Rabbi David Hartman was once a leading student of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik but his intellectual path has long since diverged from his teacher’s. In his recent book, Rabbi Hartman explains why he departed from the more traditional trajectory he once followed. Rabbi Hartman considers halachah to be, at times, unethical. In this book, he specifies as morally offensive the limited ritual roles for women and the prohibition of a Kohen to marry a convert. “I became unable to justify women’s exclusion from a minyan; why should they be denied the religious dignity that comes with full communal participation, treated, in essence, as if they were not there? I cannot be bound, or insist that others be bound, by a halachic theology that privileges certain kinds of sperm, wombs, and genes and stigmatizes others . . .”
Rabbi Hartman sits as the moral judge of halachah, issuing edicts on what Judaism really stands for and rejecting the laws that violate his conclusions. Recognizing that his claims are really resurrected Conservative arguments from decades past, Rabbi Hartman dismisses the Orthodox responses of that era as apologetics. He argues at length against the views of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik and Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits in what I found to be a very unconvincing way. He needs no rebuttal because he fails to adequately rebut the “apologetics” he quotes.
Rabbi Hartman knows where his moral rejection of Talmudic law takes him. “Some of my critiques of the halakhic system may mirror critiques that have been made by non-Orthodox Jewish denominations. If the reader finds such similarities, these are choruses I am happy to join.” Indeed.
Rabbi Gil Student writes frequently on Jewish issues and blogs at TorahMusings.com.