Jewish Journal

Rabbi David Hartman, Jewish philosopher, dies at 81

February 11, 2013 | 3:18 pm

Rabbi David Hartman (Wiki)

Rabbi David Hartman (Wiki)

Rabbi David Hartman, one of the great Jewish philosophers of his generation and the founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute, died on Feb. 10, 2013, at 81. Hartman is considered one of the leaders of liberal Orthodoxy, and his philosophy influenced Jews both in Israel and around the world.

In 1976, Hartman founded the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem in memory of his father. The Institute has since become a center for a pluralistic Jewish worldview, responding to the challenges facing contemporary Judaism. Over the course of four decades, Hartman taught and mentored generations of students, many of whom are today at the forefront of Jewish education and thought in Israel and around the world, including many in Los Angeles.   

Born in Brooklyn in 1931 to an ultra-Orthodox family, Hartman was raised and educated at the Lithuanian Lakewood yeshiva, considered the most important and prestigious yeshiva for North American Jews. In his adolescence, he was one of the most prominent students of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who ordained him as a rabbi. Hartman completed his doctorate in philosophy at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

After serving as a pulpit rabbi at several important congregations in North America, including Congregation Tiferet Beit David Jerusalem in Montreal, Hartman, inspired by the Six Day War, made aliyah with his wife and children. For more than two decades, he served as a professor of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. From 1977-1984 he was an advisor to Minister of Education Zevulun Hammer and acted as an advisor to many prime ministers on the issues of religious pluralism in Israel and the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora.

Hartman published dozens of articles and books, among them “Maimonides: Torah and Philosophic Quest,” “A Living Covenant: The Innovative Spirit in Traditional Judaism,” “A Heart of Many Rooms: Celebrating the Many Voices Within Judaism,” “Israelis and the Jewish Tradition: An Ancient People Debating Its Future,” and “The God Who Hates Lies.”

Hartman’s writings explore the intersection of the traditions of the past and the challenges of the present. At its foundation stands a request for dialogue with the tradition on one hand, and with modern streams of thought on the other.

His philosophy was concisely tied up in Hartman’s contribution to the book of essays, “I am Jewish,” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2003). He ended his essay: “The historical narrative develops a sense of intimacy with the Jewish people. Through it we become a family and embrace our particular identity with joy and love. But the family narrative is not our only living framework. Every seventh day we interrupt the flow of our tasks and ambitions and stand quietly before God the Creator. The dialectic between our particular and universal identities, between the God of Israel and the God of Creation, is the fate and challenge of being a Jew.”

Hartman earned many awards, including 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 z"l Liebhaber Prize for Religious Tolerance (2012), and honorary doctorates from Yale University, Hebrew Union College, and the Weizmann Institute.

Source: Shalom Hartman Institute.


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