(Without the Beard) Modern Abraham Joshua Heschel

Heschel no beard

I’ve seen the photograph of the very young Heschel on the front cover of Edward Kaplan and Samuel Dresner’s biography, Abraham Joshua Heschel: Prophetic Witness. But in this photograph, Heschel is already middle aged. When I stumbled upon the picture online with my American Judaism seminar, I was shocked by the photograph because he already seems middle aged –without the beard! I would not have recognized him. The prophetic beard and unruly hair have long since become iconic. Actually, he grew the beard sometime in the late 1950s and early 1960s. That means that Heschel looked like this, Heschel looked modern, like a modern American Jew, when he wrote Man is Not Alone, The Sabbath, or  Earth is the Lord’s. What’s authentic? What’s really real? What does it mean to dress up modern Jewish thought this way or that way? About Heschel, I’m having a hard to time getting my mind around this, the realization being just one more indication that the prophetic tradition in modern American Jewish thought is…modern and modernist. The image God belongs to the history of style.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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4 Responses to (Without the Beard) Modern Abraham Joshua Heschel

  1. this Heschel brings home the fact that he was 25 years younger than Kaplan. When we see him with the white beard etc. they look the same age.

  2. dmf says:

    that’s something, could be a company man

  3. You mean to say the prophetic mantle is…. a considered fashion accessory?

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