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Abraham Joshua Heschel on worship

November 13, 2011

If God were a theory, the study of theology would be the way to understand Him. But God is alive and in need of love and worship. This is why thinking of God is related to our worship. In an analogy of artistic understanding, we sing to Him before we are able to understand Him. We have to love in order to know. Unless we learn how to sing, unless we know how to love, we will never learn how to understand Him.

— Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man (p. 281)

(This quote is taken from study materials for today’s “Global Day of Jewish Learning” which is focused on the “Shema” prayer.  This particular quote is item 9 on the “introduction” handout.)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2011 8:50 am

    No one should think that Heschel is minimizing “theory” or even the literary, as in the Bible. Elsewhere, he has said (again making important contrasts and maximizing what’s beyond theorizing):

    The Hebrew Bible calls for concern for the problem of living rather than the problem of dying. // Its central concern is not, as in the Gilgamesh epic, how to escape death, but rather how to sanctify life. // Man is man not because of what he has in common with the earth but because of what he has in common with God. The Greek thinkers sought to understand man [merely and principally and theoretically] as part of the universe: the prophets sought to understand man [in his worship of God] as a partner of God. [[page 369, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays ]]

  2. November 13, 2011 10:10 am

    Compare with Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 2a2ae Q91 which concludes saying:

    Song should be used in praising God so that the minds of the fainthearted may be incited to devotion.

    [Cambridge Blackfriars translation vol. 39 (Kevin D. O’Rourke), 1964.]

    (Ironically and anachronistically, it seems here that Aquinas has incorporated all three of Kierkegaard’s stages into the single dialect of religion.)

    So Heschel and Aquinas stand at two extremes. Or do they?

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