David Hartman Was Man of Passion for Jewish Modernity and Israel

Appreciation

By Eugene Korn (JTA)

Published February 13, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Some years ago I was discussing David Hartman’s work with the renowned Israeli philosopher Aviezer Ravitsky.

David Hartman
shalom hartman institute
David Hartman

“Hartman is not a scholar,” Ravitsky said about his colleague in Department of Jewish Thought at The Hebrew University. “He is more than a scholar.” Indeed he was.

David Hartman was a combustible mix of energy, ideas and commitment. I worked with him for five years at the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem during the 1990s, and I hear his words ringing in my ears today as clearly as they did 20 years ago. Long after leaving Jerusalem, I would ask myself where I got the ideas that came out of my mouth when I taught in America. More often than not it was Hartman.

Like his biblical namesake, David Hartman was a man of enormous and irresistible passions – for Israel, for the Jewish people and rabbinic tradition, for the Talmudic study and philosophy, for intellectual honesty, for human dignity and for modernity. That torrent of passions caused deep contradictions in his soul that tormented him and frequently made him a blistering critic of what he loved. How could he value the Israeli rabbinate when it demeaned women in overseeing marriage and divorce? Could he continue to love Zionism when some of its spokesmen championed chauvinism and racism?

“Duvie” loved Maimonides’ depth, yet hated his dehumanization of people with no philosophic knowledge. He loved the spiritual yearning of Orthodoxy but could not abide the Orthodox obsession with ritual minutiae, self-interest and denigration of others.

Hartman taught me that a person or institution need not be perfect in order to love them and that it is important to reject their errors.

He was born in 1932 to an ultra-Orthodox family in Brooklyn, and used to tell his traditionalist detractors that he was a Jewish blue-blood whose family came over on the Mayflower. Early in life he left the narrow world of the Lakewood Orthodoxy for Yeshiva University, where he studied Talmud for 11 years with the great R. Joseph Soloveitchik. Noticing Hartman’s rare creative intellect, his teacher insisted that he study philosophy, so Hartman enrolled in nearby Fordham University, a Catholic institution – better to study philosophy with Jesuits than to leave Soloveitchik’s class for an Ivy League school far from New York. The Fordham Catholics impressed him deeply, and he claimed they taught him to speak about God without apology.

After a relatively short but spectacular rabbinic career in Montreal, Hartman left suddenly for Israel in 1971, impelled by the influence of the Six-Day War. Israel had become the center of Jewish history and a player on the world stage. He couldn’t sit on the sidelines in America as a mere observer to the unfolding drama.

He taught Jewish philosophy in Israel and pursued his dream of building a world-class think tank in Jerusalem in his father’s memory. Patterned after Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies, Hartman’s institute is dedicated to forcing Jewish tradition to grapple with modern life. He knew that Judaism could no longer stay in the intellectual and moral ghetto of the past. It needed to come to grips in a serious way with secularism, the intellectual challenge to religious authority and most of all, Jewish sovereignty. Hartman believed that the State of Israel meant a fundamental change for Judaism, Torah and the Jewish people – similar to the historical change stimulated by the emergence of rabbinic Judaism.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.