What Significance Did R. David Hartman Have To Judaism?

Now that Rabbi Hartman is dead, his constituency, the news media is publishing flattering obituaries.

I’m wondering what was R. Hartman’s significance aside from headlines? He was undoubtedly a scholar, but to me he was an abstruse thinker like R. Yosef Baer Soloveitchik who had little real-world influence.

Historian Marc B. Shapiro replies to my email: “Yes he did [have significance]. He wrote valuable works that made an impact. The institute he established in Jerusalem has also had a great influence in many ways.”

Here’s a paragraph from a blog post by Orthodox Rabbi David Wolkenfeld on Hartman: “The quest by Jews, in the aftermath of the Enlightenment, to translate the message of Judaism into something with universal significance was, to Rabbi Hartman, a mistake. The Torah is not a universal book with universal significance to all people. Rather, the Torah should be understood as a particular book about the relationship between the Jewish people and God. One therefore cannot turn to the Torah for guidance about other nations, other religions, and their place in God’s universe. That just is not what the Torah is about.”

This is the opposite of Dennis Prager’s approach and, frankly, it seems like the opposite of common sense. How could a book only have meaning to one particular people?

Torah scholars such as Rabbi Hartman have contempt for guys like Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin who primarily toil in books about Torah, not Torah literature itself.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been chronicled by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, 60 Minutes and Entertainment Tonight. I teach Alexander Technique in Los Angeles (see Alexander90210.com).
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