On Thursday, March 13th, 2014, the Department of Jewish Studies of McGill University hosted an event entitled “Politics, Religion, Jewish Law and Philosophy: An Evening in Memory of David Hartman,” in order to memorialize the aforementioned American-Israeli rabbi and philosopher who passed away in February 2013. A prominent Jewish scholar and intellectual, builder and visionary, Rabbi Professor David Hartman z”l was the founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute, a Jerusalem-based research and education center devoted to developing diversity within Jewish communal thought. Hartman’s studies allowed him to bridge both religious and secular knowledge and sensibilities, as he was both a student of the revered Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and the philosophers Robert C. Pollack and Raymond Klibansky at various times throughout his life. He also maintained a close connection with the city of Montreal and McGill’s Department of Jewish Studies, serving as rabbi of the prominent Orthodox synagogue Tiferet Beit David Jerusalem in Cote St-Luc from 1960 to 1971 and, as well, teaching Jewish philosophy from 1969-1971 in McGill’s then fledgling Jewish Studies Program.
The evening consisted of two major lectures by distinguished visiting scholars, with responses offered by two eminent scholars with ties to McGill. The influential political theorist and currently Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institution, Dr. William Galston spoke first in an incisive attempt to answer the question “Do Religion and Conscience Limit Political Authority?” The response to Dr. Galston’s talk was made by none other than prominent Montreal-born McGill professor emeritus, Dr. Charles Taylor, who is internationally renowned for his seminal contributions to political philosophy. The first part of the program concluded with a short refreshment break, and the second half of the evening proceeded with the second guest speaker, Rabbi Asher Lopatin. With the second half, a new theme commenced: “Subject to the Law, Without being Trapped by the Law.” As the President of the Open Orthodox Yeshiva Chovevei Torah and a prominent advocate of engaging with Halakhah (Jewish Law) in order to address the challenges that the contemporary world poses to observant Jews, Rabbi Lopatin is no stranger to both the topic itself and to Rabbi Hartman’s own active role in confronting these challenges. He spoke especially memorably about Rabbi Soloveitchik’s influence on Hartman, and about their overlapping yet differing approaches to the question of finding creative solutions to Jewish social and communal issues within a halakhic framework. This notion was then elaborated upon by McGill’s own Dr. Lawrence Kaplan, one of the world’s leading scholars of the work of Rabbi Soloveitchik. The evening concluded with a lively question-and-answer period which allowed members of the audience to address question or comments to any of the four speakers.
The evening can be viewed in its entirety here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwwqAd3rCh8&list=UUM_1hHnVuecgZ7WCjly7tbw and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SpMBzOYUSI