The Meaning and Status of Torah in the Thought of Abraham Joshua Heschel

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Arts and Humanities | Jewish Studies | Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


The word “torah” is often if not usually thought of exclusively in terms of law. Some people think that the whole of the Jewish Torah was revealed to Moses on Sinai and, moreover, that this Torah is an immutable code of laws. This essay will examine Abraham Joshua Heschel’s views on these matters, as well as his understanding of the place of the Torah in Jewish life and the status of the Torah vis-a-vis God. It will show why Heschel regards the Torah as more than law or a code of laws and it will explain his rejection of “pan-halachism.” Heschel’s understanding of the polarity of agada [haggadah] (Jewish lore) and halacha (Jewish law) in the Torah and the whole of Jewish life will also be discussed. Some other questions to be dealt with are: Were all the halachic laws revealed by God? Are all of these laws equally binding? What is the essence of the Jewish Torah? Does God require observance of more than the essence of the Torah?