I have just read David Hartman’s new book
David Hartman with Charlie Buckholtz, The God Who Hates Lies: Confronting and Rethinking Jewish Tradition (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2011).
I am not sure what to make of it since I have never found his published books very interesting. So it is difficult for me to figure out what is new here.
Hartman’s major book A Living Covenant (1985) is 26 years old this year. Many people love it. I have never known what to do with it. I first encountered the book when it was published, I was still enveloped in the thought of Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein. More than that, I was interested in Polish Hasidut – Izbitz, Reb Zadok, Gur, as well as spirituality in general. I did not see how the book related to any of that.
Over the years, I have taught the writings of Art Green, Arnie EIsen, Eliott Dorff, as well as Rav Aharon, Rav Dessler, and Rav Aharon Kotler. But I have never taught A Living Covenant. I have taught Hartman’s Torah and Philosophic Quest (1976), as an excellent example of a Torah UMadda use of Maimonides. Nevertheless, I never found a way to include his later works.
So what we are going to do is have a public discussion like we did with the new Arthur Green book. I will go back to A Living Covenant in order to be able to evaluate the new book. Those of you submit relevant long comments will have then turned into posts.
Part I –General Intro
Part II- Landes on Hartman’s A Living Covenant, Hartman response, maybe some other 25 year old reviews. I want to understand Hartman’s cental book before commenting on the new one.
Part III Charlie Buckholtz, who co-authored the new book, will answer a few interview questions about the new book.
Part IV- I will attempt to offer a few comments on the new book.
I am not interested in an ad homonym discussion nor am I interested in labeling him Orthodox or not. I am interested in what he has to say and what does it contribute. In order to do that we will start with the book review written by Daniel Landes in Tikkun magazine in the very first year of the journal in 1986, followed by Hartman’s response and then Landes’s response.
I choose this starting place because a liberal review is not starting with Rav Soloveitchik’s halakhah and more conservative Orthodox review would not accept Hartman’s thought. But Landes is an ideal starting point as a Rav Soloveitchik student who is a follower of Rabbis Eliezer Berkovits and Yitz Greenberg and who likes covenant language. Landes earlier this year has shown his commitment to Berkovits over Arthur Green and Neo-Hasidic models.
Here are the three articles. Go Read them carefully and then come back to comment. I will not post comments that do not look like they at least read the reviews in depth.
I also will not post comments by people who parachute in with jingles that are not informed by books or reviews. If you wish to publicly argue for or against Hartman, then get reading.
When you click on them the URL will appear in the navigation bar.You may have to double click on the URL in the navigation bar and then reload in order to get the pdf to download.
If the link does not work, then you can quickly find them in a Google search.
Daniel Landes on David Hartman: A Vision of Finitude
Human Autonomy and Divine Providence: Hartman on Human Autonomy: A Response to Landes’ Review
Landes Responds to Hartman.
The later two articles get down to the issues. SO don’t just read the first article.
David Hartman recounts in all of his works how he left Lakewood to discover a wider world, which he did when he was connected to Rav Soloveitchik but he felt there were more issues to deal with. His vision of himself is as Yeshiva bakhur and he is remembered by many as an enthusiastic pulpit rabbi dancing for his love of Torah. Even three years ago, on the shabbos before Shavuot, I heard his exhort everyone he saw to understand that Shavuot was not just lectures but our Torah study that shows our love and commitment to the joy and responsibility of Sinai and the giving of the Torah.
He discovered the wider world in his 30’s during the 1960s. He discovered pop-psych books like Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving which contrasts mature and immature love, and the relationship of parent-child compared to spouses. From also rejected authoritarian approaches and considered fix law as running away from freedom. I am observing a similar phenomena now with guys who were all learning and beis medrash in their 20’s during the 1990s. They were no way associated with the liberal parts of the community. Bu now that they have pulpits- they have been avidly reading as autodidacts everything relevant to the real life of the pulpit including psychology, Evangelical Christianity, and sociology. Now they are seeking to combine their new American horizons with their beis medrash vision.
Hartman’s ideal that the study of Talmud should be the locus for Jewish identity and that all modern Jews should have beis medrash style study has caught on everywhere, The idea that one should find modern Jewish thought in a debate of Maimonides and Nahmanides or another classical text has now replaced lectures on Jewish History or peoplehood.
His beis medrash had direct break off creating Shapells/Darché Noam, then Hamivtar. And his approach of traditional study with modern questions was the inspiration of everything from Beit Morasha, Elul, Pardes, Hadar, Shalem, and Yakar.
Hartman is involved in a recurring recapitulation of wanted to study his love- Gemara and then asking modern questions and then discussing his frustrations in his Lakewood past, his YU past, with the Israeli rabbinate, or in the Gemara itself. From my limited perspective, he keeps promising integration with the modern world, and I keep hearing his frustrations. Yet I do not hear solutions for curriculum, halakhah, theology, or actual integration.
He is asking secular questions and then looking for the answers in the Gemara. That is why you cannot ask where he fits into the spectrum or gamut of Jewish thought because he is asking secular questions and returning to the Talmud. Lakewood to Modern Issues and then he returns to the Talmud. What he is not doing is reading the options of modern Jewish thought or modern Jewish thinkers and then situating himself between several of them. His assigned his classroom to read Locke and then turns to the Talmud to ask what is the political thought of the Talmud?
When Hartman left to Israel in 1971 at age 40 with his family after 15 years in a major pulpit, there was a post-Six Day War euphoria that we will build our ideal Jewish reality and restore Judaism as a living religion. Many of the other American rabbis who moved in those years had a similar utopian liberal vision. But what does he mean here in America?
In the meantime, while I wait for people to read the Landes- Hartman debate of 1986, here is a review of the new book from the Jewish Journal. I only clipped the general parts- I will return to issues germane to the new book itself after the interview with the co-author.
Two adolescent encounters with two important teachers shaped the person I have become and formed the core of my scholarly and personal values. One was with David Hartman, then a young rabbi. I had just given what I thought was an imaginative d’var Torah at a Yeshiva University Young Leadership Seminar. Self-impressed with my seeming erudition, I quoted original sources, Biblical and Rabbinic—even Maimonides commentary on the prohibitions of an Israelite King acquiring too many horses or marrying too many wives. Hartman approached me and asked: “Do you believe what you said and did you say what you believed? Or did you merely want to appear impressive and not rile up your audience?” I internalized his question and have asked it again and again whenever I speak and whenever I write.
Ironically, Hartman preferred to be seen as a religious thinker, not as an institution builder.
If you have not read the books then go download the pdf’s – and come back after shabbos. If have read the prior books and have thoughts to add then please comments.
The section of the new book I was struck by when I saw it in the bookstore was Chapter 5: Where did Modern Orthodoxy Go Wrong: The Mistaken Halachic Presumptions of Rabbi Soloveitchik.
And picked up in the Jewish Journal review: “Hartman became the Rav’s protégée and, until now, his fierce defender. […] Now fourscore years of age, Hartman has written a powerful and painful book. It marks an important break with his great teacher and mentor on a point central to both student and disciple—the history and Halakha. Soloveitchik could encounter history because his philosophy of Halakha insulated him from history and Hartman wants Halakha, especially in Israel, to engage every aspect of history from welfare to warfare, from economics to ecology.”
Amazon delivered my copy of the book today and it is next in my stack. The only other book of his I have read cover to cover is Living Covenant around the time it was published in hardback.