christians meet as sons and brothers… all men are sons of one father, but they have also the power to forfeit their birthright, to turn rebels, voluntary bastards… It is not flesh and blood but honor and obedience that save the right of sonship. We claim brotherhood by being subject to His commandments. We are sons when we hearken to the Father, when we praise and honor Him.[end of quote]

The parenthood of God is the source of interfaith dialogue between siblings, and at the same time, is the source for the moral line: the paganism of anti-solidarity, of racial or religious bigotry is blasphemy against the parenthood of God.

You simply can’t forge solidarity with fundamentalists who hate you. You can’t do inter-religious dialogue with someone who idolizes his own religion and sees all the partners of another religion as objects for murder simply because they belong to another religion.

Racism or religious hatred is idolatry, while deep faith in God our Father is the ultimate source for equality, fellowship and peace.

Shavua Tov from Schechter

Dr. Dror Bondi is dedicated to bringing Abraham Joshua Heschel’s thought to Israel, translating his words into Hebrew and transforming Israel by his spirit.  He is an author, translator and editor of several of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s books and has dedicated the last 15 years to bringing Rabbi Heschel’s thoughts to Israel. In 2012 he translated and edited the first Hebrew collection of Heschel’s articles. He translated into Hebrew Heschel’s Man’s Quest of God, edited a new translation of The Shabbat and a translation of Heschel’s Yiddish book, Kotzk. His Hebrew translation of Who is Man? Will be published soon, and his Hebrew translation of The Prophets will be published next year. Bondi’s own book Ayeca? about Heschel’s thought earned him the 2006 Shalem Prize. In December 2018, he published as co-editor, the first Hebrew academic collection of articles about Heschel – Get Thee: Studies in Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Oeuvre. His edition of Torah Min HaShamayim, based on newly discovered never published manuscripts, won HaPais Prize in 2019. Dr. Dror Bondi has a doctorate in Jewish Thought from Bar-Ilan University. He lives with his family in the Urban-Kibbutz Beit Yisrael in Jerusalem, a community of religious and non-religious who unite together in social and spiritual activism.



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