Jewish Book World - Wallace Greene
The God Who Hates Lies: Confronting and Rethinking Jewish Tradition
David Hartman and Charlie Buckholtz
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2011 192 Pages $24.99 ISBN: 978-1-58023-455-9
Review by Wallace Greene
In response to his own inner struggles with Jewish religious extremism, Yeshiva University-trained congregational rabbi turned professor, philosopher and educatorhe founded the Shalom Hartman Institute in JerusalemRabbi Dr. David Hartman has developed a covenantal model in which God rejoices when Jews take responsibility for their religious life and are empowered to be independent. This call for qualified autonomy is at odds with normative Orthodox Jewish thinking.
In The God Who Hates Lies, Hartman seeks to contextualize rabbinic thinking with respect to social factors and cultural influences. He raises some important questions, such as: How can we maintain a commitment to Judaism when it violates our sense of morality? Is there a place for subjective intuition in a halakhic system? Does a philosophic commitment to pluralism trump a covenantal commitment to halakha? These are by no means new questions. Philosophers have been arguing for centuries about the relative merits of humankind's reason vs. God's law. Hartman, however, is making the claim that this subjectivity is what God really wants. He constructs a Maimonidean platform, buttressed by selected rabbinic teachings, to make the case that this is indeed an Orthodox perspective. His frustration with the haredi hijacking of the rabbinic courts in the areas of conversion, marriage and "who is a Jew," and the current trend to ignore objective reality regarding feminism, agunot, the Shoah and the very existence of the State of Israel, have led Hartman to formulate the results of his anguished thinking in this book. Some Orthodox Jews might call his approach heretical, since this is essentially what progressive Judaism has espoused.
Hartman takes on his revered teacher and mentor Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, as well as other rabbinic luminaries, to argue for change based on the covenantal imperative that he has developed. Unfortunately, except for those who agree with him ab initio, this thesis will need further elucidation and rigorous study before it is given serious consideration even in Modern Orthodox circles. Rabbi Dr. Hartman is a gifted teacher who has given us an outline of an approach. It needs to be expanded. If we avoid big issues because they are sensitive or divisive, we will then only deal with little issues. We cannot abandon the big issues, but how to deal with them is the challenge.
Los Angeles Jewish Journal - Dr. Michael Berenbaum
David Hartman with Charlie Buckholtz, The God Who Hates Lies: Confronting and Rethinking Jewish Tradition (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2011)
Two adolescent encounters with two important teachers shaped the person I have become and formed the core of my scholarly and personal values. One was with David Hartman, then a young rabbi. I had just given what I thought was an imaginative d'var Torah at a Yeshiva University Young Leadership Seminar. Self-impressed with my seeming erudition, I quoted original sources, Biblical and Rabbiniceven Maimonides commentary on the prohibitions of an Israelite King acquiring too many horses or marrying too many wives. Hartman approached me and asked: "Do you believe what you said and did you say what you believed? Or did you merely want to appear impressive and not rile up your audience?" I internalized his question and have asked it again and again whenever I speak and whenever I write.
I kept thinking of this encounter as I read his newest book, The God Who Hates Lies: Confronting and Rethinking Jewish Tradition.
A bit of biography: Hartman is best known for founding the Shalom Hartman Institute, a meeting ground for secular and religious Israelis of many stripes and a place where rabbis of all denominations from the Diaspora (many from the United States) study classic texts togetherwhere the sacred text becomes the bond that bridges great denominational divides. The Hartman Institute is the Red Heifer of the modern Jewish world, a mediating institution where the sacred and secular enrich each other intellectually and Jewishly. Its offerings are wide and its institutional writings significant.
The pure, those who prefer the shelters of their intellectual ghettos, are contaminated, albeit but for a while, while the impure encounter the sacred and are touched by it, sometimes for a lifetime.
Hartman was a product of the Haredi community. He studied in Lakewood and came to Yeshiva University where he met his mentor, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, who combined unquestioned Talmudic brilliance with Western philosophical mastery. He created a system that insulated his religious life and observance from his encounter with Western civilization and its values. He wrote:
"When Halakhic man approaches reality, he comes with his Torah, given to him from Sinai, in hand. He orientates himself to the world by means of fixed statutes and firm principles… His approach begins with an ideal world and concludes with a real one."
Hartman became the Rav's protégée and, until now, his fierce defender.
Ordained by Yeshiva University, he was advised by the Rav to go to the Jesuits, to New York’s Fordham University for his doctoral training in Philosophy. For 18 years he was a successful, charismatic and influential rabbi in Montreal. He went to Israel in the post-1967 exuberance, hoping to bring the insights of his Judaism to bear on the great questions facing Israeli society, which could no longer operate within the four cubits of Halakha but had to confront all the issues facing a modern state. Today, his Shalom Hartman Institute may be one of the last and most creative bastions of a religious Zionism that is not Messianic.
Ironically, Hartman preferred to be seen as a religious thinker, not as an institution builder. Yet like Martin Buber before him, he was best appreciated abroad, not in Israel. His scholarship was too relevant, too engaged with the here and now (and perhaps too popular for the academics) and his concerns too religious for the bulk of secular Israelis. Yiddish is his favorite, his warmest and most expressive tongue. His English is tinged with Yiddish and his Hebrew is infused with English.
Now fourscore years of age, Hartman has written a powerful and painful book. It marks an important break with his great teacher and mentor on a point central to both student and disciplethe history and Halakha. Soloveitchik could encounter history because his philosophy of Halakha insulated him from history and Hartman wants Halakha, especially in Israel, to engage every aspect of history from welfare to warfare, from economics to ecology.
This work may also be an even deeper severing of ties with the Orthodoxy that has emerged in this generation. A generation ago, Hartman’s attempt at synthesis and dialogue, his confrontation with the modern world and Orthodox sensibilities would have made him a hero of modern Orthodoxy. A generation ago, he also could have shifted to Conservative Judaism, whose central motif then was the struggle between tradition and change, creating a Halakha responsive to history, but the distance is too great today. After this latest work, he will find himself in no man’s land, confined to a community of fellow seekers who dwell in two worlds, the world of Torah and Halakha and the modern world with all its challenges. His institutional role should allow him to create Jews who are fervent, but not fanatical, proud and pious, and also pluralistic. For both “types,” the study of sacred text is absolutely central.
For Hartman, three issues force the confrontation with the Orthodoxy of his youth and, painfully, with the person who had been his model of coexistence between the Halakhic and the modern.
The first issue is the treatment of women within Halakha, including the inability (inability is too soft a word, more accurately we should describe it as 'the adamant refusal’) of the Orthodox Rabbinate, especially in Israel, to solve the problem of Agunah, the woman whose recalcitrant husband’s refusal to give her a divorce leaves her unable to initiate a divorce and chains her to a future without marriage. This is but one manifestation of his discomfort with the entire treatment of women in Halakha.
Another is that Jewish women can be Supreme Court Justices in the United States, other countries and in Israel; they can serve as Prime Ministers, but their signatures cannot validate a religious document. Their status is often reduced to that of a minor; women are even compared to possessions.
One more manifestation of this treatment is that women do not participate as equals in the religious life of the community. To change that, Hartman’s daughter, Tova, founded Shirah Hadashah [A New Song], the Jerusalem congregation that provides women with as many opportunities to participate in the service as a creative understanding of Halakha permits. This might seem whimsical to those who come from equalitarian communities and observe the Mechitzah being drawn closed or opened at various points in the service and those non-binding segments of the service that women can lead. The “moving” Mechitzah makes the congregation unacceptable to many Orthodox Jews. Conversely, not removing the Mechitzah makes it unacceptable and/or strange to egalitarian Jews for whom this debate was settled a long time ago.
In one sense, the Mechitzah compromise seems artificial rather than organic, timid rather than bold. And yet, it may provide Hartman and the Jews who feel as he does with a place to daven with the people they speak with, and a place to speak with the people with whom they can daven.
The second issue is the question of the non-Jew. As a rabbi, Hartman once faced the question of whether a Cohen could marry a woman who converted for love of Judaism and was an active and religious Jew. Did her previous status as a non-Jew make her a zona and Biblically prohibited to a descendant of the priestly line? Hartman studied with the Jesuits and recognized non-Jews who are intellectually sophisticated and devoutly religious. You cannot simply categorize them as “goyim.”
This is the merely tip of the iceberg that Halakhic Judaism must confront when dealing with issues of democracy and a society that aspires to justice. Up until now, accommodation to the state was based on utilitarian purposesavoiding what Thomas Hobbes called “the war of all against all.” There is no theology or Halakha to guide Halakhic Judaism in the acceptance of democracy. They understand the rule of law. They do not understand the state is a mediator of justice.
The third issue is the self-inflicted incapacity of the Orthodox Rabbinate to come to terms with the modern state of Israelin the prayers recited and in the treatment of new generations. On Tisha B’av, we still speak of Jerusalem as abandoned and uninhabited, lying in ruins. The lack of sensitivity in the all-important category of membership in the nation is illustrated most profoundly by a soldier who dies for his country and is not eligible to be buried with his comrades because his maternal Jewish origins were doubtful.
The agony of this book is how Hartman wrestles with the tension between the God he believes in, the tradition that nourished him and to which he has profound loyalty and love, and the encounters with reality that force him to challenge that traditionand even break from his mentor and master.
The details are important, but his struggle is all the more significant. He is looking for a way of living with integrity and confronting the reality of the world he encounters.
At his age, he has fulfilled the challenge he posed to me. He now may be liberated by age, stature and status to say what he believes and believe what he says. The results are most impressive. The seal of the Holy One is truth and those who worship must worship the Holy One in truth. Perhaps that is why the deepest of all lies are those we tell ourselves.
Tablet Magazine - Josh Lambert
A Jesuit school founded by the Roman Catholic Diocese, Fordham University isn't the first New York institution that comes to mind as a hotbed of contemporary Jewish theology. But it's Fordham, and specifically Robert C. Pollock, a professor of philosophy and Jewish-born convert to Catholicism, whom the founder and guiding spirit of Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, Rabbi David Hartman, credits as having exposed him to the rich intellectual tradition of American religious pluralism. That background comes through in all Hartman’s work; in The God Who Hates Lies: Confronting and Rethinking Jewish Tradition (Jewish Lights, March), Hartman tackles a question that bedevils people of all faiths, approaching it from an Orthodox Jewish perspective that’s sensitive to the wide variety of beliefs of contemporary Jews: What should you do when the dictates of your religious practice conflict with what you know, in your heart, to be right?
Conservative Judaism Magazine
David Hartman with Charlie Buckholtz, The God Who Hates Lies: Confronting and Rethinking Jewish Tradition. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2011.
If anyone should question why David Hartman marginalized himself out of the Orthodox community, this book should provide ample documentation. A simple glance at the table of contents and the title of chapter 5, "Where did Modern Orthodoxy Go Wrong? The Mistaken Halakhic Presumptions of Rabbi Soloveitchik," is all that is needed. To members of that community, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, commonly referred to as "the Rav," is an iconic figure; no one ever criticizes his teachings in print or in public.
There is a tragic dimension to this critique, for Hartman studied closely with Rabbi Soloveitchik and recalls with great admiration the influence the Rav had on him. Hartman's critique centers on the range of issues dealing with the position of women in halachah, the synagogue, and ritual life. He traces the theological, ideological and sociological assumptions that underlie the Rav's positions and exposes their incongruity in the light of modernitybut shows how the positions depend ultimately on Orthodoxy’s theology of revelation and authority. To a reader who does not share Soloveitchick’s assumptions, Hartman’s critique is devastating, doubly so because it comes from within the Rav’s extended community. Unfortunately, the very community that would most benefit from Rabbi Hartman’s critique will never read this book. But the rest of us should.
From the Publisher
"David Hartman inhabits the places of the impossiblewhere truths collidewith courage. A traditional and halakhic Judaism will emerge from its clash with the ethical more faithful to its essence."
Rabbi Shira Milgrom, Congregation Kol Ami, White Plains, New York
"A masterful, passionate confessional of an encounter in one man's soul between traditional Judaism and his deepest moral sensibilities. Whether or not you agree with Rabbi Hartman's vision, this book will pursue you long after you have read it."
Yehuda (Jerome) Gellman, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
"Another essential and prophetic work from one of the great religious thinkers of the age. This deeply felt book is intensely personal yet intellectually rigorousa challenge and a consolation for everyone who looks for God."
James Carroll, author, Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World
"This is the book from David Hartman we have been waiting for! Written with passion, clarity and scholarship … [it] is sure to provoke a lively conversation on the nature of Jewish law, the State of Israel and what it means to live in a covenanted relationship with God."
Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove, PhD, Park Avenue Synagogue; editor, Jewish Theology in Our Time: A New Generation Explores the Foundations and Future of Jewish Belief
"A trenchant and controversial statement of Jewish theology…. No thinking Jew can afford to ignore this book."
Rabbi Neil Gillman, PhD, emeritus professor of Jewish philosophy, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America; author, Doing Jewish Theology: God, Torah and Israel in Modern Judaism
“A powerful and important book for … Jews of every denomination and lifestyle who want to discover for themselves why Judaism matters. Brilliantly, boldly and creatively challenges all of us to understand that there are indeed two Torahsthe Torah of tradition and the Torah of our own lives.”
Rabbi Laura Geller, senior rabbi, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
“Slides open the shut window of traditional authoritarianism and invites the fresh air of biblical and rabbinic conscience to refresh the contemporary Jewish agenda. [This book] cannot be ignored by any serious reader.”
Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, author, Conscience: The Duty to Obey and the Duty to Disobey
“One of the most important Jewish books of our time. This is a work of kiddush Hashem, sanctifying the Holy Name, too often desecrated by believers.”
Yossi Klein Halevi, author, At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land
AJL Reviews - Sarah M. Barnard
Hartman, David. The God Who Hates Lies: Confronting and Rethinking Jewish Tradition. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2011. 192 pp. $24.99 (9781580234559). Also available as an e-book.
Hartman draws his title from his final chapter, which describes the dilemma of an Israeli with an adopted child, who had to lie to the Rabbinic Court about his own level of Jewish observance in order to convert the child to Judaism. The book as a whole is critical of the "Orthodox establishment," but that is not its main thrust. Hartman's main theme is his proposal of a different way of looking at halakhah (Jewish law). He sees it as a way of enriching God-consciousness and as something that can be viewed as a means of education so that a person, especially one new to halakhah, can take a gradual approach, adopting more and more as he becomes comfortable with it. The book describes several cases where the author has bent commonly accepted halakhah in order to prevent emotional suffering of the people involved.
For a reader whose point of view is Orthodox, the book is beyond radical, possibly scandalous. For readers who are Conservative or at the extreme left wing of Orthodoxy, it might make a lot of sense. The question must be raised as to whom the book is addressed and who will be the readers. The book belongs in a serious collection on Jewish religious thought and would find readers in Conservative synagogue libraries. The author was a pupil of Rav Soloveitchik, whom he greatly admires, but with whom he also differed. The style is conversational and accessible with notes, a bibliography and an index.
Sarah M. Barnard, Serials Librarian, Hebrew Union College Klau Library, Cincinnati, OH
With this insightful and thought-provoking work, Hartman, an Orthodox (former pulpit) rabbi and founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Israel, offers a new, highly provocative approach to Jewish law that grapples with the place of personal morality in a culture that values, above all else, fidelity to its legal code. The author confronts highly charged issues, including a woman's place in religious life, especially as it pertains to leading services and participating in a minyan, and the current state of limbo for the aguna (those who are refused a divorce by a spouse). He cites the opinions of early and contemporary Torah luminaries, but implores, with heartfelt anguish, the acceptance of innovative approaches within observant Judaism. For Hartman, individual suffering, aspirations, and emotions must be accounted for when negotiating religious legalities, a precedent, he claims, that can be found among the earliest Talmudic rabbis who learned to interpret the rules with ingenious—and law-abiding—maneuvers. Passionate, intelligent, and honest, this volume, although certain to engender contention and controversy, is equally equipped to open an important and meaningful dialogue within the Orthodox community. (June)