This article was first published in JWeekly.
Susannah Heschel, author of an early seminal book on Jewish feminism, an academic and the daughter of pre-eminent scholar Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, says Jewish life today is too much about identity and not enough about religiosity, God and spirituality.
Focusing on God’s presence in the world, she believes, is the way forward after the last century, during which assimilation, nationalism, Zionism and anti-Semitism topped the Jewish communal agenda.
“We need to recapture aspects of Judaism that were lost in the postwar years. People at that time thought that being religious, and especially Orthodox, was outmoded, but it’s not true,” Heschel told J. as she prepared to fly to the Bay Area from her home in Newton, Mass., for a lecture next week at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco and a class at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills on behalf of Lehrhaus Judaica.
“We focus too much on Jewish identity in the political and secular sense. We talk about intermarriage a lot, but what we need to be more concerned about is God and faith,” said Heschel, who is the Eli Black professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College. Her scholarship focuses on Jewish-Christian relations in Germany during the 19th and 20th centuries, the history of biblical scholarship and the history of anti-Semitism.
She says many leaders and researchers of the Jewish community are missing the mark. “I’m not crazy about surveys asking about the numbers of Jews lighting Shabbat candles,” Heschel said. “People should be asked about what the lighting of the candles means to them. The centrally important thing for Jews is the awareness of God’s presence. If we abandon this awareness, we stop being Jews.”
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© 2014 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.