Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972), scion of Hasidic dynasties, and renowned philosopher and social activist, had a dream: to formulate Judaism as a system offering a spiritual and ethical alternative for all. He began to realize his dream through his commentary on Scripture, and ended it with his commentary on Hasidut (Kotzk, Maggid 2015). The great challenge that remained in between was rabbinic thought, the thought of Hazal: did it contain a systematic philosophy?
Heavenly Torah: As Refracted Through the Generations is Heschel’s response to this challenge. In its first section, Heschel presents two schools of thought in rabbinic literature. In the second, he develops the implications of their argument as it relates to the concept of “Torah from Heaven.” In the third book, the author intended to clarify the overall significance of his work, but he passed from this world before completing the task, and his handwritten notes were scattered for two decades, and then published while rife with errors.
This new edition of his work corrects this historical iniquity, offering for the first time chapters that had been left out (or perhaps censored?), which contain new, radical Hasidic aspects of Heschel’s thought.
I was a young yeshiva student in Merkaz HaRav when I was first exposed to this work, and I felt that the gates of wisdom were opening before me. The way that Heschel described the academies of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yishmael lit up the paths of learning, as if they were the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud leading the camp. I owe much of my Torah to it.
Rabbi David Stav, chairman of the Tzohar rabbinic organization.
While a student at the Hebrew University, I had the good fortune to learn from its best academics, but also to discover what was marginalized: books that were left out of the bibliography, whose names were whispered secretly, like the work before you. Only when the Peli family gave it to me, did I discover two ancient schools of thought which invite reflection on dual levels of consciousness: Aggada and Halakha, oral and written, East and West, and even different academic approaches. And perhaps a third area as well: thought based on authentic research that is not afraid to face the theological horizon and its challenges. Heschel marched with Martin Luther King, and his writing marches as well, from halakha to ethical practice, and from theory to theology, representing the journey of a brand saved from the fire who arose as a phoenix to new life. Professor Haviva Pedaya, Ben Gurion University
This multi-faceted work contains far more than its title intimates. One can study it in order to learn exegetical, theological and ethical approaches of Hazal; or as a piece of particularly deep Hasidic homily; and it is possible, and even desirable, to see in it a comprehensive, encyclopedic collection of the Torah of the Tannaim by a scholar who was a unique believer and a courageous humanist. This work did not receive the place in the academic study of Hazal that it deserved, because of the harsh dichotomy commonly accepted in academic circles between research and theology. In our day, we have learned to be more flexible with these categories, and therefore, this new edition is a rare opportunity for a corrective.
Professor Ishai Rosen-Zvi, Tel Aviv University and Shalom Hartman Institute
The book (including 2 volumes) is divided into three sections:
A. A presentation of rabbinic thought as starkly divided between two schools of thought, the academy of Rabbi Yishmael and the academy of Rabbi Akiva.
B. A clarification of the disagreement between the two schools through the prism of their different understanding of the belief in "Torah from Heaven."
C. “These and these are the words of the living God”- A philosophical exposition of the secret of the culture of dispute in rabbinic culture, and the tension in Judaism between halakha and God.