Rabbi David Hartman, founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute, died on Sunday
morning at 81.
Hartman was considered to be one of the pioneers of
liberal Orthodox Judaism who deeply influenced Jewish thought and education, as
well as thousands of people in Israel and around the world.
established the Shalom Hartman Institute in 1976, named after his father, and
developed an approach that departed from more traditionally conservative
Through the educational institutions he founded, Hartman
sought to create a pluralistic Jewish outlook designed to provide answers for
the challenges facing contemporary Judaism.
Much of his work was
therefore devoted to the meeting point between Jewish heritage and the
challenges of the present, and he sought to create a dialogue between tradition
on the one hand and the currents of contemporary thinking on the
Born in 1931 to an ultra- Orthodox family in Brooklyn, New York,
Hartman studied at the prestigious, haredi Lakewood Yeshiva in New
He later studied under the renowned Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, a
principle figure in the history of modern Orthodoxy, who ordained him as a
rabbi; and wrote his doctoral thesis in philosophy at McGill University in
Montreal, where he also served as a rabbi.
In 1960, Hartman founded the
Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem Synagogue in Montreal and became the community's
first rabbi, where he had a deep impact on his congregation and helped build up
the synagogue’s membership.
He immigrated to Israel in 1971 and lectured
in Jewish thought at the Hebrew University for more than 20 years.
also published dozens of books throughout his career.
Between 1977 and
1984, Hartman served as an adviser to then-education minister Zvulun Hammer, and
acted as an adviser to several prime ministers on religious pluralism in Israel
and the relationship between the Diaspora and Israel.
In a 2011 interview
with Yediot Aharonot, Hartman said that religious tolerance was the way to bring
Jews closer to religion and not coercion.
“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
“Do you think that people will want to enter a spiritual life
made up only of what is forbidden, forbidden, forbidden?” “Rabbi Hartman was
always looking to correct the relationship between “inner truth” and Jewish
law,” said Ariel Picard, a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman
For him, issues such as the continued problems with agunot,
women whose husbands refuse to grant them a bill of divorce, were intolerable,
Picard said, and he believed that Jewish law must be customized to reflect what
he saw as the inner truth that such a situation is unjust and
“His legacy is the idea that Judaism has many faces and one
can’t say ‘this is Judaism and nothing else,’” said Picard. “Rabbi Hartman
taught that there are many different ways to be a Jew in the 21st century and
that instead of closing themselves off, there must be a dialogue between all
streams and approaches.
“So many people were able to relate to his
approach since it is not oppressive and coercive, but is faithful to what Jewish
tradition teaches us: that we have to be students of Torah, not masters of
Being a talmid chacham [Torah scholar] means that we’re always
students, and no one owns the Torah, because if we’re all students then we can
welcome other people to learn with us, but if we’re masters then this becomes
Hartman earned international recognition for his
contributions to renewing the face of the Jewish world. Awards include the Avi
Chai Prize (2000), Guardian of Jerusalem Prize (2001), Samuel Rothberg Prize for
Jewish Education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2004), Marc and Henia
Liebhaber Prize for Religious Tolerance (2012), and honorary doctorates from
Yale University, Hebrew Union College and the Weizmann Institute.
advanced political Jewish thought in Israel to a more progressive, democratic
and brave place,” former Hartman student and new Yesh Atid MK Ruth Calderon told
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.