“Loving Kindness” guided Rabbi David Hartman’s Judaism

Feb 12, 2013 Published under Religion

This week, we mourn the loss and celebrate the life of Rabbi David Hartman who died on Sunday. As a teacher and religious leader, Rabbi Hartman championed an adaptive Judaism with loving kindness at the core of his religious philosophy. May his progressive approach to Judaism inspire a greater focus on morality and inclusion in the Jewish community and beyond.

See below for Rabbi Hartman’s New York Times obituary as well as a tribute written by Arnold Eisen of JTS  to better understand the life and legacy that Rabbi Hartman leaves behind.

Spotted by Daniel Lubetzky, by Julianna Storch




JERUSALEM (AP) – Rabbi David Hartman, one of the world’s leading Jewish philosophers who promoted both Jewish pluralism and interfaith dialogue, has died. He was 81.

The Shalom Hartman Institute, founded by the rabbi more than 30 years ago, said Hartman died Sunday after a long illness.

The Brooklyn-born Hartman was known for bringing a more liberal Judaism to the conservative brand commonplace in Israel, where he moved in 1971 after holding rabbinical posts in the U.S. and Canada.

He is praised for having developed a unique Jewish philosophy which positioned man at the center of Judaism, opening the door to a more tolerant approach that took personal choice and experience into greater account. Hartman’s line of thought places man in a dialogue with God, rather than as an obedient, unquestioning worshipper. He promoted thoughtful criticism and interpretation of Jewish texts and laws among his students, spawning a generation of thinkers who c ontinue to challenge what’s traditionally accepted or forbidden under Jewish law.

“Contrary to his teachers who saw Jewish law as signed and sealed, he chose to see it as a type of language where the past and present interact,” said Avi Sagi, a professor of philosophy at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University who studied and worked with Hartman.

Hartman’s death comes amid an ongoing clash between the more liberal streams of Reform and Conservative Judaism and Israel’s strict, ultra-Orthodox establishment, which has growing political power and has become increasingly resistant to any inroads by those movements. The liberal streams are demanding more recognition for their traditions in Israel, where they are marginal, although they predominate among American Jews, the largest group of the Jewish diaspora.

While Hartman adhered to the Orthodox tradition, he pushed for a Judaism that was tolerant and open-minded. He was known for his efforts to promote understanding betwe en Jews of various affiliations both inside and outside Israel.

In a 2011 interview to the Yediot Ahronot daily, Hartman spoke out against some religious groups in Israel for their strict interpretation of some aspects of Jewish law.

“It’s insane, insane,” Hartman said. “These people emphasize marginal issues. The important thing is loving kindness.”

“They emphasize trivial things. We lost the deeper meaning,” he said. “Do you think that people will want to enter a spiritual life made up only of what is forbidden, forbidden, forbidden?”

The Shalom Hartman Institute was testament to his openness, drawing Jews from many streams, different backgrounds, and accepting men as well as women. Menachem Lorberbaum, a professor at Tel Aviv University who worked closely with Hartman at the institute, said he “inspired a whole new generation of teachers in Jewish philosophy and theology.” Beyond his work at the institute, Hartman was widely published and won numero us prizes, including the 1977 National Jewish Book Award.

Hartman was a proponent of women’s rights within the religion, where a battle is being waged between some of Israel’s Orthodox rabbis and those who support broadening women’s roles. “I can’t see a Judaism that flourishes” while considering women to be “second rate,” he told NPR in 2011. His daughter, Tova Hartman, is a leading Israeli Jewish feminist and one of the founders of an Orthodox feminist synagogue in Jerusalem.

“He advanced political Jewish thought in Israel to a more progressive, democratic and brave place,” said Ruth Calderon, a first-time member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, who studied under Hartman in the 1980s.

Hartman also extended his hand to members of other religions, hosting a yearly theological conference for leaders of the Abrahamic faiths, where priests, imams and rabbis debate and discuss issues that are universal to each, such as death, prayer or tolerance.

Lorbe rbaum said Hartman will be known for his accomplishments on religious ethics, and as “a pioneer of interfaith dialogue.”

“He was committed to the notion that morality precedes Jewish law,” he said.

Hartman is survived by his wife and five children. His funeral was scheduled for Monday.

A Tribute to David Hartman

by Arnold Eisen, chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary

February 11th, 2013

The Jewish world, both in Israel and the Diaspora, lost a great teacher, thinker, and institution builder yesterday when Rabbi David Hartman (z”l) passed away in Jerusalem after a long illness. Many of us also lost a good friend. I happened to be in Florida this weekend, and was talking with Rabbi David Steinhardt on Shabbat afternoon about how much David Hartman meant to each of us, how he had touched our souls and inspired our minds. Sunday morning, we consoled one another for his loss. My friend David Ellenson and I did the same a few minutes later, fighting back tears. It was so with many rabbis, lay leaders, intellectuals, and public figures, including many Gentiles. We will miss David Hartman greatly. We already do.

This is not the moment for full-scale evaluation of David Hartman’s legacy. That will come in time. Today, we are still too close to the man and to the shock of his death. But I do want to reflect briefly on why David was, and will always remain, so important to me and to many others.

One factor is the sheer power and force of his mind. David was a brilliant thinker. Ideas flashed through his brain so fast that he did not always have time to process them before sharing them with the rest of us, and we, his students, did not have the time to consider them before straining to keep up with the next insight David presented. He was famous for speaking in two or more languages simultaneously and not finishing sentences in either of them. I first encountered this as a graduate student in the 1970s at Hebrew University, where I had the good fortune to take a course on the halakhic and philosophical issues surrounding the concepts Children of Noah and ger v’toshav(resident alien). It helped me a lot that a Hartman class, though officially conducted in Hebrew, always featured a good measure of English. It helped me even more that I, who had come to Israel both for academic reasons and to deepen my relationship as a Jew with Judaism and with Israel, had a teacher who embodied those commitments. Talmud and Maimonides, for David Hartman, were not subjects in a curriculum, but challenging guides for individual and collective Jewish lives. Never was a teacher more passionate. Few could command the material as David Hartman could—and command his students by means of the material. He made it speak to their hearts and souls as much as to their minds. David took me aside more than once that year for conversation, and then never stopped taking me aside. He did this for countless people. Our devotion to Judaism and Israel are inseparable from our relationship to him.

That is so, in large part, because of David Hartman’s message. Just look at the titles of several works in English, so expressive of the man and what he stood for. In 1978, he published Joy and Responsibility: Israel, Modernity and the Renewal of Judaism. Every single article in that collection both teaches and preaches. The learning is marshaled to the cause of moving the reader to accept the challenge of making Judaism come alive in a sovereign State of Israel and a Diaspora where almost every door is opened before Jews. He envisioned halakhah not as a set of dos and don’ts, but as the “ground for creating a shared spiritual language.” He warned of the tensions between “Sinai and Messianism,” a matter of great urgency, given the rise of Gush Emunim. He wrote about and personified “The Joy of the Torah.” The closest thing to a Hartman magnum opus is perhaps A Living Covenant (1985), which bore the Hartmanian subtitle The Innovative Spirit in Traditional Judaism. Once again, Hartman exposited halakhah in a fresh, dynamic way, drawing upon his teacher, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, but applying his methods—and applying them to Israel—in ways that the Rav had not done. The book is deep, honest, piercing. It wrestles as much as it asserts. That is all the more true in two more recent collections: A Heart of Many Rooms: Celebrating the Many Voices Within Judaism (1999; the title says it all, I think) andThe God Who Hates Lies: Confronting and Rethinking Jewish Tradition (2011), as direct and powerful a dose of Hartman as one could hope for.

I conclude with a final aspect of the gift that was David Hartman, one I will try to capture with two reminiscences. The first is Hartman on stage before thousands at a General Assembly of the Federations in the 1980s or early ’90s. He stood far away, on a dais, yet touched people as much during the lecture as he did before and after when he moved through the crowd and literally put his hands on hundreds of shoulders. The glasses came off and on, the talk was punctuated with laughter and—it seemed—tears. I felt like the man on stage was talking to me personally and, from the faces all around me, I inferred that others too felt this way. How David Hartman did this again and again I do not know. I saw him reach people even more directly in smaller rooms of 50 or 100: same effect, same remarkable ability to move people and get their minds working at the very same moment.

And this was the David Hartman that we got to know one on one, and to whom I last spoke in his living room this past November: the man who not only loved the Jewish People in general, wished so much for it, was so frustrated at what it could achieve but failed to achieve, but who also loved individual members of the Jewish People (and many others too). David always wanted the most from the people he befriended—demanded it by urging them on—and gave us the charge to give all we could to the task, lest we fail those who count on us and fail ourselves. I was not privy to the medical details of David Hartman’s illnesses in his final years (though I did hear enough to get me worrying about his survival), but I do know that he was a man who just did not hold back. He threw everything he had into the projects he built in Israel (often in the face of concerted opposition from Orthodox authorities), just as he threw himself into every class, every speech, every conversation. He was larger than life because he poured all of his substantial gifts—his nefesh, his life force—into being David Hartman.

May his family and all who mourn him find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, on both of which he has left a substantial mark. May all of us who care about the life of the Jewish People, and the vitality of Torah, strive to do our best for those causes, and so not let David down.


Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

related posts

Comments are closed.