cover image Judaism Is About Love: Recovering the Heart of Jewish Life

Judaism Is About Love: Recovering the Heart of Jewish Life

Shai Held. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (560p) ISBN 978-0-374-19244-0

“Judaism is not what you think it is,” according to Rabbi Held (Abraham Joshua Heschel) in this paradigm-shifting study. Pushing back against notions that Christianity is defined by belief and Judaism by action, Held asserts that Jewish theology, spirituality, and ethics champion “the heart and the deed, not one or another,” and that both are rooted in love of “God, the neighbor, [and] the stranger.” Those “three dramatic love commands” mandated by the Torah and the two added by rabbinic tradition (love all humans; respond to others’ suffering with “compassionate feeling and compassionate action”) are “so central to Jewish life that... everything else grows out” of them. The author uses these principles to tackle a host of ethical considerations, including Judaism’s particular obligation to the poor and, in an especially potent section, in what circumstances it’s required to love one’s enemy. Woven in is a mention of the author’s mother, a child of European refugees whose “post-Holocaust anger almost consumed” her. Held avoids dogmatism and is never anything less than transparent, admitting that he can sometimes accept that God loves humanity despite its “cruelty and callousness,” and at other times finds the idea “hopelessly naive.” Ultimately, Held draws profound meaning from Judaism and its promise that “we are capable of living lives animated by love, mercy, compassion, and generosity.” This has the power to reshape Jews’ views of their faith. (Mar.)