I am deeply, deeply saddened to hear of the death of my friend, Rabbi Dr. David
Hartman. This comes on the heels of the loss of the great Jewish legal scholar
Dr. Menachem Elon. While Dr. Elon and Rabbi Hartman made different contributions
to Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael, for me, as part of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
(YCT) and Yeshivat Maharat families, they had a common point – their
unconditional support for our vision, our programs and our
Modern Orthodox rabbinic training had for years been the
sole domain of one institution.
When YCT started – indeed, several years
before it started – there was a harsh reactionary response.
YCT was not
always YCT. It actually began as the Meorot Fellowship, a once-a-week study
group on issues confronting Modern Orthodoxy.
Once the Jewish world heard
about Meorot, it didn’t take long for it to be declared offlimits by some
rabbis. There were several rabbis and even some students who told me they agreed
with the philosophy and would like to be involved, but could not because of this
And then I was in touch with Dr. Menachem Elon. I came to know
Dr. Elon after he dealt with the Women of the Wall issue as an Israeli Supreme
Court justice. He was, after all, a master of mishpat ivri, and hence most
suitable to write that decision. In the course of that ruling he contrasted the
arguments for women’s prayer groups with the rulings of several roshei yeshivot
who prohibited such services. In the end, Dr. Elon’s decision was extremely
favorable to women’s prayer groups. He was a man who was not afraid to speak
truth to power.
I, therefore, in those early years, turned to Dr. Elon
for advice. His reaction was quick and clear: “If I could be of any help, please
let me know.”
And he was, as he began his annual teaching for the Meorot
He was one of the highlights of the year, giving us
the credibility we sorely needed.
In time, I came to know some of Dr.
What struck me was how they had taken different paths in
life, and yet remained close.
That does not happen in a vacuum. It comes,
I believe, from parental influence. Dr.
Elon embodied a tone reflective
of the basic philosophy at YCT, that Am Yisrael, despite its differences, must
learn to love each other like family.
And the test of family is not how
we love when agreeing, but when disagreeing.
And now, to Duvie. I first
met Duvie when trying out as his replacement in his Montreal synagogue in 1971.
I already knew he was a unique man, but when I was walking in I saw a towering
figure in sweatpants on a pre-Shabbat jog. It was Rabbi Hartman with his
engaging smile and glowing eyes, wishing me well. I felt then that our kesher
(connection) would be long and strong.
Over the years, I spoke to Duvie
about the larger issues facing Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael, Religious Zionism,
Orthodoxy, Modern Orthodoxy, Open Orthodoxy and of course, YCT and Yeshivat
Maharat. The constant in our conversation was Duvie’s passionate spirit as a
source of encouragement.
“Don’t let them get you down,” he’d say, “just
look forward. The Chovevei guys are the best – they shine at our Institute [the
Shalom Hartman Institute].” He inscribed one of his books to me with sentiments
I will always cherish – in honor of the students of YCT and Yeshivat Maharat who
are changing the future of Modern Orthodoxy.
When Duvie first became a
rabbi in Montreal and especially after he began the Hartman Institute, he was,
in many ways, alone. He brought challenges to the fore that were not previously
discussed openly in Orthodox circles. He knew that a Torah institute whose
foundations were faith, integrity and open inquiry would be attractive not only
to Jews of other denominations and the unaffiliated, but to the Modern Orthodox
world as well.
As it evolved he was the subject of intense criticism. But
he always stood strong. That was Duvie – he was not afraid to stand up for what
was right – and he did that for us the YCT and Yeshivat Maharat
When the Rabba and Maharat controversy broke out, Duvie was
there as well.
Sometimes the criticism during that time was more personal
than ideological. Duvie was not only an ideological brother, but a friend who,
in this extremely difficult time, was there.
There were times when as
president of YCT, I thought, why not let it go. The criticism was too piercing,
it kept me up at night. The toll on my children and wife was too
But we did not give up because of the incredible support along the
way from people like Dr. Elon and Rav Duvie who stood with us.
that Dr. Elon and Rabbi Dr. David Hartman’s accomplishments go well beyond
Chovevei and Maharat. But I pray that they know that they have touched our lives
as well. To them, the Chovevei and Maharat communities – and the tens, even
hundreds of thousands of people whom the lights of these communities have
inspired and will inspire – are forever grateful.
The author is the
senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. He is the founder of Yeshivat
Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat.