Tikkun Olam

“The Ghetto Mentality” by Y.B. ben Avraham of Zelman Partisans is provocative and worthy of further debate (pilpul). For now, I offer a comment about tikkun olam:

Those with messianic complexes, especially neoconservatives, should reconsider what is meant by tikkun olam. Starting with the barefaced Thomas Friedman, Jews and non-Jews alike have bastardized this beautiful, but modest, Jewish obligation. In an attempt to lend spiritual credibility to hubristic insolence, Friedman once praised Tony Blair for “always [leaving] you with the impression that for him the Iraq war is just one hammer and one nail in an effort to do tikkun olam, to repair the world.”

Developed by the scholars and sages of a dispersed people, tikkun olam was intended as a humble and modest thing – it is the duty of the Jewish individual to help, bit-by-bit, to bring about a better world in unassuming, day-to-day righteous acts.

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3 thoughts on “Tikkun Olam”

  1. Sounds like what I always try to do: leave any place a tiny bit better than it was when I got there. That might mean I just pick up a bit of litter, reach something on a high shelf for someone, or point out that taxation is theft.

  2. Thanks for the enlightenment, Ilana. As a non-Jew I’ve wondered about that term. I did a little more research after reading your take and found that, indeed, tikkun olam was not only originally a modest, individual responsibility, but a spiritual, rather than a worldly, one.

    Too bad that someone chose that grandiose term for it — “world repair” — because even though that’s accurate in a way, it sure did open the term up to its modern misuse.

    It has given a great excuse to those who want a holy justification for imposing their will on the world through force. Your take (and the original meaning) seem much more humane.

  3. The purpose is to, via Torah and mitzvot, re-gather the “sparks of the divine” scattered throughout the universe, and thus completing the act of creation of the universe, and re-uniting with G-d. To take this idea and twist it into some kind of gentile-threatening plot hatched by bloodthirsty Talmudic Khazars takes an extra-special vintage of dumb.

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