• Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-1983) was one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the 20th century.  We believe that his thought may be even more important in the 21st century.

A Heschel Letter

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 3:47pm -- Mel Scult

Heschel’s stock has just gone up if indeed there is still room for such movement in that direction.
 
I have just relocated to the West Side of Manhattan and of course moving is a very difficult and complicated process. It also might be described as “ loosing and finding.”  I have lost or can’t locate much but I just found an amazing letter from Heschel to Kaplan  which I copied years ago from the Kaplan papers at JTS.
 
The occasion of the letter was the publication in the late fifties of Kaplan’s book “ Judaism without Supernaturalism.”  Kaplan had sent a copy to Heschel and, of course, one naturally wonders what Kaplan had in mind. Was it just  a courtesy to a fellow faculty member or was there something deeper here?  Perhaps Kaplan felt that his philosophy and Heschel’s were not as far apart as people seem to think. Perhaps Kaplan felt the affinity in their goals if not completely in their approaches and hoped Heschel would appreciate the general thrust of his system.
 
In any case, Heschel responded wonderfully. He shows himself to be a mature, rational, evolved human being. Obviously, these two great thinkers differed profoundly. But the question naturally occurs, ‘How do we treat those who differ from us in significant ways?’  So often we show contempt for our intellectual adversaries rather than respect and appreciation. 
 
The Heschel letter reads as follows:
 
"Dear Professor Kaplan:
 
I deeply appreciate your kindness in sending me your latest work Judaism without Supernaturalism. It is a work that will contribute greatly to the understanding of  your system. I marvel at the extraordinary scope of problems you deal with and at the consistency of your all-encompassing approach to the burning issues of Jewish life.

You know I am sure, that even when I do not find myself able to agree with all your thoughts, I remain sensitive to your great intellectual passion and to your spiritual concern for our people and its teachings.
 
In affection and esteem.
 
Cordially,
 
Abraham J. Heschel"

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