Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Two Sides of the "Tikkun Olam" Fallacy

Originally published 4/20/07, 7:16 pm.Links no longer work.
Someone recently sent me the following links to two Jewish Press articles, by Steven Plaut, from a few years ago.

http://www.thejewishpress.com/pageroute.do/14598

http://www.jewishpress.com/pageroute.do/37127

Their value, both in their message and in the analysis and critique of their message, is, though, still most relevant.

There is clearly a trend by many liberal Jews to define their liberal values as inherently Jewish, ascribing to them the term of Tikkun Olam. The application of this term to these values is clearly, as Mr. Plaut points out, contrary to the traditional use of this term. While he demonstrates this by pointing to the usage of this term in the Aleinu prayer -- a use that clearly is not connected to the modern liberal use of the term -- this misapplication is also substantiated by the use of the term in Massechet Gittin where if refers to actions undertaken to stabilize society, not necessarily to assist the downtrodden. The articles have value in pointing out this misuse of this Torah term to substantiate the modern agenda of many Jews.

The analysis and critique of the articles also, though, have value for just as Torah, and the term tikkun olam, cannot be used to substantiate this liberal agenda, a challenge against the use of this term also cannot be used to substantiate a conservative agenda. Conservative values are also not inherently Jewish and the argument that the term tikkun olam is being misused by liberals not necessarily mean that the values their are advocating are necessarily rejected by Torah.

Torah has its own stand and the very attempt to try and fit it into either modern agenda -- liberal or conservative -- is, itself, the problem.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

1 comment:

micha said...

R' Hecht,

You write, "Torah has its own stand and the very attempt to try and fit it into either modern agenda -- liberal or conservative -- is, itself, the problem."

Is this true on the thornier issues? For example, "Pro Life" arguments drawn from the Torah are common. I know, though, that R' Moshe Feinstein argued that we should be voting "Pro Choice". (Not that abortion is a good thing, but the one in a thousand mother who would be risked by "Pro Life" legislation that halakhah considers needless risk to life, is saqanas nefashos and thus worse.)

Perhaps for most of the harder moral dilemmas, it's more correct to say that the Torah gives us more constructive tools for framing the question.