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Eulogy for David Hartman by Elliott Yagod

Text version of the eulogy delivered by Elliott Yagod, long-time friend and student of David Hartman

I knew Rabbi Hartman for many years both in Montreal and in Israel as a student and as a "Ben Bayit" in the fullest sense. But I speak here today primarily as a student of Rabbi Hartman – as one of many, many students who could also be standing here today explaining the profound difference that this man made to their lives – their lives as Jews and as human beings.
We all know he had a unique ability to breathe life into intellectual discourse and into the symbolic language of traditional Jewish practice.
One of his favorite philosophic sayings associated with the American Pragmatists’ he so loved was that "differences must make a difference." What this meant for him was that to be meaningful, abstract distinctions must imply concrete differences in the real world, and, most important, in one’s personal life. His greatness as a teacher was because he truly embodied this principle.
His ability to engage his students was the result of his personal dynamism, his humor, his psychological understanding of people and of human interactions. But, to a large extent, it was also due to his ability to articulate – dramatically and poignantly – the concrete implications of philosophic and legal concepts and the narratives of the Jewish tradition. He communicated his excitement with the ideas and the texts he taught, and his students often discovered a new appreciation for parts of their own lives previously unknown to them. They discovered new meaning in their identities as Jews and as reflective human beings.
In addition to pointing to his widespread impact on others, I believe it is important to emphasize at least two of the central ideas and values that infused his approach to Judaism and Jewish education.
First, he preferred analysis and clarification of opposing views over authoritative pronouncements about what is "right" and "required." In contrast to a religious outlook obsessed with authority, he believed in the viability of a religious sensibility informed by sincere and well-reasoned discussion.
Second, his national community identity did not compete with or exclude his universal human identity. While moral dilemmas can and do arise because of a person’s different relational contexts (family, nation, the international community) the basic norms of morality are public and indivisible. To use the language he so popularized: the God of Sinai and the God of Creation are one and the same. Or, in a more provocative vein, "There is no more a Jewish morality than there is a Jewish science."
I loved him very much and I am grateful for having been a lifelong student of Rabbi David Hartman.
Adapted from the eulogy Elliot Yagod delivered at David Hartman’s funeral in Jerusalem, Feb. 11, 2013.

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