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Progressive Tikkun Olam: The Union Assault on Repairing the World

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Posted on March 2 2011 2:30 pm
Susan L.M. Goldberg blogs frequently under her own name as well as her alter-ego, the Angry Jewish Woman. She is also a contributor to Our Last Stand, a Generation-Y Conservative blog. Pay her a visit (and a Like) at Facebook.

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“You are a bad Jew!  You are a bad Jew!  Have you ever heard of Tikkun Olam?  …This, what you are doing, is NOT healing the world.”

This finger-pointed accusation made by one left-wing Jew to a right-wing Jew outside the D.C. offices of FreedomWorks went viral last week.  Along with illustrating the over-the-top anger leftists have regarding right wing politics, this brief exchange highlighted the schism that increasingly pervades political dialogue.  Today, it seems that when it comes to politics, two people may disagree and still get along, unless they are radical leftists.  To radical leftists, those who hold an opposing viewpoint are simply accused of destroying the world.

But can the accusation of “not healing the world” really hold water?

The politic of “Tikkun Olam” can be traced back to the Mishnah, which was codified around 200 C.E.  Mipnei tikkun ha-olam (for the sake of the repair of the world) is commentary relating to what was, essentially, discombobulated bureaucratic procedure; courts would convene, and then cancel; people would randomly change their names; divorces would not be finalized.  The idea behind the Mishnah’s version of “repairing the world” was simply to establish order on the part of governing bodies with the goal of avoiding chaos among the population at large.

Move ahead to the 16th century and Tikkun Olam is taken to a newer, more spiritual level by Kabbalistic Rabbi Isaac Luria.  His interpretation (in a nutshell) involved human beings repairing the world by divorcing the holy from the physical world through deep, contemplative spiritual acts.  In fact, Luria’s Tikkun Olam didn’t require the repair of the world so much as the ending of it through the transcendence into a completely holy, spiritual realm.

Fast-forward to the 1950s when Tikkun Olam was re-fashioned again, this time by Jewish progressive causes looking to spur on social change.  Applying the idea of repairing the world to the Marxist ideology of oppressor versus oppressed (boss v. worker; majority v. minority, etc.), progressive Jews took an idea meant to de-bureaucratize government and used it as an excuse to establish a huge bureaucracy in the form of a social welfare state:   Repairing the world, one government program at a time.

Even more interestingly, Tikkun Olam took on the concept of collectivity at the sacrifice of individuality.  Like the Protestant Social Gospelists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, today’s progressive Jews take Biblical teachings on communal responsibility (i.e. Cain and Abel) and, through their socialist lens, re-interpret these teachings to mean that the individual has no right over the collective.  (This, despite the fact that the bureaucracy of social justice calls for varying groups—defined in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, race, and even religion—to receive entitlements over other groups.) Using a twisted form of Jewish teaching to justify their political beliefs, this progressive version of collectivist Tikkun Olam became the justification for telling any non-progressive that their politics were destroying the world.

Next: So, what does history have to say about Collective v. Individual?

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