Heschel; Held;

Heschel’s Antidote to Land Obsession

This week is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders from throughout the Jewish world. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter.  As we are in the midst of Passover, I am bringing a piece by Rabbi Shai Held who is president and dean at Hadar, a pluralistic learning community in New York. He is the author of Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence and The Heart of Torah: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion. He is at work on a book about the centrality of love in Jewish theology, spirituality, and ethics.  Passover sits at the nexus of conversations about land (leaving one place to become free and settle in the Promised Land) and of time (each generation is to collapse time and regard himself as leaving bondage).


It is one of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s most famous and influential claims: Judaism’s central concern is time rather than space. As he puts it in The Sabbath, “Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time” (italics Heschel’s). For Heschel, “The main themes of faith lie in the realm of time. We remember the day of the exodus from Egypt, the day when Israel stood at Sinai; and our Messianic hope is the expectation of a day, of the end of days.” Accordingly, for Heschel, Jewish liturgical life is an “architecture of time”; Judaism’s “great cathedral” is Shabbat, built not in space but in time.

Heschel’s prioritization of time over space is so profound that even when, in the wake of the 1967 war, he writes a book about the meaning of the Land of Israel for Jews, he titles it Israel: An Echo of Eternity and writes that Israel is “a land where time transcends space, where space is a dimension of time.”

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Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris, 0 comments