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March 1, 2013

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PAGE  HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 1, 2013 By Eugene Korn BERGENFIELD, N.J. (JTA)--Some years ago I was discussing David Hartman's work with the renowned Israeli philosopher Aviezer Ravitsky. "Hartman is not a schol- ar," Ravitsky said about his colleague in Department of Jewish Thought at The Hebrew University. "He is more than a scholar." Indeed he was. Rabbi Dr. David Hartman was a combustible mix of energy, ideas and commit- ment. I worked with him for five years at the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jeru- salem during the 1990s, and I hear his words ringing in my ears today as clearly as they did 20 years ago. Long after leaving Jerusalem, I would ask myself where I got the ideas that came out of my mouth when I taught in America. More often than not it was Hartman. Like his biblical name- sake, David Hartman was a man of enormous and irresistible passions--for Israel, for the Jewish people and rabbinic tradition, for the Talmudic study and philosophy, for intellectual honesty, for human dignity and for modernity. That torrent of passions caused deep contradictions in his soul that tormented him and frequently made him a Appreciation'. Remembering Rabbi David Hartrnan blistering critic of what he loved. How could he value the Israeli rabbinate when it demeaned women in overseeing marriage and di- vorce? Could he continue to love Zionism when some of its spokesmen championed chauvinism and racism? "Duvie" loved Mai- monides' depth, yet hated his dehumanization of people with no philosophic knowledge. He loved the spiritual yearning of Or- thodoxy but could not abide the Orthodox obsession with ritual minutiae, self- interest and denigration of others. Hartman taught me that a person or institution need not be perfect in order to love them and that it is important to reject their errors. He was born in 1932 to an ultra-Orthodox fam- ily in Brooklyn, and used to tell his traditionalist detractors that he was a Jewish blue-blood whose family came over on the Mayflower. Early in life he left the narrow world of the Lakewood Orthodoxy for Yeshiva University, where he studied Talmud for 11 years with the great R. Jo- seph Soloveitchik. Noticing Hartman's rare creative in- tellect, his teacher insisted that he study philosophy, so Hartman enrolled in nearby Fordham University, a Catholic institution--bet- ter to study philosophy with Jesuits than to leave Soioveitchik's class for an Ivy League school far from New York. The Fordham Catholics impressed him deeply, and he claimed they taught him to speak about God without apology. After a relatively short but spectacular rabbinic career in Montreal, Hartman left suddenly for Israel in 1971, impelled by the influence of the Six-Day War. Israel had become the center of Jewish history and a player on the world stage. He couldn't sit on the sidelines in America as a mere observer to the unfolding drama. He taught Jewish philoso- phy in Israel and pursued his dream of building a world-class think tank in Jerusalem in his father's memory. Patterned after Princeton's Institute for Advanced Studies, Hart- man's institute is dedicated to forcing Jewish tradition to grapple with modern life. He knew that Judaism could no longer stay in the intel- lectual and moral ghetto of the past. It needed to come to grips in a serious way with secularism, the intellectual challenge to religious authority and most of all, Jewish sovereignty. Hartman believed that the State of Israel meant a fundamental change for Judaism, Torah and the Jewish people--similar to the historical change stimu- lated by the emergence of rabbinic Judaism. For 20 years he traveled around the world single- handedly raising funds for his intellectual "taberna- cle," which moved from one temporary location after another in Jerusalem until it found its permanent home in 1996. Today the Shalom Hartman Institute stands on a majestic campus in one of the most expensive neigh- borhoods of Jerusalem. The late Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek loved Hartman's pluralism and tolerance, so Kollek sold him the property for one shekel. The formative influences in Hartman's life were Mai- monides, Soloveitchik and his European mother, who showed him the power of an unsophisticated and inti- mate faith in God. But Hart- man lacked the philosophic moderation of Maimonides, the Lithuanian restraint of Soloveitchik and the naivete of the mother he revered. He continued to love them-- and struggle with them-- until the end of his life, but ultimately had to blaze his own path. He rejected Maimonides' emotionless ra- tionality and Soloveitchik's anthropocentric Orthodoxy and halachic formalism. His writing reflected this: It was vital, bold and pulsating with visceral emotion--the opposite of dry scholarship, stilted research or technical halachic discourse. Hartman had overpow- ering charisma: He was humorous, shocking and scathingly intolerant of those he opposed, particu- larly hypocrites masquerad- ing as religious authorities. People misunderstood the purpose of his humor, tak- ing it as mere entertain- ment. Because he spoke of ultimately serious things like God, ethics, revelation, the future of the Jewish people and Israel, he knew he had to put people at ease with his humor. In his soul he believed in the combina- tion of joy and responsibility (the title of his first book), in authentic religious life and that the Jewish God could not be reached through monkish seriousness or as- cetic discomfort. And if he was sometimes hyperbolic as a speaker, he could write with balance, sensitivity and nuance, as he demonstrated in "A Living Covenant," which was his best and intellectually richest book. Hartman grew more criti- cal as he aged and as his health failed. (His last book was "From Defender to Crit- ic-the Search for a New Jew- ish Self.") Yet fundamentally, he remained a constructive personality. His vision and drive led him to build the in- stitute, now populated by the best Jewish minds around the world, many of whom were taught by Hartman, and all of whom were inspired by his passion, values and intellec- tual deftness. The institute bears his father's name, but it is the younger Hartman's fierce spirit that animates its ideals and activities. The pluralist Hartman shed the narrow confines of denominational Orthodoxy of his rebbe, but Soloveit- chik never lost his fondness for his student. Long after Hartman moved to Israel, he went to see his teacher. After the meeting, Soloveitchik showed a boyish grin when he told his next visitor, "I like Hartman. He is a God- intoxicated individual." David Hartman left us on Feb. 10. The people of Israel and the Torah of Israel are much poorer for his absence, and the myriad of people he touched profoundly mourn his passing. Hartman influ- enced a whole new genera- tion to be committed to Jew- ish learning and unflinching intellectual honesty. Eugene Korn is theAmer- ican director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Un- derstanding in Israel, the former editor of Meorot-A Forum for Modern Orthodox Discourse and a research fellow at the Shalom Hart- man Institute of Jerusalem. 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