David’s legacy

Tova Hartman says her father wasn’t a feminist, but the late founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute taught her to embrace tradition even when she was at odds with it, and to find the answers within it

Tova Hartman with her daughter and grandchildren521 (photo credit: SARAH LEVIN)
Tova Hartman with her daughter and grandchildren521
(photo credit: SARAH LEVIN)
On the shloshim (the end of the first month of mourning) of Rabbi David Hartman, Tova Hartman delivered a eulogy for her father, who died in February at 81. She said that she had learned from him how to find answers within Jewish tradition.
Last week, in her comfortable living room in Baka, she said that she also learned from her father that one can gain understanding about morality from outside the Jewish world and use it to enhance one’s religious life.
“Those two aspects are what I learned from my father,” she says. “That is the deepest thing I gleaned from him in terms of my relationship to Jewish tradition.
I learned that you don’t abandon the tradition when there’s a problem or some challenges. He never did. He could complain, yes. For example, he would get angry when we got to the book of Vayikra [Leviticus], saying, ‘How are we still reading this book?’ But if we ever thought of eliminating it, he would be very upset. That is the re-engaging again and raising your voice within the tradition, feeling that the tradition belongs to you and to find answers within it.”
Tova Hartman was 14 when her parents, David and Barbara Hartman, decided to leave the warm Jewish community in Montreal and make aliya to Jerusalem.
“I was at a very difficult age to break my connections.
I loved the shul in Montreal, and I had a lot of friends there,” she says, adding that while today there is no question that Israel, and Jerusalem especially, is her home, it took her some time until she could say that her home was Jerusalem.
“It didn’t happen right away. It really took a while.
But not out of an ideological issue – I just didn’t know Hebrew, I didn’t know anybody here, and I felt very isolated when we came here. It was a very lonely experience, as it was for many other girls that age,” she explains. The turning point came when she graduated from high school and decided to go into the army. “It was like saying I live here, I belong here, this is where I want to be. And my family wanted it as well. My older sister was in the army, and my father was very much in favor of girls going into the army. So by then, I could say to myself that I might miss Montreal and a few things, but this is where I’m living now.”
When she was sent to Safed with a group of religious girls as soldier-teachers, for the first time Hartman encountered the poverty in communities that were so different from what she had seen in Jerusalem. She was very affected by it emotionally, and the topic became part of the discussions at the Shabbat table at home.
“It was the first time that I went to my father, who was deeply involved with the problems of Judaism and pluralism, and said, ‘You know, Abba, there are a lot of other problems as well. There are people who have nothing to eat.’ I think he reacted with some patience, but then he added that the whole world couldn’t be social workers,” she recounts.
Hartman says she understood his reaction, noting that her father was known to be very generous in giving charity. The issue of poverty in Israeli society kept coming up at the Shabbat table; but as she points out, “It was only part of the conversations that went on.”
RABBI HARTMAN stood behind many important decisions that encouraged a pluralistic vision of modern Orthodoxy in Israel. An American-born Jewish philosopher who promoted a liberal approach to Orthodoxy, he created the Shalom Hartman Institute that expressed his commitment to pluralism. He taught philosophy and Jewish thought at the Hebrew University – he was considered one of the most charismatic professors there – and encouraged a wider and more open attitude towards one’s Jewishness. His main idea was that Jews are partners with God in a covenant. Thus he declared that religious Jews should find a way to adapt to modern values – though not originally Jewish, like democracy – and include them in their religious life and observance.
The Shalom Hartman Institute, which he founded in his father’s name in 1976, has become a theological and cultural landmark, particularly for the thousands of Diaspora Jews who attend conferences or spend summers studying there. Over the years, the institute has led to the opening of two Jerusalem high schools, as well as a research center and a beit midrash.
Even though Rabbi Hartman and the Shalom Hartman Institute have become part of the mosaic of the country’s spiritual and intellectual life, especially in Jerusalem, Hartman was never really accepted by the local Orthodox establishment, not to mention the haredim, who sometimes even accused him of heresy.
In recent years, Rabbi Hartman publicly criticized the increasing haredi hegemony in the country’s public life. For example, when some religious soldiers boycotted an official ceremony because female soldiers sang on the stage, it enraged him. In an interview in Yediot Aharonot in 2011, he described the incident as “insane.” He went even further, adding that in his eyes, such incidents were the expression of something much deeper and much more dangerous. “The Arabs want to kill my body, but the Jews are trying to kill my soul,” he said, explaining that for him, religion shouldn’t be a private matter left in the hands of a group of people who would be the sole interpreters. “I don’t want religion to be the private property of certain people. I don’t want the length of the sidelocks to be the determining factor,” he said.
Nevertheless, his daughter points out, he never thought that answers to dilemmas in religious life should be found anywhere other than in the Jewish customs and traditions.
“You have to find the way; nobody else should define reality for you,” she says.
HARTMAN ADMITS that her solutions may not work for everybody, but adds that as long as they are taken with some halachic integrity, that enables her and those who agree with her to find a place that suits them within the halachic world, despite the differences. For her, she says, that is the essence of what she gained from her father’s teaching and life.
“My father was not a feminist – that’s not the burning issue that he wanted to change in the community. I know many people who left the tradition, and I understand it, and they may be right theoretically. It may be really difficult to bridge. But for me, there was a bridge.”
While she was in high school, Hartman never missed a class of her father’s at the Hebrew University. When she completed her military service, she went to the Hebrew University and studied Jewish philosophy. Then she began to teach at the Pelech religious girls’ school, headed by Prof. Alice Shalvi. But what seemed at first like an obvious path for Hartman soon became an increasing source of internal conflict and raised many questions. When Shalvi asked her to write a curriculum on how democracy and religion could be taught, Hartman wrote a course for the 11th and 12th grades, which she taught herself.
“Nobody had done that before,” she says. “But then I began to feel that I couldn’t integrate the girls into the religious system the way I was expected to as a teacher.”
She began to question the religious establishment and what it meant to be an honest educator of girls in grades 11 and 12 in this country and in this community.
“What was I supposed to lead the girls towards, and how should I share some of the questions I had regarding the place of women? I was becoming less and less comfortable in that role,” she explains.
As a result, Hartman left the Jewish studies program and went into psychology, practically leaving her active involvement with Jewish tradition. Later on, she went to the US to continue her studies for an additional master’s and a PhD in psychology.
“I began to live the life of a Jew who didn’t commit the lavim [‘Thou shalt not’ commandments]. I never violated Shabbat, I was religious in all my practices, but I stopped being actively involved in the Jewish tradition and educating girls towards a religious life. I really said to myself, ‘I’ll go into psychology and find another place for myself.’” The answer she was looking for came, quite unexpectedly, from her professor, Carol Gilligan, who told her to go back to Jerusalem, to return to Orthodoxy and to find the answers she needed and her own sense of place. BACK IN Jerusalem, Hartman found that the road to a synagogue that would fit her feminist and religious needs was not that far away. She says she understood that, in fact, there wasn’t a problem with one rabbi or another but “there was a problem with rabbis, period.”
She began to teach a gender and religion course at Bar-Ilan University and went to various synagogues with her three daughters, feeling a growing urge for another kind of place.
“I was always sitting behind the mehitza, and it wasn’t working for me,” she says. “I wanted to experience the very basic things differently. There I was, teaching a gender course, yet my religious life hadn’t changed.”
She looked for different places and committees. Out of that search came the need – and the decision – to create something new. Shira Hadasha, a modern Orthodox synagogue that offers viable solutions for women, emerged as a the answer to her quest.
“There was no no longer any room for that split between my life and my religion. For me, it is very important to be a feminist, and I am grateful for feminism that enabled that,” she says. Hartman says that what helped her find the right solution was firstly what she had learned from her father – namely, that the Jewish tradition has in it a mechanism for self-correction, and there are many different mechanisms of change, depending on what one feels compelled by, but the tradition is continually changing. Rabbi Hartman, she says, felt that the Jewish tradition would be enhanced by that process and certainly not fall apart, and that it would make for a better religious person.
“I was raised to believe that the Jewish tradition can correct itself. I am very clear that feminism was not the 11th commandment, that it is a new claim and a modern idea, but it is one of the better modern ideas that we can and should claim. If we are compelled by feminism, can it enhance religious feeling? That’s what we should ask ourselves, and I think it does. My question, therefore, was how do we make that change?” Hartman gives the example of her father’s attitude when he made aliya. “He didn’t sit outside and say, ‘This is bad in Israel and that is bad in Israel, I don’t like this or that.’ On the contrary.
He said, ‘Okay, I’m going to change it. I will build institutions, I will create things.’ And I believe I got that creative spirit from him, and from my mother as well, because I’m the daughter of my mother and my father.”
As a result, Hartman has adopted her father’s approach – bringing about the changes necessary but within the living Jewish tradition.
“I’d say that Shira Hadasha, the result of that approach, is about stopping to kvetch,” she says.”My father didn’t believe that only ‘Mitzion tetze Torah’ [the Torah will come out of Zion].
He felt that there had to be a real active dialogue with Jews all over the world, but Israel is ours, it’s the only Jewish country we have, so we need to invest in it and make it better. My father was not cynical, and neither am I. What we haven’t been able to do doesn’t mean those things can’t be done. No, it means we’re not there yet. That’s something I learned from my father, and I loved him very much.” •