Early this morning, I received word of the death of Rabbi David Hartman, founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute. I was one of the fortunate ones who learned at the Hartman Institute in the early days, when Rabbi Hartman was at the height of his intellectual and visionary powers. Studying with Rabbi Hartman, learning his unique “brand” of Torah, was the transformative spiritual experience of my life. Rabbi Hartman, a devoted student of the “Rav”, Joseph Soloveitchik, combined a deep erudition with a revolutionary willingness to both love and challenge tradition at the same time. He was one of the first modern Orthodox Rabbis to insist that Judaism without the ethical and the democratic was not Judaism. He saw himself as a follower of Maimonides, but in many ways he was the logical continuation of Maimonides-with an insistence that the rational and the ethical could live alongside the prophetic.
I had the enormous privilege of studying with him in a small group a year and a half ago, and while his powers were diminished, the power of his ideas were unabated. Last summer, he spoke briefly and haltingly before a large group of rabbis (including me) and the last words I ever heard him speak were “Keep halacha, love the Jewish tradition, be a faithful Jew”.
may his memory be for a blessing