From Defend­er to Crit­ic: The Search for a New Jew­ish Self

David Hart­man
  • Review
By – June 21, 2012

The phrase Jew­ish jour­neys” has become part of the lex­i­con of Jew­ish soci­ol­o­gy and Jew­ish edu­ca­tion. I remem­ber first com­ing across it in Bethamie Horowitz’s land­mark study of the New York Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. The assump­tion for many was that the idea that an individual’s Jew­ish iden­ti­ty today is not sta­tion­ary, but is con­stant­ly evolv­ing, applied to all but Ortho­dox Jews. In this lat­est book, Rab­bi Dr. Hart­man dis­proves that assump­tion, as he shows us that Ortho­dox Jews, and even Ortho­dox rab­bis, also have Jew­ish iden­ti­ties that shift over time.

This col­lec­tion of essays cov­ers a sig­nif­i­cant part of Dr. Hartman’s career. In the intro­duc­tion, Hart­man him­self points out that his ear­li­er writ­ings tend­ed to defend and explain Ortho­dox Jew­ish law and prac­tices. The lat­er writ­ings, which make up the sec­ond part of the book, show him still defend­ing the con­cept of halacha, but seek­ing great flu­id­i­ty and the inclu­sion of con­tem­po­rary eth­i­cal sen­si­bil­i­ties in the process of legal deci­sion mak­ing.

Read­ing the essays care­ful­ly, it is clear that the core of Dr. Hartman’s think­ing remains firm. In both the ear­li­er and lat­er writ­ings, he is a believ­er in the con­cept of halacha, a ratio­nal­ist who is firm­ly ground­ed in the think­ing of Ram­bam (Mai­monides), and a per­son who is fierce­ly com­mit­ted to mak­ing Judaism and con­tem­po­rary eth­i­cal ideas work togeth­er. What does shift is the degree to which he is pre­pared to move halacha to include eth­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions.

As always, Dr. Hart­man is impres­sive in his mas­tery of Jew­ish thinkers from Ram­bam to Kaplan to Soloveitchik. His intel­lect is matched by his sen­si­tiv­i­ty to the needs of today’s Jews liv­ing in a mod­ern world. If you’re already a fan of Dr. Hartman’s writ­ings and career, this will add to your under­stand­ing of his jour­ney. And if you aren’t yet a fan, this book can start you on your jour­ney to learn more about one of the most influ­en­tial Jew­ish thinkers of our time. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, notes.

Rab­bi Arnold D. Sam­lan is a Jew­ish edu­ca­tor and rab­bi liv­ing in Mia­mi, Flori­da. He serves as exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Orloff Cen­tral Agency for Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion of Broward County.

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