Rabbi Hartman z”l, who recently passed away, was a man who did not just “talk the talk” but very much “walked the walk,” and practiced what he preached. A prime example of this was his leaving a prominent pulpit in North America to make Aliya by choice, with his family, because he strongly believed that this was the right thing for Jews to do.
Whenever he was asked to explain his religious philosophy he would always direct his questioner to his magnum opus, “The Living Covenant.” I had the fortune to study this beautiful and thought-provoking tome in a doctoral seminar, together with Jews from across the religious spectrum. We all found something we could relate to and share with each other. This is the appeal of Hartman’s philosophy, which emphasises what we Jews have in common, and not what divides us. This idea was most recently shared by one of the Rabbi’s students, Dr. Ruth Calderon, in her maiden address on the Knesset podium.
The overriding theme of Hartman’s book is our dynamic covenantal relationship with God (and by definition, God’s relationship with the Jewish people). Hartman believed that one needs balance in order to successfully navigate through the sea of Open Modern-Orthodox Jewish life.
Hartman raised the point that intense Torah study in itself does not always lead to actions and sometimes ironically, “intellectual involvement in Torah study might be a source of alienation from the real world” (p. 74). In order to make a better world we cannot, “cut ourselves off from the community” of humankind in an ivory tower of academia, but must strive to make the world better place by being part of it. In the words of our sages, “How wonderful is the study of Torah combined with working the land” (Mishna: Avot).
The approach of large swathes of the Ultra-Orthodox community in Israel of total immersion in study of the sacred texts, combined with non-participation in the social fabric around them illustrated by, amongst other things, largely refusing to share the burden of national service, is an anathema to Hartman’s philosophy on the role of Jews in this world.
Hartman’s Jewish role model was Maimonides (1135-1204) the philosopher physician Rabbi who Hartman claims found the harmony between recognizing our particularity whilst simultaneously delivering a universal message of study, morality and actions thus emulating Aristotle’s “golden mean.” Hartman, like Maimonides, was a scholar who was deeply connected to the world around him. Rabbi Kook wrote that redemption would only arrive when Jews love one another with “baseless love” (Ahavat Chinam). Rabbi Hartman influenced scores of students from across the Jewish spectrum with his tolerant, compassionate, inclusive and gentle Judaism. May his memory be for a blessing.