/ articles for review

Tova Hartman’s Eulogy for Her Father

Tova Hartman has a doctorate in psychology from Harvard University and is a professor of education at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem , specializing in gender studies . Tova is a founder of Kehillat Shira Hadasha , a congregation organized to increase women’s participation and leadership within traditional Jewish prayer and halakha. Her publications on the role of women in Judaism include Appropriately Subversive: Modern Mothers in Traditional Religions (Harvard University Press, 2003) and “Orthodox Group Fetes Traditional Roles”, Forward, May 11, 2001.  

Below is the text of the eulogy that Tova Hartman delivered at the funeral of her father, SHI Founder David Hartman.

When I was nine, you and Mommy were in a hotel, and a fire broke out. You were staying in a room up on the second floor, and you tied sheets together and lowered Mommy down to the ground. And then you jumped. Luckily there was snow to cushion the fall, but you still broke some vertebrae in your back. I was so worried about you I couldn’t stop crying. I was so upset, that people started to worry about me, thinking it was strange: how could a little girl love her father so much?
So much of what I have done in my life has been an outgrowth of that love, channeled through a constant learning and relearning, and re-reading and relearning, of the things you taught me. They have been a main frame of reference, touchstones for my inner conversation. An early, very literal example of this is from when we first came on aliyah, and I was in high school, we learned about sacrifices in the temple. And my teacher said we hold like the Ramba”n, not the Ramba”m…well, as far as I knew, you and Maimonides were one, and so I felt as if he had personally slapped me in the face.
On your 80th birthday, I spoke right here in this room about another way of interpreting one of your favorite Talmudic passages, and I spoke as well about one of your most unique and essential traits—which often elicited puzzlement or frustration from people who didn’t know you. It is expressed in the expression from the Talmud bekol yom yehiu be’eynav ka-hadashim. That youthful, almost naïve way in which every day, every moment, was totally new in your eyes.
This was you as a rabbi, as a thinker, as a person. Every year when we got to Parshat Vayikra in shul, you would get angry: it was not only unintelligible, it was offensive! Every year when we got to the akedah, you would announce that we now have to grapple with the concept of Sacrificial Man. But God forbid we should ever skip over it! You didn’t trust the impulse to excise things from the tradition. They were there to grapple with, and there was no cynicism in this grappling. You were never indifferent or apathetic. It was totally real to you, and totally new every time you opened your eyes to a text, to an idea, and indeed to another human being. 
There were many disparate parts of you: and that, ultimately, is who you were. The anger and the love, the attraction and repulsion, frustration, admiration, adoration, the optimism and despair—your passions, and passionate contradictions, didn’t cancel each other out, but nor did they ever reconcile. Your thoughts and feelings were cyclical, were simultaneous; you continued to question and re-question your own assumptions until your last days.
* * *
As a teacher and rabbi, in New York, Montreal, and Israel, there were three things that made you prouder than anything else. One, when you were able to enable Orthodox yeshiva students to remain frum. Normally, if yeshiva students had crises of faith, it was like a freefall down a bottomless pit, and they would just drop Judaism altogether. When you were able to help them reconcile modern concepts and sensibilities with traditional categories and commitments, to interpret a sugya in a way that was both intellectually honest and true to the source, and help the yeshiva bucher to find a way to live with a little more tension and uncertainty than perhaps he was used to, but ultimately to remain inside the fold—that made you so happy. What made you even more happy, in those early years, was the ability to mekarev people to halakhic observance: you’d come home glowing about how you helped this couple, or this family, to kosher their kitchen. You loved to tell about how before you came to Montreal there were no sukkos, and of all the sukkos the people in the community helped each other to build, and by the time you left it was one of the sukka capitals of the world.
And finally, those who perhaps did not alter their practice, but came to understand that Judaism was something to be taken seriously, something compelling. These people were drawn to your driving passion to make sense out of things that didn’t make sense to them or you. And you provided these people a model of a religious leader, indeed a religious authority, who was brutally honest, who was at times exasperated or even infuriated with the tradition or the rabbis or God, or all of the above…but who was tenacious. Who never exited. You wore a talis and tefillin to the end, every morning. Some mornings I would visit and find you draped in your talis and tefillin, reading the New Testament, trying to figure out what did they know, what did they critique.  
You loved quoting the Gemara about how the Anshei Knesset Hagedola reinterpreted prayer so that we can pray and feel we aren’t betraying our own integrity. God wants us to be honest, and we can’t say something that doesn’t make sense. But we can give it new meaning.
You gave these gifts to the Jewish people in your unconditional love for them. I’ve chosen to take these gifts for myself; I wanted to join that conversation. You convinced me that there was reason to re-read. That the system, flawed as it may be, also possesses the seeds of its own self-correction. That you just don’t give up on your tradition, you just don’t give up on your people. You just don’t give up.
* * *
This past summer was the last time you recommended books to me. In each different period of my life you would give me a pile of books, and tell me to read them. And I would read them, and think about why you would have wanted me to read these theologians or philosophers or psychologists, why you thought they were important, why they were claiming you in this moment. Just that you thought they were important was enough of a reason for me to read them; but still, I was curious. And you never told me.
But this summer you gave me two people to reread—I wondered why them again, and then you told me the reasons. It wasn’t because they were necessarily the most brilliant thinkers who ever lived, or even because they illuminated some core truth of Judaism. It was Heschel—because he had an unconditional love for the Jewish people. And Mordechai Kaplan—because he was one of the most honest Jews who lived.
These were your philosophical pillars. These were you hermeneutic principles. These were your essential qualities. This is to a very large extent who you were.
* * *
The Machon is named after my zeyde. My zeyde was from Jerusalem, and he was very poor. You grew up with poverty, and throughout the rest of your life remembered it—in your thought, and in the way you were with people. You were absolutely makpid on the dignity of the people who worked for you, who were dependent upon you for their livelihood.
* * *
In your hesped for Arele, my brother-in-law who was killed in the Lebanon war, you said that you didn’t need to have a philosophical conversation about the existence of God, to know there was a God. Because when you stood next to Arele while he prayed, there was no room for doubt. I remember as a young child, when you were a rabbi, you were the ba’al tefila for ne’ila—I remember the anticipation of that final, climactic moment, when you would chant, Hashem hu ha-Elokim! seven times—this moment is imprinted on my soul—I remember the gulp, knowing that God was in the shul, that my abba believed in that God, and it was true. Everybody who was there knew it was true. And I believed that truth, and that truth has nurtured me and directed me until this day. It is because of that, because of you, that I have always tried to take prayer so seriously.
Something most people don’t know is how central singing and davening were to your life. When you were in Lakewood with Shlomo Carlebach, you always would tell the story that Shlomo would play piano at night, and even Aharon Kutler would be moved. And the way they knew he was moved, was that he would tap his finger ever so slightly on the table. And the magic of Shlomo, that he could move anyone, and how your tefila was transformed by him.
In your first shul, Anshei Emmes, you would say, you would teach and Shlomo would sing.
My zeyde’s name was Shalom, and the thing that gave him the most nakhes, the place he felt the most dignified and free, was when he davened as a professional hazan for the Yamim Nora’im. He would take out ads in the local Jewish press: Come Hear Sam Hartman and His Choir! Of course, who was his choir? Khatzkele, Avrohom, and You! You would sometimes talk about seeing the look on your father’s face in those moments – so few and far between – when he seemed unburdened, no longer defined by the trials life had placed before him. Naming this Institute after him was in part, I think, your way of imbuing those rare moments with the permanence and weight of Jerusalem stone.
You fought your whole life against the concept of tehiyat ha-metim, and the world to come, and so I hope you will permit me, for a moment, to be a heretic—and to hope that there is some world, some reality, in which you are with your father and your brothers, with Sam Hartman and his Choir, and you’re singing now again.

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

Join our email list for more Hartman ideas

Add a comment
Join our email list


The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics