Philosopher Rabbi David Hartman reviled the phrase “Kacha zeh” (“That’s how it
is”), Rabbi Donniel Hartman said Monday during his father’s funeral. He didn’t
believe in reality limiting his ability to better Israel and the Jewish
For many, Hartman, who passed away at the age of 81 on Sunday, is
remembered for the indelible mark he made on the Jewish world as a pillar of
liberal Orthodoxy and champion of pluralism.
But for his children, who
spoke tearfully about their father at his Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem,
he is remembered simply as abba (“father”).
Tova Hartman vividly
described the power of her father’s chanting – and screaming – of the closing
prayer on Yom Kippur when she was a child, and how much he cherished prayer and
spirituality, especially singing with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. She recalled how
frightened she was at age nine when her father injured himself climbing out the
window of a hotel that had caught on fire.
The institute’s beit midrash
(hall of Torah study) swelled with those who came to pay tribute to the founder
of the institution that became a beacon of pluralism in a religiously divided
city and Jewish world.
Donniel Hartman, who took over from his father as
the president of the Hartman Institute, said he suffered from diabetes and
congestive heart disease, and his death came after long-term
Following the service, Hartman was buried at Har Hamenuhot in
Remembered as an open-minded scholar who grappled with
tradition for answers to the challenges of modernity, three of his five children
and three of his students spoke about his approach to Torah, which placed man
and lovingkindness at the center. US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, Jerusalem Mayor
Nir Barkat and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor attended the
Tova Hartman, a leading Orthodox feminist and scholar and one of
the founders of the Shira Hadasha synagogue in Jerusalem, spoke emotionally
about the pride her father felt in bringing people closer to Judaism – from
yeshiva students on the verge of leaving religious life to his neighbors in
Montreal whom he inspired to build succot.
The last books he recommended
to his daughter to read were by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Rabbi Mordechai
Kaplan; Heschel, because he represented unconditional love for the Jewish
people, and Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, because he
These intrinsic values defined her father, Tova
Hartman said, adding that he and Maimonides, the medieval rationalist Torah
scholar, were one and the same in her mind.
As a testament to his
multidenominational approach, students of David Hartman from different movements
of Judaism spoke at the funeral about his power and passion as a teacher and the
generation of Jewish leaders he inspired.
Elliott Yagod, who was a
close friend and student of Hartman's for 51 years, said his teacher’s ability
to engage his students was the result of his personal dynamics, his humor and
his psychological understanding of people and human interactions.
a large extent it was also due to his ability to articulate dramatically… the
concrete implications, philosophic and legal concepts, the narratives of the
Jewish tradition,” said Yagod, calling himself a lifelong student of
“He communicated his excitement with the ideas of the texts he
taught and his students often discovered a new appreciation for the parts of
their own lives previously unknown to them.
They discovered new meaning
in their identities as Jews and as reflective human beings.”
summarized Hartman’s philosophy on Judaism and Jewish education as deeply
rational, independent and advocating a universal human identity, while also
possessing an abiding belief in Zionism.
“He always preferred analysis
and clarification of opposing views over authoritative pronouncements of what is
right and what is required. In contrast to a religious outlook that is obsessed
with authority, he believed in a viability of a religious sensibility informed
by sincere and well-reasoned discussion,” he said. “Second, his national
communal identity did not compete with or exclude his universal human
In Hartman’s words, Yagod quoted, “the God of Sinai and the
God of creation are one and the same.” Or in his more provocative voice, “there
is no more a Jewish morality than there is a Jewish science.”
Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, spoke about the first
class he took with Hartman at Hebrew University in 1975 – a course on
philosophers Baruch Spinoza, Maimonides and Judah Halevy – that was actually
“A class with David was a fast break,” he said, to
light laughter. “There were passes that went back and forth, blocked shots,
ideas that just didn’t take flight. But the point was to strip everything away
that was false, everything that was pretend and get to the inner part of what
“I can tell you that sitting in David’s class was as if someone
had turned on the lights in a previously dark room.”
inspired him to become a rabbi, and he later studied under Hartman in a
three-year program at the institute. He said his beloved teacher taught him to
love and quarrel with every text he met.
Jacobs emphasized the distance
between Hartman’s respect for diversity and the prevalent Orthodox Judaism that
does not embrace pluralism.
“I discovered what many of us in the beit
midrash today know: that there were no others like him. His brand of Judaism was
fearless, always evolving and changing. It was brutally honest. It was alive and
it defied every single label and yet at all times it was authentic. A more
inspiring and challenging teacher you could not find.”
“our sustenance as a people must come from being a Jewish community that values
many authentic paths to Jewish commitment,” he said. “You are the reason that so
many of us not only live in the world of Torah but carry your teaching and try
with all of our hearts to build upon it.
“May we have even a fraction of
Rabbi Hartman’s insight and backbone as we help shape a more compelling Judaism
for the next generations and may the Holy One continue to bless this remarkably
brilliant, amazing family that is proud to call David not just their teacher but
Born in 1931 into an ultra-Orthodox, impoverished family
in Brooklyn, New York, Hartman studied at the Lakewood Yeshiva in New Jersey and
later under Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, a principle figure in the history of
modern Orthodoxy, who ordained him as a rabbi at Yeshiva University in New
In 1960, Hartman founded a Montreal synagogue and became the
community’s first rabbi. He immigrated to Israel in 1971 with his wife and
children and lectured on Jewish thought at the Hebrew University for over 20
years. He published dozens of books throughout his career including two about
Maimonides, one on Soloveitchik and two about his own spiritual
Hartman established the landmark institute bearing his father’s
name in 1976. It has educated multitudes of rabbis and teachers from Israel and
the Diaspora, and over 1,000 IDF officers, and has sponsored Hartman junior high
and high schools and a think tank.
Hartman is survived by five children,
16 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
He is also survived by his
former wife, Barbara.
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