The news of the death of Rabbi David Hartman, zichrono livracha, may his memory be for a blessing, is sad news indeed and I wish to extend condolences to the family and to the students of this great teacher.
I am not going to go to great lengths to write words of tribute to Rabbi Hartman because many words have been and will be written by those who knew him more closely. I will simply explain why the loss of this Orthodox Rabbi strikes so many of us so deeply.
Rabbi Hartman was an orthodox Jew. Yet, he understood the limits of halacha, Jewish law. He realized that Jewish observance without a sense of common decency, without spirituality and vision was meaningless, in fact dangerous. And, he recognized as so few it seems do today that there are many paths to Judaism, many paths to Torah and that those outside of “Orthodoxy” have so much to contribute to our people and to Torah.
His determination to seek a way to observe Jewish law while remaining an active participant in this world rather than to use it as a means to distance ourselves from the world; a way to encourage a vision of a greater Jewish people and a greater world rather than for Jewish law to be used as a province of the elite few; a way to stand by principles of faith and obligation while encouraging those from different streams of Judaism to act according to their conscience and faith while deepening their study of Torah is his greatest legacy.
I spent two weeks at the Hartman Institute in 2005 studying Torah with Rabbi Hartman, his son Rabbi Donniel Hartman and the faculty of the Institute. It was an unforgettable two weeks and I look forward to participating in such a program in the future. The work that the Hartman Institute continues to do in so many areas, including the Engaging Israel project which we participated in at Beth Israel last year will continue to add to Rabbi Hartman’s legacy.
I ask all of you to take the time to read the obituaries and tributes which will appear in the days ahead in Jewish media throughout the world. We have lost a treasure at a time when we so deeply need the vision that Rabbi Hartman provided. May all of his students continue to advance his work and may our people grow in Torah, in kindness, in respect for each other and commitment to a better world.