The God Who Hates Lies: Con­fronting and Rethink­ing Jew­ish Tradition

David Hart­man and Char­lie Buckholtz
  • Review
By – November 1, 2011
In response to his own inner strug­gles with Jew­ish reli­gious extrem­ism, Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty-trained con­gre­ga­tion­al rab­bi turned pro­fes­sor, philoso­pher, and edu­ca­tor — he found­ed the Shalom Hart­man Insti­tute in Jerusalem — Rab­bi Dr. David Hart­man has devel­oped a covenan­tal mod­el in which God rejoic­es when Jews take respon­si­bil­i­ty for their reli­gious life and are empow­ered to be inde­pen­dent. This call for qual­i­fied auton­o­my is at odds with nor­ma­tive Ortho­dox Jew­ish think­ing. 

In The God Who Hates Lies, Hart­man seeks to con­tex­tu­al­ize rab­binic think­ing with respect to social fac­tors and cul­tur­al influ­ences. He rais­es some impor­tant ques­tions, such as: How can we main­tain a com­mit­ment to Judaism when it vio­lates our sense of moral­i­ty? Is there a place for sub­jec­tive intu­ition in a halakhic sys­tem? Does a philo­soph­ic com­mit­ment to plu­ral­ism trump a covenan­tal com­mit­ment to halakha? These are by no means new ques­tions. Philoso­phers have been argu­ing for cen­turies about the rel­a­tive mer­its of humankind’s rea­son vs. God’s law. Hart­man, how­ev­er, is mak­ing the claim that this sub­jec­tiv­i­ty is what God real­ly wants. He con­structs a Mai­monidean plat­form, but­tressed by select­ed rab­binic teach­ings, to make the case that this is indeed an Ortho­dox per­spec­tive. His frus­tra­tion with the hare­di hijack­ing of the rab­binic courts in the areas of con­ver­sion, mar­riage, and who is a Jew,” and the cur­rent trend to ignore objec­tive real­i­ty regard­ing fem­i­nism, agunot, the Shoah, and the very exis­tence of the State of Israel, have led Hart­man to for­mu­late the results of his anguished think­ing in this book. Some Ortho­dox Jews might call his approach hereti­cal, since this is essen­tial­ly what pro­gres­sive Judaism has espoused. 

Hart­man takes on his revered teacher and men­tor Rab­bi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, as well as oth­er rab­binic lumi­nar­ies, to argue for change based on the covenan­tal imper­a­tive that he has devel­oped. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, except for those who agree with him ab ini­tio, this the­sis will need fur­ther elu­ci­da­tion and rig­or­ous study before it is giv­en seri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion even in Mod­ern Ortho­dox cir­cles. Rab­bi Dr. Hart­man is a gift­ed teacher who has giv­en us an out­line of an approach. It needs to be expand­ed. If we avoid big issues because they are sen­si­tive or divi­sive, we will then only deal with lit­tle issues. We can­not aban­don the big issues, but how to deal with them is the challenge.
Wal­lace Greene, Ph.D., has held sev­er­al uni­ver­si­ty appoint­ments, and cur­rent­ly writes and lec­tures on Jew­ish and his­tor­i­cal subjects.

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