Tikun Olam and Jewish Peoplehood

Rabbi Berel Wein

There is a substitute for Judaism that is the new faith in much of non-Orthodox American Jewry. It is called “tikun olam”.

What differentiates Judaism from other faiths is that it is not only a religion. It is also a family and a people. Judaism is at one and the same time a religion for a particular people and a universal value system for all humankind.

The sense of particularism which permeates Judaism and Jewish thought and history is essential for any true understanding of its tenets and worldview. Within Jewish law there is always a progression – priorities – in dealing with the world and its needs. It is not selfless and self sacrificing. Rabbi Akiva stated that “your life comes first” and so it does. This in no way diminishes the value of another’s life. It merely sets the necessary priorities for Jewish existence and survival.

The concept of peoplehood, that Jews are responsible one for the other, transcended all of the countless divisions that have always existed in the Jewish world. Concern for other Jews and a determination that the Jewish people will survive no matter how great the obstacles was always the first concern and goal of Jews.

Coupled with that primary idea and goal was the Jewish value of living cooperatively and peacefully with the non-Jewish society, healing their sick, helping their poor and attempting to create a better and more cohesive and prosperous society for all. However this universal goal could only be achieved if the focus of the Jewish people remained on its own self preservation and well being.

Dead Jews, impoverished Jews, persecuted Jews could be of little value to the betterment of the general society.

There is a substitute for Judaism that is the new faith in much of non-Orthodox American Jewry. It is called “tikun olam” – literally meaning improving and correcting the ills of the world. It has a very liberal, if not even leftist, agenda on how to accomplish this. And in its do-good perspective it has begun to abandon completely the concept of Jewish peoplehood.

These people are no longer primarily Jews – a particularism that they find abhorrent – but are rather human beings of the world at large. Thus, everything has moral equivalence in their view. Arab terrorists and murderers of sleeping children are the same as Israeli settlers, Arafat and Abbas are entitled to support over and above Netanyahu. Hizbullah and Hamas are legitimate political organizations, while the Israeli Knesset is racist and Israel itself is an apartheid state.

This wondrous upside-down view of the real world is fueled by the pious notion of fixing the world and the delusional self-righteousness of the fixers themselves. These groups of Jews do not identify Jewish interests as being very important – climate control trumps Israeli survival, same sex marriages and free abortions trump Jewish tradition on these matters and concern for the survival of a vital and influential Judaism and the Jewish people as a whole is not really a primary concern of the world’s fixers.

Having abandoned Jewish tradition, observance or even a rudimentary knowledge of the Jewish faith and its value system, it is completely understandable how these Jews have now abandoned the concept and principle of Jewish peoplehood in favor of an imaginary membership in the general world society. Eventually this trend morphs into self hatred and viciousness against their own people and the adherents to Jewish beliefs and practices.

In an article published in the June 2011 issue of Commentary magazine, Daniel Gordis thoughtfully examines the trend in the non-Orthodox rabbinate to turn on Israel as a villain in the Middle East contretempts. He asks the question: “Can Israel and Judaism survive when many of their new leaders no longer believe that their primary responsibility is to protect and defend their own?”

This problem is becoming ever more acute as the older generation of clergy retire from the scene and are replaced by younger rabbis whose beliefs have been shaped by the “tikun olam “ theology and feel under no obligation to protect the Jewish people’s vital interests. As Gordis points out: “Engagement [with Israel’s enemies] is a value free endeavor. It means setting instinctive dispositions aside. And that is what this emerging generation of Jewish leaders believes it ought to do.”

The universalist, tikun olam view of humankind cannot admit that there are enemies that wish to kill us and are occasionally successful at so doing. To do so undermines their entire peace at all costs, feel good, pie in the sky theology. So if the Palestinians and the Arab world are not really our enemies and we must somehow “engage” with them and their demands, then Israel’s intransigence in defending itself against them is somehow wrong – if not criminal.

As Gordis further points out: “To love all of humanity equally is ultimately to love no one. To care about one’s enemies as much as one cares about oneself is to be no one. There needs to be priority and specificity in devotion and loyalty. Without them we stand for nothing. And without instinctive loyalty to the Jewish people, Jewry itself cannot survive.”

To a great extent, this lack of feeling for the peoplehood of the Jewish nation stems from the abandonment of traditional Jewish life style and values and the substitution for it of the new Judaism, propelled by the current politically correct fads of liberal society.

In the past .Jewish peoplehood has often been restored by outside non-Jewish attitudes and forces – the enmity towards and persecution of all Jews, no matter what their individual beliefs may be. Hitler and not the Jews stopped Jewish intermarriage in Germany. I would hope that it does not take such a bitter repetition of history to convince our current Jewish world citizens that in spite of their dreams of some sort of grand tikun olam – a universal panacea for all the billions of humanity – they still belong to a particular people and unique faith community. I

t is only the peoplehood of Israel based upon tradition and moral and halakhic values that can guarantee Jewish survival and continuity. We should all pray for the strength and wisdom to realize this truth.

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