Donniel Hartman Is So…Yesterday!

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28 Responses

  1. dr. bill says:

    I may be incorrect, but I read Rabbi Hartman as expressing a view on what is now (and probably most often) required versus a universal principle, always to be followed.  Undoubtedly, Jewish viewpoints are non-uniform on this and other priorities.  His, as he writes, reflects the viewpoint of the overwhelming majority of prophets and Hillel’s reduction of what it means to be Jewish.  (In the midst of teaching laining to another grandson, the end of the haftorah of Balak resonates strongly.)  Of course, in many situations, the feeling of and reliance on God’s presence is what is most important.

    • tzippi says:

      In what situations wouldn’t “the feeling of and reliance on G-d’s presence” not be “what is most important”?

      The flipside of loving G-d is making Him beloved among His creations. It’s an imperative, and comforting to know that even when we feel that we are far from loving or knowing G-d  (on whatever level possible) that we can still fulfill the commandment of loving Him. But making Him beloved is not dependent on contemporary mores. The great challenge is, how do we make Him beloved in the other’s eye when we have to take a stand? Sometimes it is possible to, say, eat in an irreligious family’s home, and sometimes not. Do we simply stop bringing sacrifices or do we improve ourselves so the sacrifices will be authentic service and not mockery?

      At all times, it is possible to project deracheha darchei noam, the ways of the Torah are ways of pleasantness.

      And about the akeida: perhaps it’s unfair to say this without reading the book, but I am so sad for Jews who do not appreciate the majesty of the akeida. (I don’t know what kind of Rosh Hashana they have.) Our father Avraham does not need to be rehabilitated.

      Dr. Bill, I doubt you disagree. I also doubt I can say the same of Rabbi Hartmann.

       

       

       

       

    • Yossi says:

      Dr. Bill,

      Can you explain what you mean in your first sentence? I’m not sure what you’re trying to say and I’d like to understand it.

      What I don’t understand is why he would call it “Putting G-d Second”. Why is it that no one I know from people I admire as yirei shamayim would express it like that? Even if they were trying to say the same thing, I don’t think they’d formulate it in, if you’ll pardon me, what I think is a disrespectful and irreverent title. (And don’t answer me with a bunch of sources that show this one and that one spoke to and about Hashem that way).
      On another note, doesn’t commandment number one, whether it is a commandment or a statement of fact, tell us that it’s not that we’re putting G-d second but that out ethics and morals are anchored by that consciousness?
      Also, obviously see Rashi about how Hillel’s formulation relates to Hashem. And of course, חבקוק had a less popular single formulation that was very G-d centric.
      For me, the פסוק that sums it up is הגיד לך אדם מה טוב ומה ה׳אלקיך שואל מעמך כי עם עשות משפט ואהבת חסד והצנע לכת עם אלקיך.
       

    • Yossi says:

      Dr. Bill,

      Can you explain what you mean in your first sentence? I’m not sure what you’re trying to say and I’d like to understand it.

      What I don’t understand is why he would call it “Putting G-d Second”. Why is it that no one I know from people I admire as yirei shamayim would express it like that? Even if they were trying to say the same thing, I don’t think they’d formulate it in, if you’ll pardon me, what I think is a disrespectful and irreverent title. (And don’t answer me with a bunch of sources that show this one and that one spoke to and about Hashem that way).
      On another note, doesn’t commandment number one, whether it is a commandment or a statement of fact, tell us that it’s not that we’re putting G-d second but that out ethics and morals are anchored by that consciousness?
      Also, obviously see Rashi about how Hillel’s formulation relates to Hashem. And of course, חבקוק had a less popular single formulation that was very G-d centric.
      For me, the פסוק that sums it up is הגיד לך אדם מה טוב ומה ה׳אלקיך שואל מעמך כי עם עשות משפט ואהבת חסד והצנע לכת עם אלקיך.

  2. mb says:

    Is he saying it’s OK to eat non-kosher in your parents house, or eat in your parents house by relying on leniencies. (actually halacha, but that’s a whole other discussion)

    [YA – Methinks your rabbeim created a monster. You should read a Tosafos like a Tosafos, but an interview like an interview]

  3. Steve brizel says:

    R Adlerstein illustrates all too well how and why like father like son applies with respect to the abovementioned book. This is just a relabelling of the fathers message which has long been beyond the boundaries of mainstream MO hashkafa

  4. Yossi says:

    Dr. Bill,

    Can you explain what you mean in your first sentence? I’m not sure what you’re trying to say and I’d like to understand it.

    What I don’t understand is why he would call it “Putting G-d Second”. Why is it that no one I know from people I admire as yirei shamayim would express it like that? Even if they were trying to say the same thing, I don’t think they’d formulate it in, if you’ll pardon me, what I think is a disrespectful and irreverent title. (And don’t answer me with a bunch of sources that show this one and that one spoke to and about Hashem that way).

    On another note, doesn’t commandment number one, whether it is a commandment or a statement of fact, tell us that it’s not that we’re putting G-d second but that out ethics and morals are anchored by that consciousness?

    Also, obviously see Rashi about how Hillel’s formulation relates to Hashem. And of course, חבקוק had a less popular single formulation that was very G-d centric.

    For me, the פסוק that sums it up is הגיד לך אדם מה טוב ומה ה׳אלקיך שואל מעמך כי עם עשות משפט ואהבת חסד והצנע לכת עם אלקיך.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Which Lashon in Rashi on Shabbos 31a are you referring to in the comment of Hillel to the Ger?

      • Yossi says:

        The Rashi that says רעך ורע אביך אל תעזובו which explains that Hashem is also our “friend” and that Hillel’s statement was both interpersonal and between man and G-d.

    • dr. bill says:

      let me try in a way that will pass the “moderator.”  I read the interview not the book, so i am not sure.  if putting God second, is a response to the times and not a permanent view, there is little to argue about.  If it is meant as a principle for perpetuity, it seems less radical than what Micah (not Habakuk) desired, placing God in third place, at best.  In any case to argue that belief in God demands ethical behavior is a rather tenuous argument; we have revelation playing that part.

      What hesed in Micah or Hillel statement likely meant, we must leave for another day.

      • Yossi says:

        I did mean חבקוק; I was referring to the Gemara in Makos that says בא חבקוק והעמידן על אחת וצדיק באמונתו יחיה.

        But I still do love what Micha said, as I stated at the end.

  5. mycroft says:

    “He notes that in all of Israel’s wars, it was religious MKs who pushed for pushing on in battle while their more secular colleagues wanted to call it quits”

    Not true for all of Israel’s wars-67 war Warhaftig-Mizrachi member of Cabinet was last to approve going to war. Post 67 and  R  Zvi Yehuda Kook on much of Orthodox Zionism it may well be accurate. Certainly, not the Zionism of the Rav or RAL.

  6. Benav says:

    Didn’t Avraham “put G-d second” when he broke off in the middle of an encounter with G-d to go to his prospective guests?   (See Rashi on Bereshis, 18:3).  If so, then it becomes a question of when such a response is appropriate and when it is not.  It is not simply always wrong in principle as one might infer from this article.

    [YA – “Not always” is a far cry from a book-length treatment of “never”]

    • Yossi says:

      I don’t understand the comparison at all. The Gemara discusses why what Avraham did was appropriate-whether hosting guests is more important than greeting the Divine Presence.

      But that’s not even the point. Hartman is saying that you would push aside Hashem for ethical purposes- so that you would eat at the non-religious relative which he considers “ethical” instead of being so G-d centric about kosher.

      Thats very different. Is he advocating not keeping kosher if it offends people close to you? If he is, then it’s very different than Avraham. If he is saying be less stringent to accomodate those less religious than you, that is called the balance of the righteous that the Path of the Just talks about- having to weight when to be stringent and when lenient.

      I’m very curious- would Hartman tell a vegetarian to eat meat in his parents house? I find all these new twists so same old same old, as Rabbi Adlerstein points out. What does he want? Does he want to do away with bein Adam lamakom when it conflicts with bein Adam lachaveiro? Arbitrarily do away with Halacha when it hurts people’s feelings?

      And if he’s only saying that we don’t have to be so stringent all the time and should take other people’s feelings into account (and I don’t think that’s all he’s saying) then there is nothing new about that, and that works totally with a G-d centered life.

      I’d even say something a bit more. Who is he? A thinker who heads his father’s institute? Is he a great Talmid Chacham who has spent years learning under seasoned Talmidei Chachamim? Is not, he’s free to write what he wants, but why would I, and why should anyone else care about his conjecture?

      Sort of like Yitz Greenberg’s new theology. I read it and think- where did you come up with this stuff? Who cares about the things that you decide to make up? We have a mesora and teacher who are part of it, and those who aren’t aren’t particularly compelling to me, because they’re coming from outside the field and confusing other values with Torah ones.

  7. DF says:

    Very interesting article.  You are without doubt correct in noting that breakaway movements to downplay the ritual and focus on the ethical (according to taste) are as old as Christianity itself. No one has ever figured out a way to throw out the bathwater but  keep the baby.

    But Hartman is right, in the sense that the bathwater is still here. He loses us by blundering straight into the leftwing morass of feminism and (selective) egalitarianism. This is the place where good ideas go to die. If he would repurpose his efforts towards items of universal importance, instead of special interest politics, he might have something. For one example, of great importance to orthodox Jews – have we not done to Torah study exactly what Hartman complains has been done to God? That we’ve become so intoxicated with the idea of it that it has been allowed to grow and metastasize till is blocks out everything else from the horizon? That we focus so much on studying Torah that the ideas contained in the Torah – there are several I am thinking of – have been basically pushed aside?

    In short, Hartman is entirely wrong with his application, but he has something of a point with his overall theme.

  8. Bob Miller says:

    It’s remarkable what twists and turns “Orthodox” can take.  Our life priorities are dictated by HaShem for our benefit, not subject to reworking according to our necessarily deficient knowledge.

  9. BF says:

    It would seem to me worth noting that there is no need to create a bifurcation between the attainment of an ethical personality and attaining deveikus, as though they were two separate endeavors vying for our attention. Hartman has created a false dichotomy, wherein focus on coming closer to God can cause one to lose sight of the needs of other people. The real answer to this is that one of the most powerful – if not the most powerful – ways of coming close to God is precisely that of developing a more ethical, Godly character and caring for our fellow human beings. You’re God-intoxicated? Wonderful; if it’s real, it will manifest itself in the way you are hypersensitive to the needs of those around you! You wish to become a more ethical person? The real and only sustainable way to do this is within the framework of fulfilling God’s will to become a better person, and using His blueprints.

     

     

  10. micha says:

    I believe R’ Chaim Volozhiner beat R’ Hartman to the punch on the bit about being a good human being more central to being a good Jew than how we relate to G-d. In the introduction to Nefesh haChaim, Rav Yitzchaq Volozhiner recalls of his father:

    He would routinely rebuke me because he was that I do not share in the pain of others. This is what he would constantly tell me: that the entire person was not created for himself, but to be of assistance to others, whatever he finds to be in his ability to do.

    And Rav Shimon Shkop’s first words of Shaarei Yosher (also in an introduction):

    Blessed shall be the Creator, and exalted shall be the Maker, Who created us in His “Image” and in the likeness of His “Structure”, and planted eternal life within us, that our greatest desire should be provide benefit to others, to individuals and to the masses, now and in the future, in imitation of the Creator (as it were).

    Where I think this steam of Jewish Thought differs from Hartman’s could be summed up with Hillel’s words to the convert. He famously opens “That which you loathe, do not do to another. This is all of the Torah, the rest is details.” But then continues “Zil gemor — go learn!” Hillel defined being a good Jew based not on our guesses about what would have outcomes we would want or loathe, but insisted that we make these decisions as informed by the Torah.
    Aside from the fact that even with this perspective, following the rest of the Torah is a critical part of being capable of providing benefit to others, in imitation of the Creator. It may not be the end goal in this view of observance, but it’s still a piece one cannot live without! One might as well try to collect the golden eggs without ever feeding the goose!

  11. avi says:

    Unfortunately the “ethical before the religious” often fails at both…

  12. Raymond says:

    I actually think that the ethical should be our top priority.  Think, for example, of that very prominent group in the world that puts the highest premium on their relationship with G-d, totally discarding the ethical.  Nobody can doubt their religious sincerity. I am thinking here of the islamoNazi terrorists.

    However, there is a slight complication with placing the ethical above everything else, and that is, that it is really really hard to be a morally decent human being.  It goes so much against our animal nature, which really is predominant in the vast majority of people.  Apparently, G-d Himself knew that having Moses merely give a list of ethical rules to follow, was simply not enough.   It had to be accompanied by the drama of the enmity between our forefathers and their siblings, by the subsequent slavery in Egypt, by the splitting of the Reed Sea, by the thunder and other special effects of receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai in front of our entire Jewish people.  And so we need to stress our fear and love of G-d, to go through all of the ritual commandments, because that greatly increases our motivation to be kind and sensitive toward our fellow human beings and toward all living things.

    • Bob Miller says:

      The terrorists are relying on the warped, subjective words views of a false prophet.    We follow true prophets, who revealed the true will of G-d.

      • Raymond says:

        I understand and agree with you, of course.  The only point I was trying to make, though, is that putting too much of our focus on worshiping G-d at the expense of how sensitively we treat others, can have dire consequences, and is what religious fanaticism is all about.

    • Bob Miller says:

      The terrorists are relying on the warped, subjective words and views of a false prophet.    We follow true prophets, who revealed the true will of G-d.

  13. Jill Schaeffer says:

    It’s been awhile since I’ve submitted any article here, busy “doing the work,” as a rabbi recently described my adhesion to sloshing  through the Presbyterian infection of anti-semitism/anti-Israel rhetoric of disdain for Jewish identity, history and overall reality in general.  I have a deeper problem with Donniel Hartman’s notion of G-d as second.  And not knowing the man’s work, I apologize ahead of time.  When I first read of this demotion in Rabbi Adlerstein’s article, I became afraid.  For me, the whole point of HaShem is the acknowledgement that the compassion and justice of the unknowable One is the core of faith, not the knowing or naming of that One. That I cannot know and yet believe is my source of hope, the ground of the moment coming towards me as I approach its threshold being worthwhile and meaningful.  But if I knew, if I pinned down the ineffable, all doors upon the future are slammed and locked forever by my pride.  How could I endure such a pretense of omniscience?  How could I escape from fatalism?  This year, the crowd of destroyers seemed simply to lie.  Liars know everything.  And their lying gave me hope.  They drove themselves into a corner of such deep knowledge and conviction that truth means nothing to them anymore.  Which means the unlocked door of questions, of reflection, of waiting upon HaShem, is no longer necessary for such as they.  En bref, they have moved G-d behind them into second place.  I think they have scorched their wings flying into the sun and will soon begin to burn down their way.  Lying, in the long run, is terribly poor form.  Some of us say, G-d is a priori.  Or another way: On either side of the parentheses, the epoche  of Husserl,  and within that parentheses, HaShem is Dasein.  So, it isn’t so much that G-d is second, or even first.  No sequence can place G-d anywhere within itself  except everywhere within the sequence and beyond it.  First, at the head, firstly, outside of and beyond sequential events.  Our liars can’t reflect or express that kind of subtlety.  Claiming to be Christians, how easily they crucify reality for the sake of certainty and put G-d behind them.  The one difference at this Assembly: people began to feel uneasy, uncomfortable, not uneasy or uncomfortable enough, though.  But something called our friends’ claims into question.  That’s all I can vouch for, for the moment.

    [YA – The author of the lines above is a Presbyterian pastor in the PCUSA]

  14. Jack says:

    How CAN one be “ethical” or even know what proper ethics are without G-d and religion? Who gets to decide what supreme values are so important that they even trump G-d? How can something that is explicitly against Halacha in any way be “ethical”?  Who decided that nonsense like “egalitarianism” and “democracy” are in ANY way Jewish values in the first place? This argument never even gets out the door. Our entire basis for morality and ethics is the Torah and G-d. We don’t not steal and kill because we think it is wrong, we don’t do so because G-d commanded us NOT to (granted we would be expected to understand this ourselves, but our intellect is still not THE reason we refrain from such antisocial actions). The same reason we don’t wear shatnez or eat pork. To have any source of morality that is separate from G-d let alone trumps Him, is IDOLATRY of the most basic form.

    • dr. bill says:

      I guess you see a world full of idolatry, in which derech eretz kadmah le’Torah must mean something other than it normally does.  How can something against halakha be ethical?  How about saving a non-Jew on the Sabbath absent the factor of eivah?  Does that sound ethical to you?  It did not to the Rav ztl.  We may perform ethical acts as a mitzvah, but do not be so arrogant to believe they have no other basis.

  15. Mordechai Bulua says:

    Rabbi Donniel Hartman in his newest book Putting G-d Second: How to Save Religion from Itself  claims that a life of faith “very often activates a critical flaw that supports and encourages immoral impulses.” One example he gives is that “it can exhaust one’s ability to see the needs of other human beings.” Hillel’s Golden Rule, “to not do to your neighbour what is hateful to you,” is brought as the panacea to  Hartman’s problem with putting G-d first.

    With all due respect, Rashi, the foremost Talmudic and Biblical commentator, explains the story with Hillel differently. Rashi gives two explanations for Hillel’s answer to the potential convert. The second explanation of Rashi is the well-known one quoted above.  Rashi’s first explanation, however, interprets “your neighbour” (literally: your friend) as referring to G-d.   Rashi says that one shouldn’t transgress G-d’s words just as you wouldn’t want your neighbour to do something that is hateful to you.

    Understood this way, both ritual and interpersonal commandments are given equal importance. Our Sages say the Ten Commandments were given on two tablets to emphasize the equality between the ritual commandments on the first tablet and the interpersonal commandments on the second. Why then do the Ten Commandments begin with laws between man and G-d? The very first word of the Ten Commandments is “I” (Anochi) referring to G-d. The very last word is le-re’echa, “to your neighbour.” G-d requires we accept Him; not because He needs us, but because our neighbour does. It is only a life of faith, putting G-d first, that engenders moral behaviour towards our neighbour.

    Abraham said it best in his response to Avimelech, king of Gerar who asked him why he didn’t say that Sarah was his wife. Abraham answered: “There is but no fear of G-d in this place and they would have killed me because of my wife.” (Genesis 20:11) A nation can be highly advanced with superficial geniality and manners (ie. Nazi Germany’s gemütlichkeit) but without fear of G-d, anything is possible.

  16. Steve Brizel says:

    A Jewish thinker who goes out of his way in his celebration of egalitarianism and progressive thinking to denigrate the relationship between HaShem, Halacha and the Jewish People is IMO antinomian and in great danger of relying on the supercessionist arguments long utilized by Xtian theologians since the disciples of Oso HaIsh.

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