July 31, 2011

by Reb Yudel
Bad JTA headline writing, 1966 Heschel edition

It's not easy to summarize a news story concisely... particularly when the subject of the story prefers oblique poetry to prose, as did Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. As Andrew Silow-Carroll noted,

I find that whenever I hear someone quoting Heschel, or most spiritual thinkers for that matter, I’m compelled to respond, “Or exactly the opposite.”
That would explain this JTA headline from May 17, 1966:
Rabbinical Assembly Convention Hears Warning on Ecumenical Movement
Given that the Orthodox opposed the ecumenical movement, it would certainly be possible that the Conservative rabbinate heard a warning against it.
"A second ecumenical movement, worldwide in extent and influence,
threatens the lives of all of us," a leading Jewish theologian told a
gathering of 500 rabbis and a number of invited Canadian clergymen here
tonight. Speaking on "Prerequisites of Faith," Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel, professor of Jewish ethics and mysticism at the Jewish
Theological Seminary of America, told his audience "that ecumenical
movement is nihilism."
Oh. So Heschel opposed nihilism. As for interreligious ecumenicism, this is what he had to say:

Addressing the 66th annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, the
association of Conservative rabbis, at its first meeting outside of the
United States, Dr. Heschel warned that "parochialism has become
untenable. Jews and Christians alike share the same perils and fears. It
is no longer safe for Jews to cultivate aloneness and uniqueness, to
refrain from sharing either perplexities or certainties with
Christians."

Spiritual betrayal on the part of any one group affects the faith of
all the world's believers, Dr. Heschel said. "For all the profound
differences in perspective and substance, Judaism is sooner or later
affected by the intellectual, moral and spiritual events within the
Christian society, and vice versa," Dr. Heschel said.

"We must choose between interfaith and inter-nihilism," the Jewish
scholar told his listeners. "Cynicism is not parochial. In praying for
each other's health and in helping one another to preserve our
respective legacies, therefore, we are preserving a common legacy of
faith," he said.

Let that be a lesson in writing headlines based on a cursory reading of one paragraph.

Incidentally, the last paragraph of the story marks Elie Wiesel's third appearance in the JTA archives, and the first as an advocate for Soviet Jewry:

At an earlier session of the convention, Elie Wiesel, prize-winning
author and a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, indicted world Jewry
"for abandoning the 2, 500, 000 Jews of the Soviet Union." Mr. Wiesel,
who has just returned from Russia, drew parallels between what he saw as
the abandonment of European Jewry during the holocaust and the neglect
of Soviet Jewry today.

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