Posts Tagged ‘orthodox’

Donniel Hartman’s commentary on the “Rotem Conversion Bill” controversy, “Relationship of Israel and World Jewry Depends on Meaning, Not Claims of Necessity,” is receiving widespread attention in Israel and North America, including citations and reprints by The New York Times, Forward, and Ynet, among others:

Israel Puts Off Crisis Over Conversion Law (The New York Times, 23/07/2010)

Donniel was quoted in an article by The New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner on the subject:

“There is increasing discomfort among American Jews with Israel,” commented Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, which is devoted to exploring Jewish issues. “This issue is a place where they can express the displeasure that they might not be willing to state on the flotilla and other political matters.”

For that reason, some here, even among those sympathetic to the Reform and Conservative movements, like Rabbi Hartman, feel that the American reaction to the Rotem bill was overly aggressive.

“They overstated this one,” he said.

Jewish Legitimacy (Forward, 21/07/2010)

In an editorial taking a contrarian view of the conversion bill uproar, the Forward excerpted Donniel’s most recent commentary: “Rabbi Donniel Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute, one of the saner voices during this emotional dispute, put it best: ‘It requires a commitment to Israel not as it is, but as it ought to be, and a willingness to invest in creating such an Israel.’ And, he wrote recently, ‘it requires a deep caring.’”

The Forward then went on to say: “To care deeply doesn’t obligate us to swear blind loyalty and suppress disagreement. But it doesn’t allow us to turn our backs, either. With all the worried talk about the demise of “liberal Zionism,” here is a chance for Jews in Israel and the Diaspora to resurrect its future.”

The Forward’s editorial was also reprinted on the influential blog, EJewishPhilanthropy.com

United or divided? (Jerusalem Post, 24/07/10)

The Jerusalem Post reprinted the original commentary by Donniel Hartman, which ran first on the Institute’s website.

A version in Hebrew was published on Ynet, the leading news website in Israel, on 25/07/2010. Click here for the Hebrew version.

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Come and study in Jerusalem at the Shalom Hartman Institute with your fellow rabbinic students from other movements in an open and supportive atmosphere.


  • David Hartman
  • Melila Hellner-Eshed
  • Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi
  • Rut Kaniel Kara-Ivanov
  • Israel Knohl
  • Micah Goodman


  • Reading the Zohar
  • The Soul of the Sinner: From Chet to Geulah
  • God After Auschwitz: Dilemmas in Post-Holocaust Theology
  • Morality in War
  • Where Do We Come From?

The Experience

  • 6:00 – 7:00 PM “Processing” issues dealing with ruchaniyut, the Israeli experience (yisraeliyut) and becoming a rabbi. Half of the processing will be through reflection on Israeli poetry and half will be through small group reflection (talking circle)
  • 7:00 – 7:45 PM Dinner (homemade vegetarian soups & trimmings)
  • 7:45 – 8:30 PM Havruta study
  • 8:30 – 10:00 PM Shiur: Half of the shiurim will be with Melila Hellner-Eshed (Reading the Zohar); the other half will be with other Hartman Faculty


  • When: Twenty-seven Tuesday nights, beginning October 27, 2009
  • Cost: $750 (includes all study materials and 27 dinners)
  • For more information contact: Rabbi Bill Berk, 054-424-8702, billberk@shi.org.il
  • For information, and to register, contact Marlene Houri, 02-567-5336, marlene@shi.org.il


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In a lecture this week to rabbis at Shalom Hartman Institute for the annual summertime Rabbinical Torah Study Seminar, Donniel Hartman mentioned that he had just finished a session with senior IDF commanders attending an ongoing program at Shalom Hartman Institute, the Lev Aharon program.

This program teaches Judaism, Jewish moral philosophy, and other related matters to senior officers of the IDF (majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels), in an effort to help them better understand their roles as defenders of the Jewish nation, and to explain the same to their soldiers, some of whom have rudimentary Jewish knowledge. The program is not about teaching kashrut, Shabbat observance, or ritual, but the historical, cultural, and moral underpinnings of the Jewish nation.

So, Donniel was saying how the officers were complaining that some religious soldiers are taking extreme stands on matters and, for example, are not willing to listen to a female singer during Army celebrations or ceremonies. Or, the commanders asked, what do we do when we go away for a unit retreat and some soldiers want single-sex swimming hours in the pool. Donniel said the commanders are struggling with such real, “tachlis” (detailed) conundrums.

It seemed to me that some of the rabbis in the room were skeptical that the situation was so complicated, or at least found it difficult to believe that such internal problems could occur in a Jewish army. I’ll admit, I thought so, too, to a degree.

So, imagine my surprise when I saw this article today on Ynetnews: Rabbi Eliyahu warns of rabbis who ‘kowtow to women’:

Former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu warned this week of the rising prominence of the liberal stream in religious Zionism and slammed rabbis who “kowtow to women.”

During a Torah lesson he delivered on Monday, the prominent national religious leader spoke in length about the importance of observing chastity codes. He advised soldiers to cover their ears during military ceremonies that include women singing. “It’s better to go to jail than to obey the commander and hear a woman sing or play.”

….Eliyahu’s son, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, also referred to the issue of women performing in military events. He commented on a recent statement by the chief education officer, who said religious soldiers must stay put during such ceremonies, despite the halachic problem.

“This order is clearly illegal,” said Eliyahu. “A person cannot be forced to go against the Torah. Today it’s singing, tomorrow it’s singing plus half naked women… a breach in such a question is like fire – you don’t know where it’s going to end.”

Just when you thought you had heard it all: “Today it’s singing…you don’t know where it’s going to end.” I don’t mean to make light: this is an important matter. Donniel did not say what he counseled the officers to do. But it is clearly a matter in which the Shalom Hartman Institute can play an important role in helping the jewish army of the State of israel remain both Jewish and democratic.

Hattip to the excellent blog, Religion and State in Israel.

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Haaretz reports on a conference on Judaism at Israel’s far north Kfar Blum, in which Shalom Hartman Institute scholar Rabbi Dr. Ariel Picard, director of the Institute’s Be’eri program of Judaic studies for secular Israeli high schools,  offered an innovative way to break the deadlock for those Israelis who cannot marry under current rabbinical law and standards:

Picard proposed having marriages be carried out according to traditions associated with Noah in halakhic texts. Such partnerships, he says, would offer an alternative to partners who aren’t recognized as Jews.

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Summertime programs at Shalom Hartman Institute are well under way. We have hundreds of rabbis, community leaders, and others here for seminars, havruta study, lectures, tours, and more. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is on tap tonight for a private appearance. Israeli Education Minister Gidon Sa’ar was here the other night.

So, with visitors, we also have bloggers, of course. So far, I’ve found two three:

David Suissa, a writer for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles is attending the Lay Leadership Summer Retreat. The column he is writing about his visit is entitle Jerusalem View. He seemed to enjoy his first day:

I have no idea where Plato and Socrates engaged in their famous dialogues and ruminations, but if they were around today, I’m guessing they would love the physical space on a hill at The Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem….

Hartman Institute classes are not for people with a short attention span. They take an idea and dive deeply into the texts. In this first class (with Donniel Hartman), I felt like I was at a baseball game—stretches of slow, scholarly build punctuated by short bursts of intensity, such as:

“Moral failing is not the failure to see good and bad, but failure to see the other face.”

“When Hillel says, ‘What is hateful to you don’t do unto others’, he is telling you that you already know the deepest and most important knowledge you will need to live an ethical life: How you like to be treated.”

“Jewish ethics are not exclusive to Judaism. Beware of anything that claims to be unique.”

This was not a sermon. It was a class, interrupted by moments of passion—a passion that sought to empower us.

“We are not empty vessels, just waiting to be filled”, the rabbi told us.

Hartman was taking a mushy message—do good and be good—and teaching it with an intellectual and emotional edge, one that valued human dignity and the innate Godliness of each individual.

So, after years of hearing so much about the Hartman Institute, I had finally attended my first class. It was a lot to mull over. Luckily, when you leave a Hartman class, you get to walk out onto “Plato’s Courtyard” (my phrase), where there are plenty of opportunities to sit on Jerusalem stones and mull over the teachings with students and teachers.

Maybe they should have everyone wear white robes and sandals. That would really get us in the mood to ponder the big ideas of life and Judaism, and apply them to real life—which is what the Institute aspires to do.

His follow-up column the next day was about a lecture by David Hartman:

If I had come to Israel just for the two hours I spent on Friday morning listening to Rabbi David Hartman, founder of the Institute, it would have been worth the trip….

So these were the three motifs that made Shabbat a transcending moment: I am God your Creator, I am God your liberator, and I am your God forever.

But here was the kicker: by creating and liberating us, and being there forever, God gives us the strength to do our own creating and liberating.

It was as if the rabbi was saying to each of us: We are both Jewish, we both love our tradition, but I am not you and you are not me.

Also blogging about the Institute and his visit here is Rabbi Dan Fink, who is attending the Rabbinic Torah Study Seminar along with more than 90 colleagues:

The highlight today was Rabbi Hartman’s evening talk. He is a genuinely wise elder statesman, and an iconoclast who is observantly Orthodox but has real respect for the contributions of the other, liberal movements in Judaism. He is cantankerous, brilliant, brutally honest, funny, charming and, above all, heimish.

I found another one, blogger B.G.S. Magarik, although it seems he was just a one-time visitor. He also saw David Hartman’s lecture (soon available online) and wrote about it on his blog Loisaida Times:

I spent the evening at the Shalom Hartman Center, and heard Rabbi David Hartman lecture, in a rare and brilliant appearance. He spoke on Contingency in Jewish texts, focusing on the Joseph story, with frequent and wonderful detours into his life, personal and intellectual relationships, contemporary jewish practice, and current Israeli politics.
It was a very moving lecture; he told wonderful stories about his mother, shared his pluralistic and progressive vision for the Jewish people (defending egalitarianism, the Reform movement, and taking a page from Obama’s book in speaking of the need for realistic hope), and confronted his mortality and physical pain.

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Charles Krauthammer – you know him as the acerbic, neoconservative, pro-Israel columnist for the Washington Post and other newspapers – has another side. According to this interview in the Jerusalem Post, he and his wife have  “started to try to revive and preserve Jewish music that has been lost to the masses” with a program called  “Pro Musica Hebraica.”

In the course of a lengthy interview, which traced his Orthodox childhood, Krauthammer mentioned Rabbi Prof. David Hartman, and how he had an early and lasting influence on him:

Rabbi David Hartman, who runs the Hartman Institute [in Jerusalem], was actually at McGill the years I was a student there, and I took his courses on Maimonides. That had a big influence on me in the sense that I was going away from my Jewish upbringing, thinking of it as narrow and parochial, and when I was introduced to Maimonides, it was just sort of at the highest level of world philosophy, Aristotelian philosophy applied to Judaism. I realized that Jewish culture was not just not a Sunday afternoon lecture. It belonged with a great secular culture that I admired as a student. So that kind of reinforced my Jewishness even as I became irreligious.

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The value and virtues of Top 10, 25 or 50 lists are endlessly debatable. But what is indisputable is that they start discussions – and disputes. The publication this week of the new “Top 50 (U.S.) Rabbis” compiled by Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman & CEO Michael Lynton, News Corporation Executive Vice President Gary Ginsberg and JTN Productions CEO Jay Sanderson and published by Newsweek, and the addition this year of the “25 Most Vibrant Congregations” is no different.

From the moment these lists first appeared, people have been attacking them for being too hip and media-centric, to ignoring traditional (read: Orthodox and yeshiva) rabbis, and for ranking the un-rankable. At the same time, they have sparked debate as to what makes a rabbi effective in the modern world.

Shmuel Rosner, as usual, offers a pungent critique of the list and its worth:

In a real world of serious rabbis such list will change only very slowly and very rarely (Can you imagine: this year, Hillel is tops Shamai for the number one slot!?). The fact that Newsweek can tweak its list so quickly is testimony to one of three things:

  1. Newsweek doesn’t do a serious job.
  2. Rabbis aren’t as important as they used to be.

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic Monthly says, “The list is meant to be picked over, so pick over it I will,” and he does, with his own tart and funny comments on many of the list’s leaders. Here’s what he says about Newsweek’s pick of David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center, co-chair of the Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty, and FOO (Friend of Obama) as No. 1:

This pick is typical of the list, which slights congregational rabbis (the ones who interact with, you know, Jews), but it makes a certain amount of sense: Saperstein has become a central player in the liberal wing of American Jewry, which is the wing on steroids.

Finally, when I passed this list around to members of the current class of Shalom Hartman Institute Rabbinic Leadership Initiative Fellows, they made similar comments. One wrote: “Friends, we’re all fine rabbis. Please let’s not get sucked into this hideous ranking system before Zagat starts reviewing our sermons and congregations.”

With all that as prologue, several Hartman-affiliated rabbis and their congregations, as well as FOH (Friends of Hartman), made the list:

Two synagogues on the Top 25 list are represented in the current cohort of Rabbinic Fellows:

Past members of the Rabbinic Leadership Initiative program on the list are: Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, new head of the CCAR, and Ed Feinstein of Temple Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, CA. The list’s chief FOH is David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

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