Why Tikkun Olam Can’t Fix American Judaism

This past spring, Rabbi David Wolpe dared to banish politics from his pulpit. The denunciations in these pages of his principled stand again revealed American Jewry’s massive political bias. Headlines proclaimed: “What You Call Politics, We Call Torah” and “A ‘Politics Free’ Pulpit Is an Empty Pulpit.” The articles made it clear that there’s only one form of kosher Jewish “politics” in America: worshiping at the altar of tikkun olam.

How odd. Those who believe evangelical Christians — and Israeli politicians — corrupt democracy by not separating church and state, freely mesh synagogue and state. Those who mock settlers for treating the Bible like a modern real estate manual, proclaim God is a liberal Democrat.

Sinai Temple’s Wolpe bravely suggested that it’s arrogant to decide “the Torah points in only one political direction.” More practically, it’s counterproductive in a Jewish community that loves paying homage to “diversity” to then hate those who dare deviate from American liberal groupthink.

The American Jewish house is on fire. People are fleeing synagogues — in fact, any affiliation with organized Judaism — as if these institutions were aflame or toxic. The non-Orthodox are intermarrying at a pace that makes the naughty thrill and comedic misfires of the TV sitcom “Bridget Loves Bernie” look like a relic from the 1700s not the 1970s. Today, Bernie and Bernadette so don’t care about Judaism — or may have been so alienated by official Jewishdom — that political correctness commissars such as Michael Chabon use Reform graduation ceremonies to target intramarriage as the real problem — creating “a ghetto of two.”

This is an important article. It's a review of Jonathan Neumann's book, "To Heal the World?"

At the very least, it's presumptuous of any denomination of Jews to trivialize 3500 years of Jewish history, religion, philosophy, and writing into a simple feel good phrase.

Here is another excerpt. Or just go read the entire article.

Judaism wants Jews injecting some religious and moral principles into politics. Modern tikkun olam, by contrast, makes the pursuit of a particular form of social justice American Judaism’s overriding mission. It overreaches by being too comprehensive — and too present-oriented. Tikkun olam-ers have declared a politically correct war against Judaism’s central message that the best way to achieve universal ideas is through particular loyalties to your family, the Jewish community, the Jewish people, your nation and, today, the Jewish state. That false god of universalism Enlightened Jews first worshiped has metamorphized into today’s liberal Frankenstein. Most modern liberals don’t understand that the cosmopolitan rootlessness they worship leads to a moral rootlessness that is anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist — and ultimately amoral. The cult of modern tikkun olam thus threatens Am Olam, the eternal people.

Overemphasizing the marginal story of Abraham arguing with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah misreads Abraham’s lifelong mission to do good through his intense relationship with his God and his people. Even worse, misreading Genesis to pivot around “creation” turns Judaism into a universalist cult. “Is your starting point Revelation or creation,” Neumann asks. “Without the personal and commanding God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob there is no covenant, and without a covenant there is no Jewish people.” More sobering, the modern version of social justice-oriented universalism is hostile to Israel while leaving “the theology bereft of any cogent reason for Judaism to persist.

Neumann’s timely book unleashes a powerful intellectual fusillade in what must become the great fight of our lives. The American-Jewish future, along with American Jews’ relationship to our tradition, our people and our homeland, Israel, is at risk. If American Jews continue wrenching Jewish values from the context in which they grew and which proved so useful for passing on ideals, they will succeed in so liberalizing Judaism that their kids or grandkids will merely be Jew-ish — Americans with a slight Jewish twist to them — or not Jewish at all.