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Dear Reader: David Hartman’s Legacy of Pluralism

Last February in Jerusalem I had the sad honor of eulogizing my beloved teacher Rabbi David Hartman, an Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, and trailblazing apostle of religious inclusion.

Regrettably, even as Rabbi Hartman’s enlightened Torah of pluralism has drawn many disciples, the 65-year-old State of Israel remains mired in religious intolerance. No Israeli government has yet recognized the legitimacy of Reform and Conservative rabbis, or treated our liberal movements’ synagogues and institutions on an equal footing with those of Orthodox Jewry.

Still, with our Israel Movement at the vanguard, I am cautiously optimistic that we are about to witness a dramatic societal change in Israel. One encouraging sign is the election success of Israel’s new party, Yesh Atid, which received 19 Knesset seats and is part of the new ruling coalition. One of its incoming Knesset members, Ruth Calderon, a secular talmudic scholar who cofounded the first joint beit midrash for men, women, religious, and secular Israelis, addressed the Israeli parliament on the day after Rabbi Hartman’s funeral, declaring, “I long for the day when the state’s resources are distributed fairly to every Torah scholar, man or woman, based on the quality of their study, not their communal affiliation, when secular and pluralistic yeshivotbatei midrash, and organizations win fair and equal support. Through…healthy competition, the Torah will be magnified and glorified.”

One of Rabbi Hartman’s favorite rabbinic texts also expressed the need for Jewish pluralism: “Make yourself a heart of many rooms and bring into it the words of the House of Shammai and the words of the House of Hillel….” My teacher interpreted this passage from Mishnah Sotah 7:12 as an imperative for each of us to become a person in whom different opinions can reside together in the very depths of the soul.

This teaching is just as critical for our entire Jewish world as it is for Israel. We Jews are one, but we are not the same—and that is our strength. Our sustenance as a people must arise from being a Jewish community that moves beyond recognizing or tolerating one another to valuing and celebrating the many authentic paths to Jewish commitment.

May Rabbi Hartman’s memory inspire every one of us to live the Torah of pluralism in all the places of our lives, and especially in our spiritual home—Israel. 

Rabbi Rick Jacobs 
President, Union for Reform Judaism