Jewish philosopher Rabbi David Hartman dies

Founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem passes away at the age of 81, following a long illness.

Rabbi David Hartman 370 (photo credit: Courtesy of the Shalom Hartman Institute website )
Rabbi David Hartman 370
(photo credit: Courtesy of the Shalom Hartman Institute website )
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.
Hartman established the Shalom Hartman Institute in 1976, named after his father, and developed an approach that departed from more traditionally conservative Orthodoxy.
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 other.
Born in 1931 to an ultra- Orthodox family in Brooklyn, New York, Hartman studied at the prestigious, haredi Lakewood Yeshiva in New Jersey.
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.
He 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 meaning.
“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 Institute.
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 immoral.
“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 it.
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 impossible.”
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.
“He 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 AP Sunday.Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.