General advice: phrases, and read a second time.

General advice:
Read slowly and carefully, question what you read, take notes and underline important ideas and
phrases, and read a second time.
Reading for Mon 2/14 or Tues 2/15 (Sabbath, Religion, Holy Deeds):
Why these three sections to start? Judaism emphasizes orthopraxis (right actions or right
practices). Sabbath observance (resting from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown) is one of the
main forms religious practice (although religious Jews vary widely in how they practice it), and holy
deeds (following the commandments, or “mitzvot”) is the main daily form of practice. We’ll get to
Heschel’s beliefs about God and human purpose in the world, but I argue that those things flow
from the practices.
I assigned the “religion” section first because I think it’s good to see how a theologian like Heschel
can be devoted to religion and critical of it at the same time.
Background notes:
Sabbath: one day of rest a week, as a way of living out the creation narrative in Genesis in which
God creates for six days and rests on the seventh. Orthodox Jews don’t cook or drive or carry money
or engage in commerce on the Sabbath, although many Reform and Conservative Jews (who are
more liberal) do. Sometimes Sabbath is personified as a queen in Jewish literature.
Built into the idea of Sabbath rest is a distinction between the holy and the profane. For many Jews,
setting aside certain times as more holy than others reminds humans of their need to step back
from ordinary routines and see things in a different way. Ideally, this “stepping back” allows one to
go back to the daily routines refreshed and imbued with a greater sense of holiness in life.
QUESTIONS (come to class prepared to discuss):
As you read, think about Heschel’s descriptions of Sabbath rest and compare to Thich Nhat Hanh’s
descriptions of mindfulness. Are their goals similar or different? How?
On the last paragraph in the “Sabbath” section, Heschel argues that abstension is a way of
expressing splendor, just as people more adequately express God’s mystery by saying what God is
not (ex: infinite or not finite) than what God is. The idea here is that human language and ideas
always falls short of God’s reality, so critiquing human language itself is necessary to speak more
truly. How might this idea of “negative theology” apply to Sabbath rest? How is it critiquing human
actions in light of God’s mystery?
In the first paragraph of the “Religion” section, how is religion “eternal asking”? Does this change
your idea of what religion is? For example, it’s easy to think of religion as a set of answers that the
questioners have to accept to become believers. What if it were the other way around? What if
religion posed questions, and the act of belief was a response to the questions?
What does he mean that “religion for religion’s sake is idolatry”? (64)
How does Heschel’s view of the “theology of the common deed” compare to Thich Nhat Hanh?
How is “right living a way to right thinking” (120)? How are routine and loyal deeds sustain
holiness “while love hibernates” (121). How do you act towards those you love when your own love
hibernates? Is routine and discipline valuable to you?
Mitzvah: commandment (Plural: mitzvot) or good deed. Orthodox Judaism identifies 613
commandments in the Torah. The mitzvot are the primary ways of expressing fidelity to the
covenant with God.
Cult: in Religious Studies, “cult” does not mean “weird group of religious fanatics” but “ group
devoted to worship and rituals”. I think Heschel uses it to refer to groups that put the primary focus
on ritual and only a secondary focus on ethics and good deeds.
Halacha: Jewish law. Can be very precise about how to observe the mitzvot (ex: how to rest on the
Sabbath or how to keep a kosher diet).
Agada: interpretations of narratives. It’s a different form of religious and ethical reasoning through
story-telling that is more open-ended and less precise than halacha.
What does Heschel mean by “the ineffable”? What implications does this have for his views on
reason, mystery, dogma, and words?
Who is God, for Heschel? What is God like, in Heschel’s words?
How does Heschel describe the experiences of faith? Is this similar to or different from your own
Sinai: refers to God giving the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The term refers to the major revelatory
experience and basis of Judaism.
READING: “The People”
In what ways is it difficult to be Jewish, for Heschel?
How does Heschel question God about the Holocaust?
Auschwitz: a death camp in the Holocaust. Used as a symbol of Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the
Mark of Cain: In the book of Genesis in the Bible, Cain killed his brother Abel. God put a mark upon
Cain to signify what he did and to protect him from further violence.
Baal Shem: a mystical rabbi and great spiritual teacher of the 18th century. Founder of Hasidism (a
mystical form of Orthodox Judaism). Also called the Baal Shem Tov.
Kiddush hashem: an act of sanctifying God’s name, giving glory to God.
Ineffable Name: God’s proper name in the Hebrew scriptures, spelled YHWH. It is never
pronounced out loud by Jews, as a sign of respect.
Two Tablets: At Mt Sinai, God gave Moses the 10 Commandments inscribed on two tablets of stone.
Used as a symbol of the law God gave to the Jews.
Ashkenazic: Jews of northern or eastern European descent. Contrast with Sephardic: Jews of
southern European or Middle Eastern descent.
Tallith: Jewish prayer shawl
Tefillin: phylacteries worn by orthodox Jews during prayers.
Ark: cabinet holding the 5 Torah scrolls at the front of a synagogue.
Ad majorem dei gloriam: To the greater glory of God. Motto of the Jesuits, meaning that everything
they do is dedicated to God’s glory.
READING: “The Land”
What does Israel (the modern state) and Jerusalem mean to Heschel?
Amalek, Haman: biblical figures who tried to kill Jews.
Hillel: great rabbi of the 1st century CE The Wall: the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, of the ancient
Temple in Jerusalem. It is the remaining part of the Temple, which was destroyed by Roman armies
in 70 CE.