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Steven Katz and Reuven Kimelman. Cambridge University Press, Ruth Langer and Steven Fine. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, Kimelman,Reuven R. Jewish Lights, Trigano, Reuven Kimelman, ed. Pardes, 36 Magnes, Academics Brandeis Home. Degrees Yale University, Ph. Yale University, M. Jewish Theological Seminary, M. Jewish Theological Seminary, B. Columbia University, B. Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi.

Expertise Talmud. Ethics of war and conflict. Profile Reuven Kimelman specializes in the history of Judaism with a focus on the history and poetics of the Jewish liturgy. As I argue below, there were three distinct, albeit occasionally overlapping, groups that were instrumental in popularizing tikkun olam in the postwar period: theologians, troubled by the implications of the Holocaust, found in tikkun olam a useful concept for re-imagining the covenantal relationship between humans and God; educators in the s, who, when confronted by the counterculture of the youth, gravitated to tikkun olam, with its idealistic connotations, as part of a larger effort to align the teaching of Jewish values with contemporary concerns; and finally, social activists and havurah members concerned about what they perceived as the conservative and inward-oriented drift of the American Jewish community.

By the end of the twentieth century, tikkun olam was widely acknowledged as a central Jewish tenet and even as a rationale for Jewish survival. Several scholars have traced the evolution of tikkun olam in classical and medieval Jewish sources. We shall mention their studies here for the purposes of context.

Mipnei tikkun ha-olam appeared most often in association with divorce law but was also occasionally extended to the economic realm.

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The best-known case involved the prozbul , the amelioration of unintended financial consequences ensuing from the cancellation of debts during the sabbatical year. In all of these instances, tikkun olam applied only to Jews. While this understanding of tikkun olam was more universalistic, its concept of repair as the eradication of paganism and the imposition of religious uniformity is far removed from the modern concept of social betterment. After the redaction of the Babylonian Talmud, tikkun ha-olam was not used frequently in legal and liturgical texts until the thirteenth century.

The kabbalistic iteration of tikkun olam radically differs from both the Talmudic and third-century liturgical understanding of the idiom. Luria envisioned human beings as full partners with God in bringing redemption. While both the Aleinu and the Lurianic creation myth were eschatological, the Lurianic notion of redemption imagined a reunification of the Godhead and an end to the material world. Humanity essentially was asked to pave the way for the undoing of its creation.

Finally, while both the Talmud and Luria saw a role for humanity in tikkun ha-olam, the rabbis mandated concrete ameliorative steps in order to strengthen the social fabric and promote economic justice, while Luria invested the power of tikkun in acts of contemplation, study and the performance of mitzvot.

By the nineteenth century, tikkun ha-olam had largely fallen out of use. When it was revived in the twentieth century, its meaning had changed again. In North America, tikkun olam as it is understood today made its debut around Dushkin valiantly made the case for the congruence of Jewish and democratic values.

Identifying Judaism and Jewish values with the war against fascism allowed a vulnerable and predominately immigrant community to display its patriotism by demonstrating the harmony between American and Jewish values. A disciple of Kaplan, Kohn dwelt upon the importance of education for social justice in the Jewish school and invoked tikkun olam in passing.

Even as he offered an activist interpretation of the passage in Aleinu, Kaplan acknowledged its novelty. The medieval mindset viewed redemption as the prerogative of God.

Both Christians and Jews regarded humanity as irredeemable without divine intervention. This outlook helped lay the groundwork for Jewish political and intellectual movements, such as Bundism and Zionism. Kaplan took note of the continuous resistance on the part of many Orthodox leaders to any human activity that was designed lidhot et ha-ketz , to hasten the redemption before God had resolved to bring it about. Interestingly, tikkun olam gained currency in Palestine in the early twentieth century.

It was adopted by Jews of various political stripes in order to describe the most utopian manifestations of the Zionist project. To be a metaken olam , a perfecter of the world, was to embrace radical change. For example, during the Second Aliyah — , tikkun ha-olam was used to articulate the motivations of the members of the earliest cooperative settlements.

For Rabbi Kook, the essence of Judaism, which flows from Jewish monotheism, is the passion to overcome separatism, the severance of man from God, of man from man, of man from nature. Kook declined to see a binary opposition between the material and the spiritual worlds or between Israel and the other nations, teaching that there was holiness in all of creation. Levi Cooper has shown that the political activist connotation of tikkun olam was not confined to secular and religious Zionists.

What both thinkers held in common, however, was a rejection of Jewish passivity, which they considered untenable in contemporary circumstances. At the same time, another rabbi embraced an activist, this-worldly understanding of tikkun olam when confronted by catastrophe. In , Rabbi Abraham J.

We have no other goal. Judaism has no other aim. The linkage of tikkun olam with post-Holocaust healing and revival emerged particularly after the trial of Adolf Eichmann which encouraged more public discussion of the Holocaust. According to S. For many of these thinkers, covenant theology had a special appeal. Religion always involves two partners, God and man.

Jewish history has seen the doleful results of overemphasizing the role of either. The reliance upon God alone in times of oppression and persecution has often acted to reduce the role of mitzvah, to relieve the people of its responsibility to use its own powers for justice and peace. And the insistence upon man as the master of history explains the continuing stream of false Messiahs and of the spiritual ordeal which inevitably follows their exposure. Having affirmed the eternity of the covenant, Borowitz continued that the task of the Jew entails the sanctification of time and the redemption of history through the performance of mitzvot.

Each Commandment becomes a way not only to personal improvement and fulfillment, but also helps to satisfy his responsibility to God and to mankind. Similarly, in performing the mitzvoth he makes his own life more holy and brings the world that much closer to the Kingdom of God. Some considered this inadequate. Tikkun olam was preferable because it implied the brokenness of the world. It gave expression to the bafflement that Jews felt as they sought to grapple with what was seemingly inexplicable. One of the earliest public intellectuals to invoke tikkun olam in his response to the Holocaust was Harold Schulweis, a leading Conservative rabbi and the spiritual leader of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California.

The high status conferred upon man as a morally competent partner of God produced and still cultivates a social consciousness and activism in the knowledgeable Jew.

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He explicitly maintained that tikkun olam demanded this-worldly activism. Likewise, he argued that salvation would be realized collectively, not individually.

The divine was made manifest in the actions of humanity. Schulweis was deeply concerned with the educational implications of his theology, particularly in light of the Holocaust. Schulweis argued:. Wisdom calls for a moral otology [study of the anatomy and physiology of the ear]: how to make one hear the unpleasant truth without destroying his sensitivity to the still, small voice of conscience and hope.

We are children of prophets, creating conditions for a better future. His call for resistance in the shadow of complete rupture was a plea for Jewish survival. The will to live as a people, as exemplified by the creation of the Jewish state, and the reclamation of the principle that human life is sacred constituted acts of tikkun. It is true that because a Tikkun of that rupture is impossible we cannot live, after the Holocaust, as men and women have lived before.

However, if the impossible Tikkun were not also necessary, and hence possible, we could not live at all. Lawrence Fine pointed out that Fackenheim appropriated Lurianic themes in order to express ideas that were derived essentially from his earlier work. Another post-Holocaust thinker who did much to popularize tikkun olam as part of his efforts to Judaize American Jewish civil religion was Irving Greenberg. A maverick modern Orthodox rabbi who began his career as an academic and a pulpit rabbi, Greenberg became a champion of Jewish religious pluralism and a spiritual advisor and teacher to a generation of Jewish communal leaders when he served as the first president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership CLAL , which he co-founded with Elie Weisel and Rabbi Steve Shaw.

You bring about redemption. You act to ensure that it will never again occur. For Fackenheim, Jewish survival was in and of itself a tikkun. Greenberg, however, viewed survival in instrumental terms, and tikkun olam as the ultimate goal. They would achieve tikkun olam through their example of holy living. In the post-Holocaust world, Greenberg believed that this role would be assumed most of all by the Jewish state. Israel, as a Jewish-run reality, can exemplify the joint process of human liberation and redemption. This idea actually implied a secularization of the Jewish mission.

In an era when God was hidden from the world, the thrust of Jewish activity would have to be in the secular realm.

The Place of Tikkun Olam in American Jewish Life

To restore the credibility of redemption, there must be an incredible outburst of life and redeeming work in the world…. The State [of Israel] shifts the balance of Jewish activity and concern to the secular enterprises of society building, social justice and human politics. The revelation of Israel is a call to secularity; the religious enterprise must focus on the mundane. Greenberg, however, also presumed a more direct role in tikkun olam for Diaspora Jewish communities. In the American Jewish context, the federations and communal agencies involved with defense, welfare and communal relations achieved post-Holocaust tikkun through their two-pronged domestic mission: assuring American Jewish communal welfare and Jewish cultural renewal and working for general social betterment in America and throughout the world.

By the s and s leading agencies were responding to this criticism by intensifying their efforts to transmit Jewish values, particularly by increasing support for educational and cultural endeavors. They were also articulating their social welfare and social justice agenda using terms of Jewish values. For example, executive director of the UJA Federation of New York, John Ruskay, was a veteran of the Jewish counterculture and havurah movement of the late s and s. Moreover, they had experienced firsthand the power of Jewish values and a participatory Judaism that enhanced their Jewish identity.

Greenberg won a following among Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders by elevating their sense of purpose and articulating their role in an uplifting way. Thus, by the s and 90s Hebrew terms such as tzedakah and tikkun olam began to appear in federation slogans, resolutions and promotional materials. For example, Greenberg taught that the weekly celebration of Shabbat, a profoundly particularistic rite that distinguishes Israel from other nations, also serves as a weekly reminder of the vision of a world redeemed.

Work tikkun olam stops when the world is made perfect. Political power constituted a challenge within an opportunity. Israel will be judged by how it makes its values manifest in its social, economic and defense policy. Although Greenberg wielded considerable influence, he was not the only one who used the language of covenant and tikkun olam in describing the role of federations and their constituent agencies.

In , political scientist Daniel Elazar argued that the system of Jewish federations was a continuation of the historical examples of Jewish communal government. Three years later, in a study of the attitudes and values of Jewish communal leaders, published in the American Jewish Year Book , Jonathan Woocher identified tikkun olam as a central tenet of American Jewish civil religion. He identified tikkun olam as the essential work of the Jewish people. Despite the fact that they were not as influential as Greenberg, both frequently spoke at federation gatherings, engaged in Jewish public discourse and their works were widely read and respected by communal leaders.

In addition to public intellectuals such as Schulweis and Greenberg who helped bring tikkun olam into American Jewish discourse through communal professionals, Jewish education became an important conduit for its dissemination. We have noted that, in the s, Alexander Dushkin had identified tikkun olam as a core Jewish value and thus introduced its contemporary meaning to hundreds of educators. Perhaps, Shlomo Bardin was among those educators or he picked up the term during his stay in Mandate Palestine.

The founder of the Brandeis Camp Institute, 52 located since in Simi Valley, California, Bardin certainly played an important role in reintroducing tikkun olam. As a young person at the time, believe me, it was a bolt of lightning and transformation for the thousands of Camp Alonimers and BCIers who heard it over time. When Bardin spoke of tikkun olam, it fit the times and minds of those who heard him.

For some of us, it created an entire life path. The election of a youthful-looking Catholic president offered a message of idealism and optimism and seemed to promise a more inclusive America. Tikkun olam remained a fairly obscure term throughout the early s, regardless of the resonance of prophetic Judaism and social action.

A gradual change took place in the late s and early s. Fearing trends of rebellion and apathy among the youth, several educators, led by the American Association for Jewish Education, argued that the religious school curriculum urgently required reforms. In a free, open and interdependent society, ethical teaching must be set in universal rather than ethnocentric terms. His concerns appeared in a report by the United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education of the Conservative movement in Rabbi Raphael Artz, director of Camp Ramah in New England, also advocated a values-oriented approach to Jewish education for teenagers.

Established in by Morton Siegel, USY tried to appeal to teenagers who were not likely to participate in organized Jewish activities. Criticism from youth leaders, Jewish Theological Seminary Teachers Institute officials, and others in the Conservative movement prompted efforts to strengthen USY programming in the areas of Jewish culture, social action and worship.

All of its social action and tzedakah programs were coordinated through this project, and, in , an accompanying educational guide was published with the same title. The call for increased attention to teaching values as part of Jewish education coincided with a general revival of interest in moral and character education in American schools.

Prompted in part by the youth rebellion and the perception of social crisis in the mid-late s, the movement derived momentum from the emergence of new approaches to moral education, most notably values clarification developed by Louis Raths, Merrill Hermin and Sydney B. Simon in Values and Teaching and the study of cognitive development, elaborated in the work of Harvard psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg.

In the late s, however, the values clarification model of Raths and his colleagues attracted great attention. Their method encouraged teachers to use non-judgmental exercises and activities in order to facilitate the discovery and application of values on the part of their students. Its lack of didacticism and promotion of autonomy appealed to progressive Jewish educators such as Slesinger.

More traditional Jewish educators, however, maintained that its open-ended approach promoted relativism and undermined cultural and religious continuity. By the s, the journey of tikkun olam into the Jewish educational mainstream was complete when it was promoted as a major Jewish value for religious school curricula by a younger generation of educators active in the Coalition for Alternatives in Jewish Education CAJE. CAJE emerged in as the brainchild of activists who had been involved in the late s Jewish counterculture and the havurah movement.

By the mid-late s, an increasing number of curricular materials published by the CAJE Curriculum Bank in its publication, Bikurim , were devoted to teaching tikkun olam. The subject matter presented in these curricula was eclectic, ranging from nuclear proliferation to sanctuary for illegal immigrants. Likewise, the extent to which the curricula incorporated Jewish texts and concepts, and Hebrew words, varied considerably.

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Those chemicals, when used carelessly, can poison groundwater and destroy wildlife and their habitat. Today people work hard so that the Jewish communities of Russia and Ethiopia will be redeemed. Move ahead three spaces. How have these fixers changed their worlds? In the s, tikkun olam also began to appear in the curricula of the Reform movement. As in the Conservative movement, the discussion of tikkun olam often occurred within the context of values and character education or was linked to social action and social justice programming.

Originally created by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Synagogue, Congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim, and disseminated by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the curriculum guide presented a simplified but fair summary of the kabbalistic interpretation of tikkun olam, and concluded with its application to the AIDS epidemic. Like many who incorporated tikkun olam into their vocabularies in the early and mids, Rabbi Gerald Serotta does not remember precisely where or from whom he first heard the term. As a member of the New York Havurah, it is possible that he picked it up there.

The term also appeared in the pages of Response , an organ of the Jewish counterculture, to which Serotta was a regular subscriber. Many in the havurah movement grew up as Conservative Jews and most likely were first exposed to tikkun olam at Camp Ramah or through USY. While Heschel himself apparently never used the term tikkun olam in his published writings, his activism was regarded as the embodiment of the social justice ethos.

Martin Luther King Jr. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying. An article in The Jewish Catalog , however, was most important in spreading the idea of tikkun olam throughout North America. According to its publisher, the Jewish Publication Society, only its translation of the Hebrew Bible sold more copies on an annual basis.

Two sequels were published, and the book inspired numerous imitators. According to Sarna, the three volumes of the Jewish Catalog were the most enduring legacy of the Jewish counterculture.

Plant a tree in Vietnam in a defoliated former forest… Plant a tree in Appalachia where the strip mines have poisoned the forests. Go there to plant it; start a kibbutz there and grow more trees. Plant a tree in Brooklyn where the asphalt has buried the forest. Go back there to plant it and live with some of the old Jews who still live there. Waskow overtly politicized and expanded the meaning of tikkun olam to include a variety of causes, both universal and particular, from environmentalism and anti-Vietnam War activism to caring for the Jewish elderly and neighborhood gentrification ostensibly to make formerly Jewish areas safer and more livable for those who remained there.

He recalled:. I felt the Kabbalistic use of kavannot as a force to make a better world — a time, a place and community brought together momentarily and then eternally through the focus on kedushah was a goal and a teaching we should pursue. I was afraid that we might confuse our search for the Eternal truth and insight with our own limited understandings…. Though not perfect, the ideal of the coming together of kavanah and tikkun was worthwhile and a valuable channel for great thoughts and commitments.

In my view, tikkun olam is a goal not an end. Eager to find a term that could express what he believed were the core Jewish values that infused social justice activism, Serotta approached one of his teachers, Eugene Borowitz, about tracing the application of tikkun olam in rabbinic literature. Serotta, however, was intrigued by the Talmudic passages in which tikkun olam was associated with economic justice. While he acknowledged that the term in Talmudic literature clearly referred only to Jews, his prayer experiences at New York havurah retreats exposed him to the more universalistic usage in the second paragraph of Aleinu.

Later, he also became familiar with the Lurianic vision of humanity and God working in partnership to perfect the world. Encouraged by the response, he organized a national meeting of progressive Jewish leaders in May The meeting led to the founding conference of the New Jewish Agenda in December