Rabbi Hartman offers a ‘theology of response’ (Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, July 14, 2011
A courageous thinker, Rabbi Hartman runs toward the very conflicts others flee….
As a young rabbi, Rabbi Hartman was so busy encouraging his congregants to observe the commandments he overlooked what he calls “many of Halachah’s darker moral trends….
Rabbi Hartman regretfully rejects the “theology of halachic permanence” articulated by his beloved teacher, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. In a powerful chapter asking Where Did Modern Orthodoxy Go Wrong?, Rabbi Hartman critiques Rabbi Soloveitchik’s approach, which freezes Jewish law “permanently and uniformly in place,” ignoring “the passing of time” and “the shifting of culture.” Hartman finds the approach “deeply inhuman,” saying, “I must part company with a view of Halachah that takes it out of history and out of human experience…. I do not think that loyalty to and love for this tradition requires exiting history or exiting life.”
In his latest book, “The God Who Hates Lies,” Hartman articulates an approach for modern Jews who want to be honest and loyal to our tradition yet, who find themselves troubled because they do not find the implications of the tradition mirrored in their lived experience.“Tradition can claim you only if it is mirrored truthfully in the world you live in,” Hartman writes. “Tradition could live not through its claims of absolute truth based on revelation, but on the lived reality of the Jewish people’s experience of that truth. The tradition becomes true if it remains a plausible description of the world they live in.”Hartman leans on Maimonides for some of his thinking. In Rabbinic Judaism, says Hartman (following Maimonides), Halakha gives us the potential to create a life intoxicated by the consciousness of G-d, as it is said, “In all your ways, know Him” (Proverbs 3:6). However, creating the conditions for making such a relationship possible (the instrument) and the direct experience (the reality) are two different things. “What is most important is how you live, not how you think,” says Hartman.Taken out of context, that statement sounds more radical than the truth of Hartman’s position. He sees shared ritual, prayer, symbols as part of the religious discourse that is itself a form of attunement to G-d-consciousness. Halakha provides a framework for how to serve G-d and is a vital spiritual resource for the Jewish people. But Halakha, as an end in itself, as a system of duties and prohibitions, may lead to serving G-d out of fear. To simplify Hartman’s view: If Halakha amplifies the quest to G-d’s presence or to become G-d-intoxicated (holat halva), that’s positive. If Halakha leads to muting the quest, then it’s out of sync.…Hartman addresses the conflict between living a traditional Jewish life according to Halakha and living a life aware of the pluralism of other moral possibilities. The strength of this book is in Hartman’s ability to illuminate a wide range of rabbinic opinions, in addition to making clear where his opinions lie.The most important challenge to traditional Jewish religious assumptions is in the emergence of the reality of Israel. Hartman asks, “What does it mean for a legal system developed under diaspora conditions of powerlessness to confront the realities of political autonomy and military force?”