Held’s new book, Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence, requires focused attention; it is an academic work with scores of footnotes. But it is also for the general reader who wants to know what exactly Heschel is trying to say in the sometimes repetitive maze of his beautiful utterances. What does Heschel mean when he insists, over and over again, that “God is in need of man?” What kind of reminder or awakening is Heschel proposing when he tells us, “We do not have to discover the world of faith, we only have to recover it. It is not terra incognita, an unknown land; it is a forgotten land.”
Held explains, patiently and clearly. He places Heschel’s thought against the background of other Jewish texts and thinkers from Maimonides to the Kotzker Rebbe, but also explains him in relationship to the Christian thought of his time: Merton, Underhill, Barth, Brunner, and others. How does a Jewish thinker differ from his Christian contemporaries, with whom he was close? (Heschel delivered a eulogy at the funeral of his friend, the great Christian thinker Reinhold Niebuhr).
Held’s emphasis is not on Heschel’s life but on his thought. How does he use the idea of ”˜hester panim,’ the concealment of God, to show God’s presence?