Abraham Joshua Heschel Biography

Abraham Joshua Heschel was one of the leading Jewish theologians and one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. Read this Biography to learn more about his profile, childhood, life and timeline.

Abraham Joshua Heschel

Quick Facts

Gender: Male
Birthday: 11 January 1907
Died: 23 December 1972
Nationality: Polish
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Children: Susannah Heschel
Education: Humboldt University of Berlin
Awards: John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship

Abraham Joshua Heschel was a famous, Polish born, U.S. philosopher and scholar. He was also a rabbi and was one of the leading theologians of the 20th century in the United States. Apart from gaining a traditional yeshiva education, Heschel joined a Yiddish poetry group, published a volume of poems and also faced personal losses during the Nazi occupation. After migrating to the United States, Heschel served as professor of ethics and mysticism and also wrote a number of works based on theology. Apart from theological works, Heschel also expounded many facets of Jewish thought and life. Today, four schools in the United States are named after him.

Early Life & Career

Abraham Joshua Heschel was born into a rabbi family and was of Hasidic descent. He was the youngest of the six children born to Reizel Perlow and Moshe Mordechai Heschel. He received a traditional educational and pursued his higher education at the University of Berlin, where he obtained his doctorate. Around 1933, Heschel wrote a number of Yiddish poems, which he published and dedicated to his father who died of influenza early in 1916. In 1938, Heschel was deported by the Gestapo and served as a Jewish philosophy lecturer at the Institute for Jewish Studies. Little did Heschel know that he was about to be confronted by massive personal losses in the family. His family were captured by the Nazis and slaughtered during the German Anschluss.
Following this devastating period, Heschel migrated to the US where he served as a professor at the Hebrew Union College and also took up a position at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. In the later years of his life, he took up the post of professor of Jewish ethics and mysticism until his death in 1972. Heschel was more spiritual than any of his other colleagues at university and would often busy himself with the works of various Hebrew and Jewish prophets and started working for Jewish Civil Rights and for social action (Selma Civil Rights March) in the United States. Heschel is also one of the widely read theologians today. Some of his popular works include ‘The Sabbath’, ‘God in Search of Man’, ‘Man is not Alone’, ‘The Prophets’ and ‘Torah min HaShamayim’.
Heschel married Sylvia Straus in 1946 and their daughter, Susannah Heschel, took after her father as a scholar in her own manner. Towards the end of his life, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel fell seriously ill. He passed away on December 23, 1972.

Major Works

‘The Sabbath (1951)’ ‘God in Search of Man’ ‘Man is not Alone’ ‘Prophetic Inspiration After the Prophets’ ‘The Prophets’ ‘Torah min HaShamayim’


Abraham Joshua Heschel was presented the Judaism and World Peace Award by Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1965.

Legacy And Contributions

Abraham Joshua Heschel was a singular figure in Jewish-American history and after his death, he was ranked as one of the most important theologians of the century. Apart from his widespread, multi-ethic reach, Heschel had tremendous influence over clergy men, Catholic communities and even working class people. His achievements were all the more extraordinary. His contributions in the field of philosophy, Jewish mysticism and the mastery in Kabbalah cannot be ignored. He was a leader and a supporter of the American civil rights struggle and as an early supporter of the movement; he contributed to the elimination of racial discrimination and independence for his people and the Jewish yoke. An iconic theologian, Heschel also helped pave the way for the legendary Catholic-Jewish declaration—The ‘Nostra Aetate’. Four schools have been named after Abraham Joshua Heschel in New York, California, Agoura Hills and Toronto.


Apart from being a social activist, Heschel was also professor at numerous colleges, where he taught Jewish studies. Today, his daughter, Susannah is following her revered father’s footsteps and is teaching Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College in the United States of America.

Famous Associations

Abraham Joshua Heschel is best remembered for his associations with Martin Luther King, Jr. Heschel was a leader in the American civil rights struggle and was seen marching beside Martin Luther King, Jr., during the 1960’s in Selma. He also worked closely with Rabbi Gordon Tucker who translated and edited his famous masterwork, ‘Torah min HaShamayim’.


Abraham Joshua Heschel was one of the few widely read theologians. Although most theologians appealed to mainly religious groups, Abraham Joshua Heschel had a positive impact on a mammoth audience around the world because he fundamentally based his teachings on human impulse rather than a religious one.


1907: Abraham Joshua Heschel was born on January 11th in Warsaw, Poland.
1933: He published a volume of Yiddish poetry, after he joined a Yiddish poetry group.
1938: Heschel was arrested by the ‘Gestapo’ and deported.
1940: He served as faculty at the Hebrew Union College.
1946: Heschel joined the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He married Sylvia Straus the same year.
1951: He published the masterpiece, ‘The Sabbath’.
1965: He was awarded the World Peace Award by Martin Luther King, Jr. He also paraded as an activist in the Selma Civil Rights march.
1972: He passed away on December 23rd.

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Abraham Joshua Heschel Biography


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Last Updated

April 27, 2020

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