Re-Imagining Tikkun Olam for America

In the 1950s, Shlomo Bardin, the founder of the Brandeis Camp Institute (BCI) in California, was the first to use the term in the United States, according to Lawrence Fine, author of Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos: Isaac Luria and His Kabbalistic Fellowship. By 1970, the Conservative movement named its youth social action program “Tikkun Olam”, and, in 1988, included the doctrine of tikkun olam in its statement of principles.
Tikkun olam took off because “it is so aligned with the cultural values of American Jews,” says Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, author of Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World. At the same time, it also took on political connotations. In 1986, when Michael Lerner founded the bimonthly Jewish magazine Tikkun, tikkun olam took a step toward becoming a universal rallying cry for change that transcends Judaism and includes all of humanity.

Sarah Breger, “How Tikkun Olam Got Its Groove” Moment (May/June 2010), 24, 27.

The work of Heinrich Graetz appears to have been quite peculiarly and unfairly ignored by Christian scholars

What is clear, however, is that the work of Heinrich Graetz appears to have been quite peculiarly and unfairly ignored by Christian scholars, and not taken into account in the effort to attain some balanced assessment of the gains and losses of the historical movement in the study of biblical history. He must surely be rescued from the unjust accusation of being “uncritical”. From a Christian perspective, he appears rather in the nature of a Jewish apologist, but against this must certainly be set the fact that the school of historical interpretation that took its lead from Wellhausen has appeared to be decidedly anti-Jewish. On this score alone, it is obviously of the greatest importance to scholarship to avoid avoid any confusion between historiographic method and theological evaluation.

R.E. Clements, “Heinrich Graetz as Biblical Historian and Religious Apologist” in Interpreting the Hebrew Bible: Essays in Honour of E.I.J. Rosenthal, eds. J.A. Emerton and Stefan C. Reif (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 53.

The Jewish people were not put in this world simply to fight anti-Semitism

Dwelling on the indignities of the past will not renew our passion for a just life – rather the creation of a vibrant future-oriented discourse must be the basis of our identity…. As his teacher Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik said: “The Jewish people were not put in this world simply to fight anti-Semitism.”

Rabbi Mishael Zion, “Five Big Hartman Ideas” The Times of Israel (16 February 2013) {http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/five-lessons-that-hartman-roared/}

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It’s an irony of modern-day life that while each year the Kosherfest trade show displays hekshered versions of ever-more goyische items – from beef jerky to Jamaican jerk – some of the most interesting Ashkenazi Jewish fare these days is decidedly treif

It’s an irony of modern-day life that while each year the Kosherfest trade show displays hekshered versions of ever-more goyische items – from beef jerky to Jamaican jerk – some of the most interesting Ashkenazi Jewish fare these days is decidedly treif.

Ben Sales, “The Gentrification of the Gefilte”, The Jewish Week (13 April 2012), 25.

The study of different literary elements in rabbinic literature must be sensitive to the different philological strata of this great corpus

The study of different literary elements in rabbinic literature must be sensitive to the different philological strata of this great corpus. It is not that the rhetorical excludes the historical, or vice versa, but rather that rhetoric, including rabbinic rhetoric, always has its own history.

Azzan Yadin, “The Hammer on the Rock: Polysemy and the School of Rabbi Ishmael,” Jewish Quarterly Review 10:1 (2003), 17.

In Alaska today, it’s difficult to find a profession that hasn’t been turned into a TV show

In Alaska today, it’s difficult to find a profession that hasn’t been turned into a TV show….
It’s hard to miss the paradox in this. Half a century ago, the notion that most Americans would soon be at least a generation removed from skilled manual labor would have seemed remarkable. But now that’s where we are, our relative comfort gnaws at us. The frequency that we respond to in [these types of shows] is the same one that makes suburban accountants buy Ford Super Duty pickups and Brooklyn graphic designers grow fake lumberjack beards. And yet this very desire for authenticity has turned some of the last truly unreconstructed frontiersmen in America into that least authentic of creatures: the minor celebrity.

Charles Homans, “A Soap Opera on the High Seas,” The New York Times Magazine (16 December 2012), 50.

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Rabbis thinking of the Gendering of the Body

Rabbinic legal thinking, which provides much of the structural framework of subsequent Jewish cultures, aims first and foremost at instituting a rather pronounced dual gender grid, imposed on the social organization of Jewish society as the rabbis envisioned it. Most of the individual laws of rabbinic halakhah apply to either men or women. Differently put, in rabbinic legal thinking it is almost always important whether the halakhic agent is a man or a woman.

Representations of the body are an important means for grounding gender, and for justifying the distribution of legal privileges and disadvantages. As theorists of gender have come to recognize, representations of the body often serve the aim of naturalizing and therefore legitimizing legal privilege. Hence, so the theory goes, almost everyone may agree now that gender differences are cultural constructs. Gender is variable, and gender differences are scripted differently in different social and cultural contexts. But the fact that gender differences exist to begin with is traditionally considered to be based in biological fact. Nature – or biology – has made bodies different, male and female, and different cultures only inscribe this reality with their specific ways of differentiating between genders. In the rabbinic case, this translates, for instance, into the prohibition of cross-dressing, inherited from biblical law (Deuteronomy 22:5), in order to uphold the clear distinction between the sexes. Or it famously translates into the general positioning of men as always “obligated” by Jewish law, while women are only sometimes obligated and mostly “exempt” (M. Kiddushin 1:7), a legal rhetoric that already early feminists have recognized as a way of privileging the male position in Jewish law.

Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert, “Regulating the Human Body: Rabbinic Legal Discourse and the Making of Jewish Gender,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, eds. Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee (Cambridge & New York City: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 271.

We do not impose moral judgments on people who care for their own children, parents, or siblings than they would for other people

We do not impose moral judgments on people who care for their own children, parents, or siblings than they would for other people even though in the cosmic sense no life is worth more than any other. Even regarding giving charity, Rambam in Matanot Evyonim 7:13 (based on B. Bava Metzia 31b) writes that one’s family takes precedence for charity over the people of his city which take precedence over those outside. The issue is not of holistic moral worthiness, but the proximity of the relationship places additional requirements, obligations, and affinities such that it is not only moral but expected to prioritize the needs of some over others.

Rabbi Josh Yuter, e-mail message, 4 December 2012.

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Women and men cross-dress for very different reasons

Women and men cross-dress for very different reasons, to the point that in many cases what a particular society considers transvestitism will be different for each gender. This explains the variation of both the nouns and the verbs in sections 1a and 1b of Deut 22:5. The verse is much more than a simple prohibition of particular wardrobes, and indeed in no way addresses the issue of women wearing masculine garments, since in the culture of ancient Israel the clothing of men was less associated with gender than was the clothing of women. Rather, the verse reflects the most basic ideology of gender in Israelite society, and to this end it distinguishes not simply between male and female but also between different qualities of men. The ideals of manhood and masculinity were not considered either simple or innate; one had to achieve them through action, behavior, and a good relationship with Yahweh.

Harold Torger Vedeler, “Reconstructing Meaning in Deuteronomy 22:5: Gender, Society, and Transvestitism in Israel and the Ancient Near East,” Journal of Biblical Literature 127, No. 3 (Fall 2008), 473.