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Call & Responsa: How Do We Find a Torah for a Jewish Democracy?

Donniel Hartman poses a challenging question about the Torah needed for Israel. Five rabbis affiliated with the Hartman Institute offer distinct and provocative answers.
Donniel Hartman, Sarah Mulhern, Avital Hochstein, Shraga Bar-On, Aaron Brusso, Baruch Frydman-Kohl
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute and holds the Kaufman Family Chair in Jewish Philosophy. He is author of the Boundaries of Judaism, and Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself. His latest book, Who are the Jews and Who Can We Become, was a 2023 Jewish Book Council Award Finalist.  Donniel is also the host of the award-winning podcast For Heaven’s Sake, together with his colleague Yossi Klein

Sarah Mulhern

Avital Hochstein

Shraga Bar-On

Aaron Brusso

Baruch Frydman-Kohl

Call & Responsa: Rabbinic Commentary

The video and commentary Series Call & Responsa engages Hartman Institute scholars with leading North American rabbis in a public and interactive exchange about issues affecting the Jewish people worldwide.

Each edition of Call & Responsa features a video segment from a Hartman scholar (the “Call”) that sets out a view of the challenges facing the Jewish world in Israel and elsewhere. Paired with the video is original commentary by leading rabbis on the issues raised (the “Responsas”).

The Call: How Do We Find a Torah for a Jewish Democracy?

Donniel Hartman: How do we find a Torah for a Jewish democracy which recognizes that Israel cannot be Jewish merely by the fact that it is the nation-state of the Jews? Israel is not going to be the United States or Canada of the Middle East, where Jews are a majority. The model of separation is not one they are going to accept.

If Israel wants to think of Judaism not in terms of a nation-state, where a nation-state is only Jews…there cannot be one sub-community. You actually have to recognize there are multiple sub-communities, each with their own sensitivities and sensibilities, each of which has to have their own rabbinate.

The Responsa:

Sarah Mulhern, Shalom Hartman Institute, New York
I want to see Israel take the Torah of Shabbat seriously. The practices we have developed are gifts to humanity and deeply radical, and the Jewish state should pay attention.
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Aaron Brusso, Bet Torah, Mt. Kisco, NY
The tragedy would be if, after seeing our multicolored beauty, we chose to enslave ourselves by requiring uniformity of identity and practice under the banner of one chieftain.
Read more

Avital Hochstein, Shalom Hartman Institute, Israel
Being the majority and having Jewish sovereignty are new experiences for Jews, even after 70 years of having a state. As we mark this anniversary, we have a lot of work ahead of us. Read more

Shraga Bar-On, Hartman Institute, Jerusalem
I don’t believe we should give up the aspiration to shape a full Jewish culture with a Jewish parliament, health system, foreign affairs, and courts, just because of the challenges we face.
Read more

Baruch Frydman-Kohl, Beth Tzedec, Toronto
Respect religious diversity in Israeli society and move toward a public conversation that emphasizes managing a conflict, rather than deciding it through legal or legislative systems.
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