Printer Friendly

Conflicting Visions: Spiritual Possibilities of Modern Israel.

It's hard not to be a fan of David Hartman, from where I sit. He is, after all, an Orthodox philosopher respectful of secular Israelis and of non-Jews, a religious Zionist deeply sympathetic to the aspirations of Palestinians and intent on strengthening ties between Israel and the Diaspora, and a builder of institutions who is unceasing in his efforts at outreach and dialogue of all sorts. If that is not enough to arouse admiration, recall that Hartman must put up on a daily basis with the insults and opposition which come the way of anyone who stands for such things in the rough and tumble of Israeli society. His recent book, The Living Covenant (1985), marked a major advance in the development and articulation of modern Orthodox thought. The present collection of essays expands the approach set forth there, selfconsciously marking the distance that its author has travelled since a previous and far more lyrical collection, Joy and Responsibility, issued in 1978. The Hartman whom one encounters in Conflicting Visions is ever aware, as the title indicates, of just how precarious a path he travels, of just how high a price is paid in all sorts of currency for doing the business that he has embarked upon - and for Jewish survival of whatever sort. The confidence that Hartman displays in this volume is, therefore, all the more reassuring, and his doubts all the more disturbing.

The major sections of the book are devoted to Hartman's continuing dialogue with the Israeli Orthodox philosopher and polymath, Yeshayahu Leibowitz; to a vision of modern Orthodoxy provided through dialogue with Hartman's teacher, the late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, and through polemics of varying sympathy and depth with Abraham Heschel, Mordecai Kaplan, and Reform Judaism; and, finally to a set of essays concerned with "the dignity of the Other," both political and theological.

For me, as a diaspora Jew and scholar of modern Judaism, the most interesting sections of the book were those in which Hartman positioned himself in relation to Leibowitz and Soloveitchik, Heschel and Kaplan. Hartman calls forth such a personal approach by his readers; we are, after all, considering the thought of a man who carefully chose not to remain in the diaspora, because he was convinced that the main action in Jewish faith and Jewish history in our generation transpires elsewhere. He has suffered for that choice, and benefited. This shows, as on a face, on every page.

Evaluating Franz Rosenzweig and Hermann Cohen in relation to Leibowitz, for example, Hartman writes that the former sought "a way of legitimizing Judaism in a Christian society." This characterization - not entirely false, but hardly adequate - is decisive for Hartman. Heschel and Soloveitchik likewise had their agenda shaped, in his view, by the predicament of Jews who live as individuals among Gentiles rather than as members of a strong Jewish community "They both sought to combat alienated, unheroic, inclinations in Jews who are in need of a father figure." That last reference is gratuitous, and, to me, incomprehensible, but the larger point, too, while correct, hardly gets at what is interesting and problematic in Heschel and Soloveitchik. Leibowitz, by contrast,

has no problem with the rehabilitation of the lonely man of faith [the title of a key Soloveitchik essay] but with the rehabilitation of a close-knit, observant Jewish community that had decided to accept political independence yet evaded the bold halakhic changes that such a decision properly entailed.

Hartman apparently has little hope for the creation of such communities outside of Israel, and little interest in the nuances of spiritual growth, for reasons that I will discuss in a moment. Leibowitz thus emerges as a sort of hero in the book, and Heschel fares pretty well, all told, while Kaplan is dismissed in typical fashion, his religiosity completely unappreciated. Reform does not even rate a philosophical discussion (of Eugene Borowitz, say), but only an "Open Letter to a Reform Rabbi" expressing support for the movements legitimate place in Israel.

More than Zionism underlines this approach; halakhah is at stake, too, and, with it, God's presence in our midst. The point comes out clearly in a face-off between Buber and Soloveitchik, where the former, as religious existentialist," stresses that "divine-human encounter is the crux of religious experience and the hub of religious life," while the latter, "the halakhist," is convinced that "God is present insofar as the law is binding....The commandment mediates the presence of the commander. For the halakhic Jew, the mitzvah mediates God's active presence in history." Hence, for all of Hartman's justified criticism of Leibowitz's insistence that no meaning or fulfillment whatever be sought or found in the performance of mizvot, but only the enactment of God's will because it is God's will, Hartman is far closer to Leibowitz than to Heschel. The latter is too individualist for Hartman's taste, too attuned to the quest for personal meaning, and too soft in a way. "The complexity and technicality of Halakhah may exasperate those who are drawn to Judaism by the captivating music of Heschelian Aggadah." Even Soloveitchik, who was distant from Israeli society in more than a geographical sense, does not sufficiently emphasize the societal character of mizvah. That character, to Hartman, comes into view and compels our attempt to realize it completely only with the creation of a Jewish society and polity. The search for personal Jewish fulfillment in the absence of covenantal community is hopeless and illusory.

Hartman is not willing to say (in my words): "God commanded mizvoton Sinai, so they are binding on every Jew," or to insist that Judaism offers the finest path to God and the good life, let alone the only path. But he can, and does, say something like this (my words again): "Judaism's distinctive way of standing before God, fashioned by the rabbis, involves the communal performance of mizvot. Choosing to fulfill our part of the covenant as part of a community, therefore, provides as much intimacy with God and as much moral worth as human beings are privileged to know. Each Jew who chooses not to take on that way of standing before God, in Israel, where community is best accomplished, must give a satisfactory account of why not." I find this challenge a formidable one, and am grateful to Hartman for posing it in such a compelling fashion.

For reasons not entirely clear to me, Hartman seems to follow Leibowitz and Soloveitchik in characterizing this Jewish way as exclusively rabbinic rather than Biblical. One can understand why Hartman believes the Biblical tradition to have been "based upon Revelation," while the talmudic tradition is based on "reasoned argumentation." The latter does not proceed primarily by reference to God's speeches to Moses. But, when comparing Biblical and Talmudic responses to suffering, Hartman takes Deuteronomy 11: 13-17 (ve-haya im shamoa) [if you shall hearken] as normative Biblical doctrine, and opposes it to the rabbis: teaching that "the Jewish relationship to God is no longer sustained by the visible and public interference of a moral God in the processes of nature and history." It is as if the Bible were thinned and flattened as much as any of the other foils for the liberal Zionist Orthodoxy that Hartman propounds (Heschel and Kaplan, for example). In Hartman's view of things, only rabbinic "demythologization" of the Torah "enabled Jews to live in a universe that was strange and unresponsive to their deepest moral yearnings." I do not read Leviticus that way, or Deuteronomy, let alone the books of Kings or Jeremiah. One wonders if Hartman's desire, on the one hand, to combat the messianists in

his midst, and, on the other, to render Orthodoxy fully compatible with modern liberalism, has not led to an insufficiently nuanced view of the Biblical "myth" so dear to Buber and Gush Emunim alike. Biblical tradition is past tense for him. Talmudic tradition is the most credible present.

Hartman is finely nuanced in the essay on "Pluralism and Biblical Theology." There he stresses that "the Biblical drama is marked by a dialectical interaction between the themes of Creation and Revelation," that "the relationship between human beings and God is now mediated by human freedom" and, most importantly, that "revelation in history is always fragmentary and incomplete. Divine-human encounters cannot exhaust the divine plenitude." He rightly points to the role of commentary and tradition in mediating (and so fashioning) revelation, meaning that the latter "was not meant to be a source of absolute, eternal and transcendent truth." The voice of Rozenzweig, a diaspora thinker if ever there was one, rings loud and clear here. "There are new possibilities in a living tradition." The difference with Rosenzweig (as with almost all of Hartman's interlocutors), of course, is that he finds them almost entirely inside Orthodoxy, and inside Israel.

One values such a strong witness to those possibilities, particularly one who begins by citing the notion that both of the tablets that Moses broke because of the golden calf, and the new ones that he received, were deposited in the Ark. "The vision I had when I saw Israel from the perspective of my Diaspora Jewish romanticism" is the first tablets, now broken. The task now is a vision of Torah built "quietly and slowly, planting new seeds for the flowering of Jewish spiritual renewal." Amen: may he continue to build quietly and slowly, speedily and in our day.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Jewish Congress
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Eisen, Arnold
Publication:Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Words:1564
Previous Article:Russian-Jewish Literature and Identity: Jabotinsky, Babel, Grossman, Galich, Roziner, Markish.
Next Article:Further on women as prayer leaders and their role in communal prayer: an exchange, communal prayer and women.
Topics:


Related Articles
When the Rain Returns: Toward Justice and Reconciliation in Palestine and Israel.
The one-state solution; a breakthrough for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock.
The Camp David summit; what went wrong?; Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians analyze the failure of the boldest attempt ever to resolve the...
A world built, destroyed and rebuilt; Rabbi Yehudah Amital's confrontation with the memory of the Holocaust.
Jane Leade: Biography of a Seventeenth-century Mystic.
Visions in late medieval England; lay spirituality and sacred glimpses of the hidden worlds of faith.
Laszlo, Ervin (2006): Science and the Reenchantment of the Cosmos: The Rise of the Integral Vision of Reality.
The Making of Modern Israel.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters