- Interfaith Activism: Abraham Joshua Heschel and Religious Diversity by Harold Kasimov
This short book provides an excellent summary of the writings of Heschel, his spirituality, and his reinterpretation of his own faith. It provides insights into how people can remain true to their own faith while opening themselves to the religious "other." It is a powerful book that all readers of this journal can learn from and meditate on.
Heschel was and Kasimov is a survivor of the Shoah. This painful reality pushes them into the depths of how to understand humanity and the relationship between humans and God, including the question most strongly raised by Elie Wiesel: How can one believe in a just and loving God as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible after God seemingly abandoned the Chosen People in the death [End Page 471] camps? How can humans open themselves to other humans after the evil of so many humans' perpetrating the Shoah?
The book includes forewords by a Jewish, a Protestant, and a Muslim scholar, and its final chapter is co-written with Catholic scholar John Merkle. It narrates Heschel's "path to God," which can be traveled by people of other faiths. It delves into religious diversity and the truths that can be found in other religions. It places Heschel among the spiritual masters of Jewish tradition and notes his deep relations with Maurice Friedman, Swami Vivekananda, and Martin Luther King, Jr.; the influence on Heschel's work of thinkers such as Martin Buber; and Heschel's influence on theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr, William Sloane Coffin, and Thomas Merton.
On p. 16, Kasimov falsely describes Christianity as "faith without the deeds of the law." This is the historic misinterpretation of Luther by Catholics. In a half-dozen places Kasimov describes Heschel as the "most influential" and, in effect, the only Jew involved in the development of Nostra aetate, which revolutionized Catholic teaching on Jews and Judaism. Among others, I would note especially Jules Isaac, the French historian who studied and defined the ancient Christian "teaching of contempt" that Vatican II (finally) rejected in Nostra aetate, and Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, who brought together significant studies of Christian anti-Jewish teachings in our time and who, by working closely with key American bishops, brought these to the attention of the Council—enabling the precision of the document's vision for a new and valid understanding of the Catholic Church's relationship with God's People, the Jews. [End Page 472]