Monday, March 5, 2012

The Making of the Kotzker Rebbe

A Passion For Truth is A.J. Heschel’s exploration of Kierkegaard and the Kotzker Rebbe, two individuals known of their anti-social tendencies, and their extreme disregard for accepted religious norms.  Heschel pays far more attention to Kierkegaard, especially in the beginning of this book.  This is an accident of history.  Kierkegaard left behind many books and a massive journal, while the Kotzker burned his works.  All we have in the way of his teaching are the recollections of his students.  So, as comparisons go, we don’t have much at all.  

There is Kierkegaard, who has had a major influence on modern Christianity, and the Kotzker, who has almost no impact on contemporary Judaism.  Often, as Heschel writes about the Kotzker, we wonder where he gets his sources.  They are not cited, or something cited in book about the Kotzker Heschel himself was writing, which appears to have never been published (part of a larger Yiddish work).  The reader is left wondering where this material comes from.

Heschel is prone to repetition in his all books, repeating the same idea in the various ways in the same paragraph.  His range also tends to be narrow, focusing on some element that interests him, to the determent of the rest of the material.  This is found in abundance in A Passion for Truth.  Heschel runs rings around himself, covering the same ground.  He lets rhetoric win, and in the process, makes a sluggish book that is difficult to read or care about.

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