Rabbi Dr. David Hartman (1931- 2013)
As surprising as it may be to some, I had a long, admiring and fascinating relationship with Rabbi David Hartman ז"ל. It started, as so many good things do, with my wife who was (and is) a very close friend of his wife Bobbi. The latter suggested that David (aka Duvy) and I meet. We met, clicked, became friends and on several occasions he invited me to be a fellow of the Hartman Institute. More importantly, over the years we had the occasion to just sit and talk in his office and Living Room about, well, anything and everything.
One subject that always came up was Rabbi Soloveitchik זצ"ל. The Rav had had a formidable impact on both of us, so it was totally unremarkable that we should talk about him.
Duvy had a very complicated, stormy relationship with Rabbi Soloveitchik (one aspect of which I addressed here), which deserves closer treatment by those who are more conversant with his oeuvre than I. However, one of the dominant characteristics of these specific conversations was that I often felt that we were discussing two different people. That perception was partly due to the oft-noted transformation that the Rav underwent in 1967, in the wake of his year of 'triple mourning,' when he lost his mother, brother, and (most importantly and devastatingly) his wife. In a relatively short period of time, he mellowed marked, going from a demanding Father-Teacher to a more gentle, Grandfather-Teacher. Duvy, who studied and interacted with the Rav in the 1950's and 1960's (and was the study-partner of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein זצ"ל), experienced the former. I, who came to study with the Rav in 1973, only encountered the latter (though, he remained sufficiently awe inspiring and scary).
Yet the different ways in which we perceived our shared mentor were not not only due to differences of style, but of substance. On a number of occasions, Duvy emphasized and decried Rabbi Soloveitchik's objectification of Judaism to Halakhic principles (including the emotional, moral and axiological elements therein). In addressing this point, he often got tremendously agitated: "Halakhah! Halakhah! Halakhah!" he exclaimed, "It can't all be just Halakhah!"
I recall replying that, with all due respect I thought he was misreading the Rav (at least partially). The Rav, from 1944 on (at least), dedicated an enormous portion of his thinking to the cultivation of the individual, subjection spiritual experience that should inform the observance of Halakhah. This theme, it is true, found less explicit expression in his formal published writings (prior to the establishment of the Toras HaRav Foundation), and more in his recorded lectures and shiurim. Nevertheless, that does not diminish their importance or their centrality. When he would make an assertion that 'The Halakhah is that one needs to concentrate in prayer,' he was not objectifying the individual experience. On the contrary, he was actively affirming that the experiential moment was a built in requirement of objective observance, without which it would be woefully deficient (and in the case of prayer and other internally performed commandments (קיום שבלב) deeply compromised). If anything, and here lies the great irony that Rabbi Soloveitchik was exquisitely aware of the dangers of robotic ritual performance that inhered to precisely the type of Pan-Halakhism with which he was so often identified.
In retrospect, though, there was clearly an additional (and more formative ) dimension to Duvy's pained cry: "Halakhah! Halakhah! Halakhah!" he exclaimed, "It can't all be just Halakhah!" He was obviously deeply troubled by circumstances wherein Halakhah seemed to violate moral norms, to do harm and incur pain rather than good. That is how I understood the enthusiasm with which fellows at the Hartman Institute (during my tenure, at least) embraced Halakhists and Traditional thinkers who seemed to endorse the subordination of Jewish legal processes and decisions to larger moral and spiritual considerations. Hence, the writings of R. Haim Hirschenson were a perennial favorite (indeed, it was the Hartman Institute that made him famous), alongside R. Eliezer Berkowitz and R. Shimon Shkop's introduction to his book Sha'are Yosher.
I certainly understood, and understand, Duvy's position, pain and even his outrage. In principle, the idea that the Law should be totally aligned with what appear to be moral and axiological principles and sensibilities should be a corollary of its Divine origin and mandate. For Rabbi Dr. David Hartman, philosopher extraordinaire, this was self-evidently the way things were meant to be and must be.
I disagree and, if my memory serves me, I told him so. I disagree for two reasons. First, because I am fully persuaded of the cogency of Rav Soloveitchik's position that Halakhah is fully autonomous, it possesses its own integrity, it functions according to its own rules and largely constitutes a closed universe of discourse. As it happens, the Rav's postulate (in a somewhat softer form) is borne out by the leading historians of Halakhah, starring with the founder of the field, Professor Jacob Katz z'l. In this model, axiological and moral considerations certainly have a built in, mandatory role to fill in guided the Halakhic decisor, moving him in certain directions and even in discerning interpretions of the normative sources of Halakhah that might not, at first glance, have been obvious. However, the plain upshot of the sources demands that other considerations give way thereto (See BT Hullin 49b s.v.
רב, ואיסורא דאורייתא, ואת אמרת התורה חסה על ממונן של ישראל? ). [I, of course, fully acknowledge shifts and changes in the way the Torah is understood and the Law is applied. How that works, though, requires a separate discussion. I addressed it partly here.]
So, simply as an historian of Halakhah, I cannot agree with the total subordination of the Jewish Law to axiological or apparently ethical considerations (even as the Posek will do his utmost to avoid such a head on clash, because 'its ways are ways of pleasantness and all of its paths are peace'). That's not how it's always been done. The philosopher will, I suspect, retort that this way is the way it should be done.
My second objection derives from the first, and is equally rooted in the historical record. The essential dynamic of Rabbinic Judaism was beautifully characterized by Professor Twersky in his essay, 'Religion and Law':