David Hartman
Opening Up Windows

David Hartman died a year ago this week. The Orthodox rabbi was a charismatic and challenging figure in Israeli society, called a “public philosopher for the Jewish people” and a “champion of adaptive Judaism.” We remember his window into the unfolding of his tradition in the modern world — Judaism as a lens on the human condition.

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was an Orthodox rabbi and founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He authored many books, including A Heart of Many Rooms and The God Who Hates Lies.


September 22, 2011

KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: In Israel and the West Bank earlier this year, I started looking for voices of wisdom and age. And David Hartman’s name kept coming up. He is an Israeli rabbi and philosopher. Like the Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh in last week’s show, the long life David Hartman has lived — and the passions he’s pursued — both address and transcend the present contested moment. In David Hartman’s voice and stories, we experience an inner life of Israeli society that often remains hidden even while it stokes actions that the world sees. At his think tank and educational center, he’s hosted secular Israeli military officers, religiously Orthodox feminists, Arab thinkers, and liberal and traditional rabbis. David Hartman confronts God in the modern world, and the deepest meaning of the Jewish state, as a sacred obligation.

RABBI DAVID HARTMAN: We meet reality through the visions of other people. And my tradition is filled with that. The whole Talmud is that. I mean to be a Jew is to say why are you right [laughs]? You’re going to have to explain to me. And I’m going to argue with you.

MS. TIPPETT: From APM, American Public Media, I’m Krista Tippett. Today, On Being in Israel and the West Bank: “Opening Up Windows” — with Rabbi David Hartman.

David Hartman led a modern Orthodox synagogue in Montreal before moving with his wife and five children to Israel in the aftermath of the Six-Day War of 1967. And in Israel over three decades ago, he founded the Shalom Hartman Institute. This is a modern campus built with stones from the nearby Judean Hills, in the Germany Colony neighborhood of Jerusalem. I sat down with David Hartman there. Now at 80, and facing a number of health issues, he is semi-retired, though still the evident patriarch of this Israeli institution that bears his name.

MS. TIPPETT: Where I’d like to start is truly at the beginning of you. Were you raised in an Orthodox family?


MS. TIPPETT: So this has been your tradition all your life?

MR. HARTMAN: No. I’ve been — I was brought up in a very Hasidic family and I went to Orthodox schools. I was a nice religious boy [laughs] until I began to read [laughs] and that all changed [laughs].

MS. TIPPETT: What did you read that changed you?

MR. HARTMAN: William James, John Dewey, American pragmatism. They grabbed me. Also, Peter Berger and Brown.

MS. TIPPETT: And how did those kinds of writers start to change your Jewish sensibility?

MR. HARTMAN: No, you see, I was already moving away from conventional Orthodoxy. I wasn’t satisfied with the answers. And with William James, I met a finite God, which was a pleasure. So, well, God was limited because, if I looked at the world — I mean, he sure is not omnipotent because, if that’s what his power is, then he sure is a very weak God. So in other words, I could never build the theology ignoring the lived reality. I always, in my own crazy way, would go through, when there was a plane crash or a car crash and I’m told that there was a bride and groom on the plane and I pictured what was their conversation: Where we going to live? How many children do you think we should have? And then planning and thinking. Then snafu. It’s like laughing at human beings attempt to take life seriously. Either God has a sense of humor or he’s not there. He’s there and not there. So in some way, we have to develop new metaphors, new images, of how we think about God. It’s not enough to say Judaism is the religion of the law. We have the law, so we know what we’re supposed to do. That doesn’t work for me. Because if the law doesn’t point to a God, then what is it all about?

MS. TIPPETT: You know, much of your writing and certainly this latest book you’ve written, The God Who Hates Lies, it’s an intra-Jewish conversation that you are aspiring for, leading, provoking. And it’s provocative and critical, but from a perspective of loving and living deeply inside the tradition. I’d like for us to talk about that, but be aware of the fact that people who are listening, say, my listeners in the United States, don’t know the dynamics of this internal conversation. And also, I think when Jews are critical of each other, when this critical Israeli conversation is transmitted, that loving and living in the depths piece of it is lost. So I’m just wondering if we can kind of go inside that conversation that you’re part of.

MR. HARTMAN: You see, I see my identity as deeply tied to a family. I’m very deeply Jewish. My mannerisms, whatever it may be, I mean, I was brought up with Jewish music, my father, the institute is called after him. He was very poor, but he celebrated the Shabbat with joy. So I have deep memories, Jewishly. So I have never had the desire to leave. I had the desire that it should be better, so my criticism grows from love. It’s like I was once told, don’t be critical as your mother-in-law who enjoys to find out things that are lacking in you [laughs], but be critical out of compassion, out of real love for what you think the people could be. And as I suffered that, because on one level I want to feel empathy, intimacy, with these people with its history, with its longing, and I know its vulnerabilities, its weaknesses, its psychological problems of wanting to be loved. They want so much to be loved and it’s not working. And they don’t know why does the world hate them. What did we do? So they used to say, “It’s Christ killers.” No, it’s not that. It’s much deeper, and on a certain level, Jews are very aggressive and powerful and intellectually, but deep down, they are very frightened.

MS. TIPPETT: You were a congregational rabbi for 16 years, is that right? Before you came to Israel in Montreal? And you wrote that you, at that time, “spoke excitedly about the religious significance of a society not only shaped by the Jewish people, or even a Jewish ethos in a general sense, but organized politically around the creative contemporary application of biblical and rabbinic categories of social justice.” Then you encountered the reality of [laughs] life, right? And the human condition?

MR. HARTMAN: Right. Yes. Like you wake up in the morning, you hear that a family were murdered. So how do you live with that, you know? And Israelis just want the world to say we feel your pain. They’re so hungry for acknowledgement. They’re so hungry for human responses to them. See, I felt that Jews entered history now affected by the totality of life, economics, politics, medical ethics. In other words, Judaism was not going to be a religion of the synagogue or the kosher home or kosher bakeries. It was going to be the Sitz im Leben of the lived reality of people in business, in violence.

I remember the Quakers coming to see me. They wanted to know about my views of power, you know, Quakers. So I said, if you have power, you can have a moral argument. If you’re powerless, there’s no moral argument. So if we want to engage the Palestinians in a moral argument of how to live together, then we can only negotiate if we’re strong. So I have no difficulty even though I’m not a militant person. I have no difficulty of Israel being strong because I feel strength invites discussion; weakness invites manipulation.

MS. TIPPETT: I wonder if your perspective as a — or if the sensibility you bring to this as a philosopher also, I mean, because really what you’re talking about is the human condition, the difficulty of the human condition, then in the context of this difficult national and religious identity.

MR. HARTMAN: Well, that’s the — the human condition is caught between two poles. I’m part of the world and I’m separate from the world. I’m a member of a family that is not typical of the world and yet I want to embrace all of humanity because, to me, the idea of God creates the widest range of empathy for human beings. Beloved is man created in the image of God. Now on that level — but I believe philosophy becomes true when it’s anchored in the intimacy of your life. I think within the concrete. That’s what James and Dewey did for me. What’s the cash value of an idea? I remember my students saying to me, “Rabbi Hartman, I want you to know, but don’t get upset with me. I became an atheist.” I said, “When did you become an atheist?” He said, “Wednesday.” “Oh, boy, that’s a remarkable thing. What were you Tuesday? You were a believer, right? And what happened on Thursday?” I said, “Is there any difference between the way you lived when you were a believer and when you became an atheist?” And that’s the criterion for me.

MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, On Being — conversation about meaning, religion, ethics, and ideas. Today: “Opening Up Windows.” We’re experiencing a kind of inner Israeli conversation through the voice of philosopher and rabbi David Hartman. He convenes rare encounters of Jews from different backgrounds at his Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, where I interviewed him. These include, for example, a project of religious and ethical reflection with officers of the Israeli army. He’s also created initiatives to support the ordination of Orthodox female rabbis out of his passion for the spiritual core of Judaism as he understands it.

MS. TIPPETT: Your daughter, um …


MS. TIPPETT: Tova is part of what some people call the Orthodox feminist revolution. Some language you used about that, about how your thinking changed towards this, towards thinking about women and Judaism, you said, was when you realized she was “not merely fighting for women’s rights, but for an honest, authentic Judaism” — that this was not about women, but about the type of God you could worship.

MR. HARTMAN: Correct. In other words, Tova once said to me, “Abba, the problem with women in Judaism is not a woman’s problem. It’s your problem. It’s the Judaism that you want to be committed to.” Now do you want to be committed to a Judaism in which the woman is not a person? She could be a great surgeon during the week in Hadassah, she comes to the shul, she’s not part of the minyan, she’s not part of the quorum. I remember a rabbi calling me, says, “David, what should I do? I come to the shul in the morning and some people have to say Kaddish, which requires a quorum of 10 men. I only get nine and I get seven women.” When Orthodoxy denies the personhood, it commits spiritual suicide. It is blind to the human condition, to the dignity of human beings. I can’t see a Judaism that flourishes and consider the woman in a second-rate, very limited legal powers, etc.

MS. TIPPETT: And this is a discussion you’re having within Orthodox Judaism in Israel?

MR. HARTMAN: Correct. That’s the family. Once I became aware of the depth — and I’m grateful to Tova for educating me because she’s a real expert in gender studies — once it hit me, I couldn’t accept all the apologetics.

MS. TIPPETT: And, of course, this is not just a Jewish phenomenon.

MR. HARTMAN: I know.

MS. TIPPETT: We have — this is — there are aspects of Christianity, of all the traditions that have this. You know this tradition. You know it in its depths, you know its texts and its teachings. I mean, does Orthodox Judaism have the capacity to make this transition as a tradition?

MR. HARTMAN: Yes. One of the things, I wrote a chapter in my book A Heart of Many Rooms, “Judaism as an Interpretive Tradition.” Interpretation is not just for sake of the law. It’s to define the reality of the religious world. Who is God?

MS. TIPPETT: Who God is, right.

MR. HARTMAN: Whose God? Depends on how you interpret it. And I want to bring God back into the interpretive tradition because people will say. “Hartman is talking about God so much. What happened to him? What’s this God-intoxicated stuff?” They’ll get scared. So what I’m saying is I want to have God in all aspects of reality and to have that consciousness that you’re living in the presence of God should define your moral action. In other words, I don’t need legalisms to bring about changes.


MR. HARTMAN: You got that? I don’t need these legal shenanigans. I want to bring the person in existential confrontation with the God consciousness.

MS. TIPPETT: And then I think you’re saying that the legalisms then must be reconstructed, reinterpreted.

MR. HARTMAN: Correct.

MS. TIPPETT: In accordance with that rather than the other way around.

MR. HARTMAN: That’s correct.

MS. TIPPETT: Rather than that we interpret God by way of the legalisms. I’m a mother too; I have two children. And I love it that it’s your daughter who brought this to you. I’ve heard other stories of this across the years, Christian and Jewish stories, children who force their parents to revisit the teachings. I just wondered if — I thought you might have an answer to this. Does the tradition have teachings about how we should be open to being changed and taught by our children?

MR. HARTMAN: Well, it’s either point. The tradition has models of people changing their mind. The tradition has models of the vitality of disagreements, that one point of view is not the truth. And the notion of philosophy is not truth, but possibilities. Philosophy opens up windows. It doesn’t give you final truths. I want to have a Judaism that opens up windows. You could breath. You want to convert to Judaism? Try it, try it. See how it fits you. Walk around in the streets and say, “I’m Jewish.” See how you feel about it. In other words, I have a great respect for experimentation, to learning from experience. And what experience could give you, no major work of philosophy can give you. I want the human being to be touched by another human being.

MS. TIPPETT: So as I conduct my life of conversation and as I look at the world, I feel that the teachings about the other, how to encounter the other, how to engage the other, how to treat the other, should be — should be — a great gift to the 21st century, that the world needs to learn in a whole new way how to live with the other. It seems to me that you’ve really engaged with that teaching of the other in Judaism. Does that even float into your thinking about women and your changing idea about women? And I wonder how you think about that teaching of the other in terms of the Palestinian people and that this life in Jerusalem and in Israel in the Middle East. It’s hard.

MR. HARTMAN: That’s so painful. Sari Nusseibeh and I have had good conversations together.

MS. TIPPETT: He’s the president of Al-Quds University and a leading Palestinian philosopher and thinker.

MR. HARTMAN: Yes, and we’re not going to leave this land. We waited too long and this is the only land that we feel is really our home, so can we share a home? And I don’t want to take away from the dignity of Palestinians, but you can’t expect me to commit suicide so you should feel dignified. In other words, can you adjust to a strong vibrant people living side by side with you? You haven’t gone through the process of accepting that fact and that’s why it looks futile.

I remember NBC came to see me. They say, “We heard that you’ve changed in your attitude towards the Palestinians, you know, that you’ve become now militant.” It was Tom Brokaw who came to see me. I said, “Depends what time of day.” I am constantly moved up and back. When my family gets killed and my family’s frightened to go to sleep at night, I get angry. I have a lot of anger in me, but part of my tradition is to learn how to control that anger. And I don’t know if they really want to live with me. I’m not certain that there’s anything we can do that would make it possible for them to feel we acknowledge their dignity.

MS. TIPPETT: I want to talk about another — you know, just to shift gears — another interesting thing that you’re bringing about that I’ve heard about: senior military officers who are coming here for study and bringing real-world ethical spiritual questions, and then you’re meeting that with the tradition.

MR. HARTMAN: I love that. I love them.

MS. TIPPETT: I think, for people outside Israel, what would be surprising is how unusual and groundbreaking that is, right?

MR. HARTMAN: Beg your pardon?

MS. TIPPETT: I think, for people outside Israel who don’t know the dynamics here, that it might be surprising that that’s groundbreaking.

MR. HARTMAN: No, I think this is, for me, my most beautiful experience in Israel. I look at them and I say, “You know, you’re the true rabbis in Israel because you are affecting all your troops.” They woke up that Israelism and nationalism ain’t enough. That can’t satisfy the soul of a people and the soldiers themselves say we have to know why we’re fighting. What is it about? Why are we connected to this land? How do we connect ourselves to Jewish history? And they are marvelous. The best audience in the world. I mean, I love them.

MS. TIPPETT: What kinds of questions do they bring?


MS. TIPPETT: What kinds of questions do they bring? What do they want to talk about?

MR. HARTMAN: They want to know do you accept me as a Jew even though I’m not observant? How do you look upon me? I say, “You’re not secular.” “But everyone tells me I’m secular.” I say, “You can’t be secular because you’re willing to die for the continuity of Jewish history. That’s very deeply religious.” So immediately, there’s a certain sense that, OK, I’m inside. I’m not an outsider. Take me on a trip. Tell me about Abraham. Tell me about Moses. Tell me about Maimonides. Come on, let’s walk together and I’m open to any questions you may have.

MS. TIPPETT: Here’s a reading from David Hartman’s book A Living Covenant: The Innovative Spirit in Traditional Judaism.

KATE MOOS: “In Israel, intense ideological passions surface daily and confront one another in the public arena of our shared communal life. Major governmental decisions are influenced by the different Jewish dreams that inspired our national rebirth. Messianic religious visions collide with a socialist secular understanding of the significance of the Jewish state. This is what results from Jews feeling at home. … We prayed to be reunited with our scattered brethren — without realizing how different we had become from one another. Our sense of unity currently results more from the enemies who seek to destroy us than from an internal consensus as to how we believe the Jewish people should live in the modern world.

“Thus,” David Hartman continues, “it is not a simple task to translate a biblical perception of reality into the conditions of a modern democratic society.”

(Sound bite of Jewish Music)

MS. TIPPETT: At onbeing.org, find all the shows that have come out of our spring production trip to Israel and the West Bank, including Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh; Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi; Mohammad Darawshe, an Arab civic leader of Israel; and voices from the Aida camp, a Palestinian refugee camp and neighborhood in Bethlehem. Together they reveal many faces of Israeli and Palestinian identity — and humanity. Again, that’s at onbeing.org.

Coming up, David Hartman on hope in a hopeless God.

I’m Krista Tippett. This program comes to you from APM, American Public Media.

I’m Krista Tippett, On Being. Today, “Opening Up Windows,” in Jerusalem with philosopher and rabbi David Hartman. This is a companion piece to last week’s show with the Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh. We’re seeking perspective to both address and transcend a new moment of Middle Eastern political tumult. At 80, David Hartman is a revered if provocative figure in Israeli society. His voice and stories are letting us inside the inner life of Israel in some sense — struggles and searching that shape news from this part of the world but are rarely heard in and for themselves. Israeli Jews, as David Hartman describes it, walk a constant tightrope between vulnerability and responsibility. He’s written that “a core meaning of the state of Israel is precisely the will of the Jewish people to remain in history, despite overwhelming evidence of the risks involved.” I interviewed him at the Shalom Hartman Institute, which he founded.

MS. TIPPETT: One of the large themes in your thinking and writing is how Jewish sovereignty, how the fact of the state of Israel, in fact, challenges Judaism.

MR. HARTMAN: Absolutely. Because it says to you, stop looking at pots and pans, if it’s dairy or meat. Take your face out of the pot and look, look at the society. The state of Israel gives me a whole range of responsibility.


MR. HARTMAN: And I can’t now goof off. I can’t blame the goyim. Can’t blame the Gentiles for the world as it is. It’s my world. What type of medicine do you have? What type of treatment of the aged? What type of treatment of immigrants? You are now — have power and power has to be measured by responsibility, and a sovereign state gives you the opportunity to make Judaism a total way of life that brings dignity and responsiveness to human beings. Sovereignty is an instrument for moral excellence.

MS. TIPPETT: And I think you’re also saying that the state of Israel is really a new chapter for Jews even beyond the biblical narrative.

MR. HARTMAN: Correct.

MS. TIPPETT: Which does not have Jews in charge of their fate.


MS. TIPPETT: And that in fact then you are writing a new chapter of the tradition, that that’s part of this responsibility you talked about, that may go beyond the bounds of what was possible even to think about or live into.

MR. HARTMAN: That’s what this whole institute is about. In this institute, Arabs tell me when they come, they said they feel dignified. The workers feel dignified. No one pulls rank on another person. No thinker will ever be told that that’s heretical, you can’t say that. A total freedom of ideas, cross-cultural discussions with theologians, Muslims, Christians, philosophers, seculars. Come on, world. Come inside. We want to meet you.

In other words, strangely enough, Israel, which is so much more a family home, makes it possible to be more universal than living in Manhattan. In other words, here I meet people out of a sense of dignity. I have roots. I have a history. I can now meet your history. You’re not denying my identity. Like when Arafat said we were never there in Jerusalem. We never had anything to do with the temple. My anger was not, you know, that he was nasty. You denied my memory. And if you deny my memory, you deny my dignity. This is a return to memory. Now how do we deal with this memory? Narcissistically? Triumphantly? Arrogantly? Or we say now that I have my memory, tell me about yours.

It’s a different ballgame. I could listen now. I have a place. I could sit down and talk with you. I have no difficulty allowing another voice into my consciousness and that’s what Israel should be about. It’s not about that. I don’t want to lie to you. I love Israel not for what it is, but what it could be. I want that to be known. Israel is a possibility and I live with possibilities. I didn’t close the final chapter. The final chapter of Jewish history is still going to be written and it’s going to grow hair and it’s my task as a teacher or philosopher to make it possible for more and more people to study, to understand. If you look at the seminar I’m giving on the meaning of a chosen people, I want to deal with that honestly.

MS. TIPPETT: Right. How do you understand the core of Jewish teaching or the God you want to worship? How do you understand the message that is there about pluralism? What is the Jewish contribution to a truly pluralistic world that we live in now?

MR. HARTMAN: The contribution is that there’s no idea which ends the discussion. If there’s an idea that closes the discussion, that’s not a fruitful thought. Dialogue is what creates possibility for more discussion. My tradition taught me, when they said Hillel and Shammai were always fighting with each other and disagreeing, and they say let’s ask God who’s right, is Hillel right or Shammai right? So God said, “Elu v’elu divrei Elohim hayim.” “These and these are the words of the living God.” I mean, you have a multiple conversation going on in yourself.

And there’s an old Midrash that says when he gave the Torah to Sinai, he gave it with multiple interpretations. There’s never been a single truth, a dogmatic truth, a single way of reading reality. We meet reality through the visions of other people and my tradition is filled with that. The whole Talmud is that.

MS. TIPPETT: Right, it’s a demonstration of that.

MR. HARTMAN: Oh, God. I mean, to be a Jew is to say why are you right [laughs]? You’re going to have to explain it to me.

MS. TIPPETT: Right. Right.

MR. HARTMAN: And I’m going to argue with you.

MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, On Being — conversation about meaning, religion, ethics, and ideas. Today, an exploration of inner-Israeli life, and on the meaning of the Jewish state and Jewish tradition, with Israeli rabbi and philosopher David Hartman. He’s written: “I am grateful that the secular spirit of the modern world has made the medieval option of fear of God’s punishment spiritually irrelevant. … I religiously embrace this spirit of modernity because it forces me to choose Judaism only on the basis of love. There is something profoundly religious about a culture that challenges one to find a way to God without being intimidated by His power.” David Hartman continues, “Those images of God in the tradition that portray Him as teacher and lover are most appreciated for those who share this religious sensibility.” I interviewed David Hartman in Jerusalem.

MS. TIPPETT: I want to talk to you about time, your understanding of time, which I would even say palpably feels different here in Israel.


MS. TIPPETT: Time. I mean, I’m just saying even being present in this land, it feels different. Now you write about this. It comes up in your writing not necessarily as an isolated subject, but even when you talk about writing a new chapter of Jewish history, you experienced that as a matter of generations, that you’re part of what will be a long process. Also this process of applying tradition to modern society as being the meaning of what modern society is continues to change. How do you think about the value of time, the meaning of time, in terms of religious change, spiritual evolution, within Judaism?

MR. HARTMAN: There’s the famous saying in the Mishnah: “Lo alecha ham’lacha ligmor.” “It’s not upon you to finish the job, nor are you free to desist from it.” And know one thing: that the master is very, very demanding. “Hayom katzer” — the day is short, but the work is great. I mean, if you went to my school, the major question was how are you using your time?


MR. HARTMAN: What have you made of yourself in the gift that you’ve received? On one level, I hate time because it’s moving [laughs]. I say, hold it, kid. I want to live a little longer. I want to be around. I love life. I love people. I don’t know why. They’re not so nice [laughs], but I have that — when I see a little kindness of somebody, I see a tear in his eye. It opens me up.

I need people to take me out of a locked room and let me breath alternative pictures. Interesting, never thought of it that way. And if people could go through life feeling that there’s a lot that they don’t know, as James said, the whole truth has not been given to one person. It’s enough to be true to the section that you have, to be true to the situation of where you are and what your existential situation enables you to see and to see a world talking that way and listening. It would be nice, no?

MS. TIPPETT: Saying it that way, also, I think makes the task feel more manageable. Psychologically, it’s a great comfort to think about it that way.

MR. HARTMAN: Yes, I do.

MS. TIPPETT: I wonder what comes to mind if I ask you. So you’ve started a lot of initiatives here. We’ve talked about some of them. You have a school. You’re training girls. I mean, you’re bringing women and girls into the tradition. You’re doing this spiritual teaching with military officers. You’re also bringing Jews and rabbis of different Jewish traditions together in a way that’s unprecedented, right? So I wonder what comes to mind if I ask you how then these experiences that you create out of your sense that something has to change, how they then give you, inform your vision, you know, teach you things that you didn’t expect to learn, give you new insights that are surprising?

MR. HARTMAN: They tell me — they teach me that it’s not easy. You know, sometimes you can become very glib. I don’t see any dialogue in all the community. What I wanted to create was a people with discussion. On Saturday night, they get together and they say, “What did your rabbi say about Abraham? What did your rabbi say? How did he interpret this?” And they should argue what they learned, but they don’t do that. They talk, “Do you see the rabbi’s wife, how she was dressed?” So, I mean, I want a people that is learning. Where’s the spirit that awakens you? Where’s the spirit that wants you to search, find out? There’s a passage in the Psalms [speaking Hebrew], “Yismach lev m’vakshei Hashem” (“Joyful are those who seek God, not those who found God.”)

MS. TIPPETT: In terms of your own spiritual evolution, how your sense of who God is has changed, what that means …


MS. TIPPETT: Your sense of who God is has changed, and what that means. Are there …

MR. HARTMAN: My God wants me to be moral.

MS. TIPPETT: Your God. [laughs] So — so I wonder if there are biblical passages or Talmudic teachings, images, that have become more important to you over time, that are important now that maybe meant nothing to you 30 years ago. What would those be?

MR. HARTMAN: Right. Ones which are radically — radical revisions of the way you think about God. What do they mean that say God is all-powerful? His power is that he doesn’t punish the wicked. He’s slow to anger. What do you mean that he’s awe-inspiring in the temple? But there’s no temple anymore. The pagans are just dancing around in the temple. Oh, it means something else. It means if not for the awe of God, this people wouldn’t have survived in history.

So there was a reshaping of the meaning of the theological language to correspond to a hopeless God. Where are you, God? Where are you hiding? So they tell the Hasidic story of the two kids who were playing hide and seek and one kid hid and then he started crying. So they said, “What’s the matter?” Says, “No one’s looking for me.” Says, “Now you know how God feels.” [laughs] We’re not looking.

I don’t know what God is, the being of God, but I know it’s a shattering experience. It opens you to the world. It takes you out of your narcissistic ego trip and says, look, see the other. Show strength through compassion, through love, not through violence. And to be reminded each day of those achievements. Not simple, but I’m still hoping. I’m still hoping. It’s not easy to be a religious man. It’s hard to be an awakened human being.

MS. TIPPETT: Rabbi David Hartman is president emeritus of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. His books include The God Who Hates Lies: Confronting and Rethinking Jewish Tradition.

At onbeing.org, you can listen to this show again, download it, and share with others. And you can watch my entire interview with David Hartman at his institute in Jerusalem. You’ll find this video and audio on our website — and all the other shows from our spring trip to Israel and the West Bank, with a range of voices and titles like: “Thin Places, Thick Realities,” “Pleasure More Than Hope,” and “Children of Both Identities.”

Two weeks from now, as the Jewish High Holy Days draw to a close, we’ll air our final show from that trip — a conversation in Jerusalem with the wonderful, celebrated literary teacher of the Torah Avivah Zornberg.

And at onbeing.org now, find two animations that our online community is already enjoying by Hanan Harchol, exploring the High Holy Days’ themes of repair and forgiveness. In two funny and moving conversations with his father, Hanan works through complex questions about making an apology worthwhile, and the choice of forgiving somebody. Watch these videos on our blog at onbeing.org.

There’s always a lot going on through our website. It’s a growing community that is related to this radio space but also maps other territory. And this week, as kind of experiment, we’ve decided to bring a contribution from that space to close this show. It’s a story, and a poem, of one person’s searching response to an experience of violence. Here’s Luke Hankins, of Asheville, North Carolina.

LUKE HANKINS: I was verbally and physically assaulted in a parking lot at a local grocery store by four people apparently because they thought that my shorts were too short and that I looked like, in their words, a faggot. They didn’t try to take any money. They didn’t try to steal the beer I had just bought. They only wanted to hurt someone. And so they left me with a swollen face and jaw and a black eye, with a confused mind and troubled heart. Here is a poem I wrote about the incident. It’s called “The Way They Loved Each Other.”

What to be more astonished at:

my calm as the fist made contact

and I saw a flash of white

and the world went silent, a

as if I had stepped out of it

momentarily, only to be brought back,

with a rush of sound and visible objects —

the way I asked them to help me

find my glasses, expecting them

(even as they taunted me,

even though they had just assaulted me)

to feel underneath the violent tribal urge

the obligations of empathy —

the way even as one of them found my glasses

and smashed them again on the ground

I refused to believe that was really

what he wanted to do — the way

they loved each other

in the most primitive manner

but loved each other nonetheless

despite feeling the need to punish a “faggot”

who did not dress like them, because

he did not dress like them —

the way tears and nausea overwhelmed me

nightlong much more than had the blow itself —

the way such small suffering can feel

unbearable — the way no strength is found

for what seems to have no explanation,

a troubled mind more harmful

to the body than fractured bones.

MS. TIPPETT: Luke Hankins is associate editor of Asheville Poetry Review. He recently published his first book of poems, Weak Devotions. Find his blog post at our website — onbeing.org.

This program is produced by Chris Heagle, Nancy Rosenbaum, and Susan Leem. Anne Breckbill is our Web developer.

Special thanks this week to Fouad Abu-Ghosh and Yossi Klein Halevi.

Trent Gilliss is our senior editor. Kate Moos is executive producer. And I’m Krista Tippett.


MS. TIPPETT: Next time, I speak with a global mediator who describes what really happens when people transcend social violence — and so find the moral imagination to live beyond it. From Colombia, Nepal, Tajikistan, Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland, and Burma, you’ll hear stories you have never heard in the news. Please join us.

This is APM, American Public Media.

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Ultra Orthodox Jews pray at the grave site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in the northern Israeli village of Meron during the day-long holy Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer, which commemorates Bar Yochai's death. Bar Yochai was a great scholar and one of the most important sages in Jewish history some 1800 years ago. Hundreds of thousands Jews light large bonfires all night long and visit his resting place in Meron.

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