Summertime programs at Shalom Hartman Institute are well under way. We have hundreds of rabbis, community leaders, and others here for seminars, havruta study, lectures, tours, and more. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has spoken, as have Israeli Education Minister Gidon Sa’ar and Minorities Minister Avishai Braverman, among others.
So, with visitors, we also have bloggers, of course. David Suissa, a writer for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles attended the Lay Leadership Summer Retreat . The column he wrote about his visit was entitled Jerusalem View . He seemed to enjoy his first day:
I have no idea where Plato and Socrates engaged in their famous dialogues and ruminations, but if they were around today, I’m guessing they would love the physical space on a hill at The Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem….
Hartman Institute classes are not for people with a short attention span. They take an idea and dive deeply into the texts. In this first class (with Donniel Hartman), I felt like I was at a baseball game—stretches of slow, scholarly build punctuated by short bursts of intensity, such as:
“Moral failing is not the failure to see good and bad, but failure to see the other face.”
“When Hillel says, ‘What is hateful to you don’t do unto others’, he is telling you that you already know the deepest and most important knowledge you will need to live an ethical life: How you like to be treated.”
“Jewish ethics are not exclusive to Judaism. Beware of anything that claims to be unique.”
This was not a sermon. It was a class, interrupted by moments of passion—a passion that sought to empower us.
“We are not empty vessels, just waiting to be filled”, the rabbi told us.
Hartman was taking a mushy message—do good and be good—and teaching it with an intellectual and emotional edge, one that valued human dignity and the innate Godliness of each individual.
So, after years of hearing so much about the Hartman Institute, I had finally attended my first class. It was a lot to mull over. Luckily, when you leave a Hartman class, you get to walk out onto “Plato’s Courtyard” (my phrase), where there are plenty of opportunities to sit on Jerusalem stones and mull over the teachings with students and teachers.
Maybe they should have everyone wear white robes and sandals. That would really get us in the mood to ponder the big ideas of life and Judaism, and apply them to real life—which is what the Institute aspires to do.
His follow-up column the next day was about a lecture by David Hartman:
If I had come to Israel just for the two hours I spent on Friday morning listening to Rabbi David Hartman, founder of the Institute, it would have been worth the trip….
So these were the three motifs that made Shabbat a transcending moment: I am God your Creator, I am God your liberator, and I am your God forever.
But here was the kicker: by creating and liberating us, and being there forever, God gives us the strength to do our own creating and liberating.
It was as if the rabbi was saying to each of us: We are both Jewish, we both love our tradition, but I am not you and you are not me.
The highlight today was Rabbi Hartman’s evening talk. He is a genuinely wise elder statesman, and an iconoclast who is observantly Orthodox but has real respect for the contributions of the other, liberal movements in Judaism. He is cantankerous, brilliant, brutally honest, funny, charming and, above all, heimish.