Sunday, February 10, 2013

A mighty oak falls: David Hartman dies

Sandy Levinson

David Hartman, one of the leading contemporary philosophers of Judaism (and, particularly, Moses Maimonides) died today in Jerusalem.  He played an important part of my life, not least by emphasizing the sheer craziness (ofen his word, not only mine), both descriptively and normatively, of treating Jewish law (halacha) as unchanging.  One of his major books, significantly, was titled The Living Covenant, and it is not difficult to see analogies between Hartman's vision of Judaism and, say, Jack Balkin's vision of redemptive constitutionalism.  (Jack participated in a Hartman conference that I organized back in 1994 or so comparing Jewish and American techniques of interpretation.) 

This is not the time, nor am I competent, to offer a full appreciation of Hartman's many contributions to both Jewish philosophy and the wider Jewish (and non-Jewish) communities.  Suffice it to say that the Hartman Institute, in Jerusalem, with which I have been affiliated now for almost 30 years, was one of the few places in Israel where religious and secular Jews, together with non-Jews of all varieties, could interact with one another with genuine intellectual honesty and mutual respect.  I can only imagine what he would have thought of the demand in Sandy Hook that a Lutheran minister apologize for daring to take part in an inter-faith service with "pagans."  Nothing could have been farther from Hartman's own sensibility, which is more important than ever especially in Israel but all over the world. 

I will open this for comment, but only, I hope, from people who happened to have had some interaction, even if only through reading some of his writings, with David Hartman.


Baruch Dayyan Emet. Hartman was a teacher and a public intellectual in the best sense of those terms. He believed both in what he argued and in the value of reasoned argument. I did not share all of his positions, but I respect how he lived those positions and allowed others to live theirs as well. Zaycher tzaddik livrachah.

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He believed both in what he argued and in the value of reasoned argument.

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