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June 14, 2013  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Rabbinically Speaking

Lessons of great teacher endure
By RABBI GARSON HERZFELD Temple Beth Shalom, Winter Haven

Once Shavuot is over, June always conjures up thoughts of summer activities – perhaps travel, perhaps recreational activities such as golf, tennis, afternoons at the beach or perhaps the opportunity to read some good books and relax. For me, that usually means final preparations for a trip to Israel.

Most summers, I spend the first two weeks of July in Jerusalem studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute, where I am an honorary Senior Rabbinic Fellow. Since I missed my trip last summer (moved back to Tampa instead), I am eagerly looking forward to reuniting with a group of colleagues, close friends, with whom I have studied for more than 15 years. However, this summer will be somewhat bittersweet, given that my mentor and teacher, Rabbi Dr. David Hartman, passed away in February.

My association with Rabbi Hartman dates back to 1974, when I was a rabbinic student and took a class with him. Rabbi Hartman had made aliyah a couple of years earlier and was on the faculty at Hebrew University, where he taught for more than 20 years. In those days, I would see him occasionally at the Hebrew Union College library, studying with books spread over a large table. He established his Institute (named for his father, Shalom) in 1976. It was only during the last decade that I realized how much his teachings had influenced my personal view of Judaism.

Rabbi Hartman was a charismatic teacher who loved to learn as well. He was a prolific author. He planted ideas and thereby pushed his students (and readers) to think. He challenged them to consider new ways of interpreting Jewish thought. Rabbi Hartman was a philosopher that promoted a liberal view of Orthodox Judaism, yet he embraced pluralism.

His view of Covenental Judaism is one of community that emphasizes the universal aspects of Jewish thought in contrast to a narrow interpretation of Halacha. Moshe Halbertal, a professor of philosophy at Hebrew University and a Hartman Institute scholar, states, “At the center of his thinking was a kind of counter-religious idea, where religious life is a life of affirmation, not a life of denial. If a human life is not denied by the force of revelation, but it’s actually a participant in revelation, then human life has come to its full fledge, with its moral convictions, with its encounter with the world.”

This summer, both the rabbinic and lay leader seminars at the Hartman Institute will be devoted to the teachings of Rabbi Hartman. Fortunately, the Institute attracts some of the greatest Jewish scholars of our age, including Rabbi Hartman’s son and current president of the Institute, Donniel, to teach various areas of Jewish thought based on text. Hopefully, this next generation will carry on the tradition of teaching, learning and exploration of ideas that Rabbi Hartman has established as the cornerstone of the Institute.

Rabbinically Speaking is published as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Tampa Rabbinical Association which assigns the column on a rotating basis.

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