JTS2014d (2)Did Christianity, Modernity and Zionism make Judaism obsolete? Does God still dialogue with Jews — even though they rejected His Son as their Savior? Are Jews seeking the living God? What would they say if God asked them: “Who are you?”

Last evening at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), in New York, Rabbi Shai Held presented his book, Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence (Indiana University Press, 2013).

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1971) was a prominent Jewish theologian, activist, and poet who, according Rabbi Held, focused on “the idea of transcendence—or the movement from self-centeredness to God-centeredness.” In his book, Rabbi Held critiques Heschel in relationship with contemporary Jewish thinkers, Christian theologians, devotional writers, and philosophers of religion.

“‘To pray,’ Heschel writes, ‘means to bring God back into the world, to establish his kingship, to let His glory prevail,’ Once again, the Creator is not only transcendent, but also vulnerable and dependent. The majestic God depends for His very majesty on an act of man.

Like countless modern theologians, Heschel begins with the subject and proceeds to emphasize the human capacity to know God, intuitively and immediately…One of Heschel’s most consistent laments is that revelation is an answer to a question that human beings have stopped asking.

JTS2014eOur humanity, as we have seen, is constituted by our capacity to rise above our selfish ego. So, Heschel reminds us, is our freedom.”

Rabbis Heschel and Held provide a wake-up call for self-centered Jews, Christians and secularists.

Photograph: Stephen Wise