Protecting Judaism from Itself

Rabbi David Hartman passed away this weekend and I’m pretty bummed that I’d never heard of him before today. From this piece in Tablet, I’ve learned that, like me, Rabbi Hartman grew up a self-described “yeshiva boy” until, according to the article, he “started to read.” Then, he became the kind of rabbi whose ideology seems very much in line with the goal of OMGWTFBIBLE:

His Orthodox critics never understood that his criticism and creative reinterpretations of the tradition were not offered out of religious spite, or a desire to lead their adherents astray, but to protect Judaism and the Jewish people from them—from Orthodoxy’s corrupting distortions of the tradition, from their claims to exclusive authenticity. He knew the Orthodox leadership’s perpetual constrictions, prohibitions, and negative pronouncements left precious little room for modern Jews to find or create a meaningful Judaism for themselves. In that sense, he saw the Orthodox establishment as robbing the majority of the world’s Jews of access to their birthright.

I feel like the Old Testament (and I use that name because when I say this I’m not just referring to Jews) is, whether we believe in it or not, as much our birthright and heritage as Milton, Shakespeare, Austen, or any other massively influential literary work. If you like, you could call OMGWTFBIBLE a reclamation of that heritage. It’s a reading of Judaism’s foundational text in a way that, to me, feels meaningful and alive.

Again, from Tablet:

He felt tortured by the fact that the tradition had become the jurisdiction of fundamentalists, on whom it was mostly lost. He favored a more open-ended approach to religious life in which Jewish practice is treated as an open-ended field of experimentation. “I don’t want order!” I can remember him shouting. “I want vibrancy, passion, people to have a stake in it, lay claim to it, feel it’s theirs, it doesn’t belong to anybody else. There’s plenty of order in a graveyard.”

I can only hope that Rabbi Hartman might see this project as my laying claim to this vibrant tradition.

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