Today, the Jewish world lost one of its giants, Rabbi David Hartman. Hartman began his career as a congregational rabbi in Montreal, made aliyah and founded the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and became a lifelong advocate of thinking deeply about the core questions of Jewish life and law, making the Jewish state a place that embodied the best of what Jewish tradition commands us, and not ignoring the moral and ethical questions of modernity when thinking about how to live as twenty-first century Jews. As the obituaries flowed in today, and I found myself thinking about my favorite David Hartman quote, which was from his book The Living Covenant, where Hartman sought to identify what specifically makes the State of Israel unique as what he called “The Third Jewish Commonwealth.” He writes:
- “The centrality of the land in Judaism teaches us that mitzvah must not remain an aspiration, but must be tested and concretized within the normal, every conditions of human existence. Whereas the desert is a moment of withdrawal and concentration, what is received in that moment has to be transformed into a way of life. The land exposes the Jewish people and the Torah to the test of reality.”
What I love about Hartman’s quote is the way in which he sought to remind us that the State of Israel remains unique because it is a place where we can see how Jewish law can exist in the real world, not in the theoretical realm of the Diaspora yeshivot, but in a modern state creating a healthcare system, deciding questions of military ethics, and determining the relationship of religious life and the secular state. While Hartman passed away this weekend, his questions, challenges and ideas live on, and now we are tasked with finding the answers, and making them a reality.
May the memory of this Tzaddik be for a blessing.