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Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry Volume 13Focusing on the Holocaust and its Aftermath$
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Antony Polonsky and Antony Polonsky

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9781874774600

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: February 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781874774600.001.0001

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Abraham Joshua Heschel in Poland: Hasidism Enters Modernity

Abraham Joshua Heschel in Poland: Hasidism Enters Modernity

(p.383) Abraham Joshua Heschel in Poland: Hasidism Enters Modernity
Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry Volume 13

Edward K. Kaplan

Liverpool University Press

This chapter looks at Abraham Joshua Heschel. Abraham Joshua Heschel emigrated to the United States in 1940, but his first thirty-three years in Europe made him the religious philosopher, biblical interpreter, and social activist he became as a naturalized American citizen. Born in Warsaw on January 11, 1907, his ancestors were hasidim, continuing the eighteenth-century pietistic movement founded by Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the Ba'al Shem Tov. This Jewish consciousness, according to Heschel, assumed a spontaneous awareness of divine presence. Heschel's relationship with Poland was painful and complex. Growing up in hasidic Warsaw, he had little contact with Polish culture, and to prepare for his secular studies, he had to learn Polish from tutors. As a child he experienced the common antisemitism of the streets. As an adolescent in Warsaw, Heschel was expected to inherit the position of rebbe—a spiritual and community leader—held by his father and uncles. However, he reconciled his hasidic vision with west European culture and history's demands, making the transition by leaving Warsaw to earn a diploma at the recently established secular, Yiddish-language Realgymnasium in Vilna. By 1933, he had completed a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Berlin. From there he went to Frankfurt, and returned for one academic year to Warsaw before finally leaving Poland in July of 1939.

Keywords:   Abraham Joshua Heschel, Warsaw, hasidim, hasidism, Jewish consciousness, Poland, Polish culture, antisemitism, European culture

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