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February 13, 1987 - Image 36

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-02-13

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David Hartman
insists that Torah
and modernity
can co-exist.
Indeed, they must,
he says, or
we are doomed.



avid Hartman is a man of pas-
sion. Despite his impressive
academic credentials, rabbini-
cal degree, international repu-
tation as a leading philosopher
and expert on Maimonides, the 56-year-old
New York native can speak directly to the
common Jew with forcefulness and
No matter that his topic may be Halacha
(Jewish law), or theological autonomy or
covenantal mutuality. Don't be put off by
the big words.
The point is that David Hartman is
breaking new ground in Jewish thought
and practice as he struggles to bring the
Torah into the center of Jewish life, here
and in Israel.
The founder of Jerusalem's Hartman In-
stitute was in Baltimore recently for an
evening workshop with a group of young
Jewish leaders grappling with the issue of
religious pluralism, and for a talk the next
morning to another group, made up of
Christians and Jews, on Christian-Jewish
dialogue and relations. Somewhere in be-
tween, he made time for an interview on
these and other topics, confirming the
impression that he is a brilliant man with
creative new ideas, struggling to find a
forum for his views that seek to blend
Halacha and modernity.
"'lb be a Jew is to be a dreamer," says
Professor Hartman. "Jews don't see God,
but they hear Him through his commands.
God wants us to be a holy people. That's
His dream for us."
Hartman's dream is for Jews to live as
serious Jews, not because of the negative
message of Auschwitz, not because we are
defined as a people by persecution and suf-

fering, but because of the positive message
of Sinai, where God took the Jewish peo-
ple from slavery to freedom.
Sinai is the central image of Hartman's
philosphy and he refers to it often in his
writing and conversation.
"Sinai is a people with a dream," he says,
"not a people with a nightmare?'
One of the ongoing struggles for Jews in
Israel and elsewhere, he says, is whether we
see ourselves as the people of Auschwitz
or the people of Sinai. And Hartman
makes it clear that "if our mission is to be
a victim — even a victim made pure and
noble through suffering — I for one don't
want it anymore. I'm not comfortable be-
ing part of a people whose moral pedigree
is pain?'
Hartman's philosophy implies a direct
challenge to all Jews to participate in the
ongoing battle over who we are as a Jewish
people and what our goals and mission
should be. If, as Hartman believes, the
covenant of Sinai must be renewed in each
generation, then surely the creation of the
the third Jewish commonwealth is a sign
that the State of Israel is Judaism's testing
Unlike most Jewish leaders, Hartman
views the current struggle over religious
pluralism with joy rather than alarm
because to him it signals vitality. "I love
this controversy," he says with glee. "When
we argue over Who Is A Jew and these
other issues, it proves we are becoming a
healthy people. Only Jews who care, study
and have convictions can determine the
outcome. You want to fight with Lub-
avitch? Fine, as long as you have argu-
ments to counter theirs.
"Yes, the Jewish world is at war, but

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