A Living Torah


Death notice for Rabbi David Hartman tz”l from February 2013

It was a strange feeling to have left the Hartman Institute and Israel in early February, just days before the death of my teacher, Rabbi David Hartman zt”l. I’m pretty sure I was not the only one coming to the Institute this summer wondering what it would be like to inhabit this place that was so much a core of Reb David’s life without his presence.

Having just left the Institute moments ago, I find myself overwhelmed by a cocktail of emotions. As I walked through the gate, I not only left behind this summer’s 10 days of intense and invigorating study. As I left I was also keenly aware that I was walking out for the last time as a member of the Rabbinic Leadership Initiative (Cohort IV), in which I have been incredibly privileged to have taken part over these past three years.

I am not the same person, Jew or rabbi I was when I entered those gates in the summer of 2010 to begin my studies as part of RLI. The hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours of study in which I have been able to immerse myself, have been rich, challenging, and engaging. They have transformed and deepened my sense of myself, of Torah and of our Jewish tradition. My teachers have been among the most insightful and challenging instructors I have had in my life. I mean no disrespect whatsoever to my teachers at college, nor at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Undoubtedly the impact of these years of study, and my teachers over these years has much to do with where I am in my life, and the fact that I am three decades into my career as a rabbi.

So many of my teachers over these past three years have gone beyond teaching me, and my classmates Jewish texts. They have embraced us as friends and as family. Indeed, that is one of the powerful parts of the Hartman Institute experience – they welcome, embrace and nourish rabbis — of all stripes. It’s a taste of what might truly be possible in our Jewish community if we can more regularly learn to debate and disagree passionately, even as we embrace one another’s humanity with equal passion.

I, for one, was appreciative that the leadership of the Machon chose to change this summer’s topic to a study of the Torah and Legacy of Rabbi David Hartman. Though it undoubtedly felt too soon to some in Reb David’s family, and to some at the Machon, these past two weeks were an opportunity for a broader community to celebrate Reb David’s impact on our rabbinates, and on our Jewish communities. Having left just days before his death, being here allowed me to feel quite tangibly the opportunity to both mourn his absence and yet feel his presence. It was truly a gift — and it was the Hartman Institute at its best. As one who has attended 7 or so summers at the Institute, I can say without any hesitation, this one was the best. Hearing my teachers teach Reb David’s Torah, as we studied some of his favorite texts, and as they added their own personal touches with stories from their lives as his students, brought Rabbi David Hartman right into the Beyt Midrash.

I first heard Reb David speak at a large gathering in the Spring of 1977 while I was studying in Israel. While I do not remember what he said, I can see him in my mind’s eye. I can hear his voice, and I remember leaving that day changed by having heard an Orthodox Rabbi who spoke a Torah which resonated with and in me. Over the years and decades I came to know him a bit more through his writings as I read several of his books. It was only in 2004 when I finally came to his Institute and became his student. Without a doubt he will remain one of my most profound teachers, not only for the Torah he has taught me, but also through the Torah that his students, my teachers, have taught me and I pray will continue to teach me for years to come. I hope to return again and again to this very special place, one which feels very much like home – the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

My deepest thanks to Rabbi Donniel Hartman, Dr. Tova Hartman, Micha Goodman, Yisrael Knohl, Moshe Halbertal, Yehuda Kurtzer, Melila Hellner-Eshed, Noam Zion, and all those who have enriched my life with Reb David’s Torah — and with their own Torah.


Rabbi David Hartman tz”l

I have walked through the Hartman Institute gates for the last time this summer, and for the last time as a part of RLI. But my bags – and my heart and soul are much fuller than they were when I arrived. I can’t wait to unpack them and share it with those back home. As Rabbi Donniel Hartman said to us just a short while ago at our closing lunch, “Thank you for keeping my father’s Torah alive.” No, thank you Donniel — for letting us all come home to feel our teacher, your father’s presence, and to be filled with his Torah and yours.

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2 thoughts on “A Living Torah

  1. Lana Croft says:

    What a beautiful tribute to a Rabbi, Teacher, and to learning.
    Your expressive words will stay with me as I remember to continue my learning.
    Thank you! Lana Croft (Neil’s aunt)

  2. Fred Cohen says:

    Since we, at temple Shalom, have been the grateful recipients of the insightful teachings from the Shalom Hartman Institute, both from scholars you have invited to Newton, from the DVD lectures you have taught, and the knowledge you have gained that is now part of your very being and teaching, we can also thank Reb Hartman’s legacy. His vision also has become part of the very nature of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts.

    Thank you for sharing those beautiful reflections, and we look forward to your return after your much deserved sabbatical.

    Fred Cohen

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