It is a privilege and great opportunity to work alongside Rabbi David Hartman. My office is adjacent to his, and so I blessed by his sunny disposition and optimism whenever he comes in. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t relish a good fight. He almost always asks if his latest entry on the Hartman Institute website has brought in reader comments. And he prefers the combative ones that challenge his assertions.
That’s why I am pleased to bring you an excerpt from his latest post, “Why celebrate diversity?” In this essay, adapted from a lecture at American University in 2004, David Hartman reminisces about his youthful days on the hard, concrete basketball courts of Brooklyn’s storied Brownsville neighborhood:
I learned pluralism growing up in Brooklyn and Brownsville and playing basketball. I don’t know if you heard about Lincoln Terrace Park, but, that’s where I learned living pluralism.
On the basketball court, no one asked you what your religious affiliation was, and what your ideology was. The elbow that I used to get under the boards made no distinction of religion, faith or philosophy.
From there, he goes on to talk about the need – indeed the imperative – for a pluralistic view of the (Jewish) world:
…let me tell you about another biblical commandment, which is even more difficult to embrace and is even more important, and that is the biblical phrase: v’ahavtem et hager ki gerim hayitem b’eretz mitzryim – and you shall love the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt. The love of the stranger, the love of the neighbor, is more simple, because it is someone who lives in your neighborhood, someone you recognize, someone you can anticipate and predict their behavior.
But to love the stranger, and I would use the term not only stranger, but the other – the radical other. How do I meet the other? Why is that so significant that I have to embrace the other with compassion? What does the other do for you as a human being?
The other heals you from absolutism. The other, in some way, asks you to consider your own convictions not as the exclusive truth. The other forces you to open to a critical spirit, to be able to open yourself to a world different than yourself, and to give up absolutism and triumphalism. If you embrace the other, you discover a way of liberation out of the ego’s need for the absolute. The other frees you from the maniacal obsession for exclusive truth, for one way to God, for one way to live a decent human life.
There is a lot more, of course, and it is all worthwhile reading. Read the entire article here.
David Hartman’s classic book: A Living Covenant: The Innovative Spirit in Traditional Judaism