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A Living Covenant

The Innovative Spirit in Traditional Judaism
Jewish Lights
Publication Year


“‘A covenantal vision of life, with mitzvah (divine commandment) as the central organizing principle in the relationship between Jews and God, liberates the intellect and the moral will. I seek to show that a tradition mediated by the Sinai covenant can encourage the development of a human being who is not afraid to assume responsibility for the ongoing drama of Jewish history. Passive resignation is seen not to be an essential trait of one whose relationship to God is mediated by the hearing of mitzvot.”
—from the Introduction

This interpretation of Jewish teaching will appeal to all people seeking to understand the relationship between the idea of divine demand and the human response, between religious tradition and modernity. Hartman shows that a life lived in Jewish tradition need not be passive, insulated, or self-effacing, but can be lived in the modern pluralistic world with passion, tolerance, and spontaneity.

The Judaic tradition is often seen as being more concerned with uncritical obedience to law than with individual freedom and responsibility. In A Living Covenant, Hartman challenges this approach by revealing a Judaism grounded in a covenant—a relational framework—informed by the metaphor of marital love rather than that of parent-child dependency. This view of life places the individual firmly within community. Hartman shows that the Judaic tradition need not be understood in terms of human passivity and resignation, but rather as a vehicle by which human individuality and freedom can be expressed within a relational matrix.


“I learned much from this book, and I appreciate its theo- logical courage and originality.״
Harold M. Schulweis, Rabbi, Cong. Valley Beth Shalom, Encino, Calif.; author of For Those Who Can’t Believe

“This deep philosophical treatise–filled with new, nuanced interpretations of Torah and Talmud-reads like a novel that one cannot put down until reaching the very last page.”
Judith Hauptman, Rabbi Philip R. Alstat Associate Professor of Talmud, The Jewish Theological Seminary; author of Rereading the Rabbis: A Woman’s Voice

“With passion and erudition, David Hartman argues for a version of Judaism that is at once faithful to the tradition and fitted to the requirements of modernity. He writes like Jacob wrestling with the angel, and the result, for the reader, is an exhilarating experience.”Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

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