Two Israeli rabbis — both prominent in fields ranging from law to literature to rabbinics and both with ties to Philadelphia — died within a week of each other, leaving legacies of intellectual stardom.
A Brooklyn-born philosopher who moved to Israel some 40 years ago, Rabbi David Hartman, a longtime professor at Hebrew University whose liberal interpretative take on Orthodox Judaism led to the formation of a Jewish think tank engaging the minds and thoughts of a mix of Jewish thinkers, died Feb. 10 at the age of 81.
His perspective was one of inclusion rather than separation, encouraging and inspiring disparate Jewish sects to share rather than segregate interpretations of Jewish law and philosophy. He stressed unity over division and incorporated contemporary values and ideas into the mix, with the concept that we are all God’s children.
One of his major achievements was the founding of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, the think tank the rabbi established in 1976.
Among Hartman’s published works is Maimonides: Torah and Philosophic Quest, put out by the Jewish Publication Society, headquartered in Philadelphia, in 1976.
“The subtitle is not only a comment about Maimonides but about Hartman himself; the quest to meld the observant life of Torah with modern philosophical meaning and values,” said Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz, JPS director.
Meanwhile, the death of Rabbi Menachem Elon, a former Israeli Supreme Court justice and an Israel Prize winner, left a deep hole in the ranks of scholars able to discern the role of Jewish civil law in Israel.
Elon, who died on Feb. 6 at age 89, also left his literary mark on the Jewish state and beyond with the publication of his 1973 book addressing that very topic. He, too, is not without Philadelphia ties: JPS published his multivolume Jewish Law: History, Sources, Principles.
(Elon’s connection to Philadelphia extended to the fact that Ari, one of his five children, taught at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote.)
In 1979, Elon won the Israel Prize for Hebrew law; four years later, he lost a presidential bid, beaten by Chaim Herzog.