A student who attended the Religion and the Challenge of Modernity conference at Grand Valley State University in Michigan earlier this month had this to say about Donniel Hartman’s presentation there:
Donniel Hartman, the first lecturer of the day at this conference, did a very good job not only presenting his thoughts, but introducing a theme that could be common in almost every religion. We all have our challenges with modernity, and it creates multiple identities. When we have these multiple identities, we tend to lose sight of who we really are. Years ago, if you referred to someone as Jewish, you knew everything you needed to know about them. Now-a-days this isn’t necessarily the case. People now have more complex identities.
Members of a cross-denominational group of rabbis from Southern California visiting Israel were quoted in the Jerusalem Post:
“While we may have difficulty praying together, and we do, we can learn together, and now we even teach together,” said Rabbi Laura Geller, from Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, who, like many of the other rabbis, spent time studying at Jerusalem’s Hartman Institute.
“The Torah started us as a people, it must unify us as a people,” Kligfeld said.
Rabbi Denise Eger, from the Reform Movement’s Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, is the president of the Los Angeles Board of Rabbis. As the first woman to head the organization in its 72-year history, she knows firsthand the extent to which different streams of Jews can manage to disagree.
“It’s a huge challenge. We have different interpretations of Torah, the laws, the role of women… and yet there are overriding principles,” Eger said. “We might not daven the same way, but at the end of the day, the Shema is the Shema.”
Love and support for Israel is another thing that the rabbis can agree on.
“This trip has been very moving and inspiring for me. It’s a reminder that despite our differences we are united in love for the land and people of Israel,” said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. “While we all can’t agree all the time, our connection will always remain the State of Israel.”
Michael Walzer of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, and a past participant in Hartman Institute programs, was cited in a lengthy article on “Proportionality in the context of armed conflict” on the Brandeis University International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life:
One of the pitfalls of discussing “proportionality” is that it is sometimes better addressed in relation to other principles. In the article “Responsibility and Proportionality in State and Nonstate Wars”, based on remarks delivered February 5, 2009 at the U.S. Army War College, Dr. Michael Walzer (Brandeis ’56) of the argues that it makes no sense to consider proportionality without a thoroughgoing analysis of which side bears responsibility for civilian casualties. The attacking army, Walzer points out, does not bear responsibility if the defenders use civilians as human shields. One of the principles of just war theory, he reminds us, is that warfare cannot be made “morally impossible.”
Walzer’s article is a reminder of the complexity of the proportionality principle, and that its application is not a theoretical process, but depends on close attention to the available facts.
Rabbinical student Drew Kaplan reports on his blog about an appearance by Hartman Institute Senior Fellow Moshe Halbertal before alumni of the American Jewish World Service Rabbinical Student Delegation in New York recently:
Halbertal started off with the assertion that there are two types of rights: (1) a basic type (law of humanity) and (2) a “whole set of association of rights”, that is to say, “associational” rights, like citizens or members.
He framed the discussion as a matter of three questions:
(1) What is the breadth and depth of human rights? (How many rights do we grant people qua humans?)
(2) What is the morally relevant way in which we carve membership?
(3) What do you do when there is a clash between associational rights and human rights?
Yeshiva student Michael Makovi, who is studying in Israel, reports on a lecture by Rabbi Marc Angel, leader of a great Sephardic synagogue in New York, in which Angel quoted David Hartman at length:
Rabbi Angel quoted Rabbi Prof. David Hartman of the Jerusalem based Shalom Hartman Institute. He related that Rabbi Hartman indicates there are four ways of trying to deal with the world of Torah and the world of philosophy.
The first is “the way of insulation…we have the truth, they don’t!…anything the world has to say is not relevant to us.” Rabbi Angel tells us through this approach, [one that is certainly taken by the haredim] children aren’t exposed to anything outside of the closed community. Children that are raised this way today, are taught that others outside of the community are bad, reform, goyim, etc. The rabbi said that while there is some logic to it, it is not a proper answer to the problem.
The second is to compartmentalize. To be one way on the outside, and maybe, another way on the inside. He used an example, that if you “dress religious” and look the part, your children will see you and think you are doing everything right, and they will learn to do everything right themselves. Rabbi Angel infers that this is not a proper way to be, because there is definitely a disjoint between the way you think and the way you act in the society around you. He said that there is no harmony in this manner.
The third way is to go the way Spinoza chose, and that is rejection. The rejection process says that if you have both the Torah and philosophy, and that if you decide that the latter is the truth, then you simply put aside the Torah, eliminating it all together.
The forth way is integration. In this method, you integrate both the Torah and general wisdom. You study them both, rationally, and from that process you are going to be a better person, this is the approach of Maimonides (RaMBaM). If you use a mathematical equation as an example, you will find that it is much more significant to comprehend how to calculate an equation and come up with an answer, then just knowing the answer. It is the path of thinking which educates. Rabbi Angel mentioned that the RaMBaM said there were many people that are ignoramuses of the law, people that skip the steps, people that if they know the answer, say, “Why do I have to do the calculations for? Analogous to this, Rabbi Angel remarked, the purpose of the Torah is not to just do misvot, but to understand why we are doing misvot. He added, that we shouldn’t be doing misvot just in form, but we should understand the substance behind them.
I believe Rabbi Angel was commenting that if we truly understand–why we do–what we do–then we will be able to (and desire to), do it with more meaning. He said that while we will never understand God’s ultimate reason and wisdom for some misvot, there is no reason not to want to understand and thus become closer to God as best as we can. Among many benefits, Rabbi Angel said that the advantages to ‘doing the calculations’ is that it teaches us to think.