American Judaism is broken.
When two of the Jewish community’s most celebrated writers, Michael Chabon and his wife Ayelet Waldman, write an open letter stating that: “Any Jew, anywhere, who does not act to oppose President Donald Trump and his administration acts in favor of anti-Semitism; any Jew who does not condemn the president, directly and by name, for his racism, white supremacism, intolerance and Jew hatred, condones all of those things,” you don’t have to look far to see why.
American Judaism is broken because the Jewish left broke it.
A tiresome fixation on “tikkun olam,” which literally means “repair of the world,” has permitted Judaism to fall into disrepair.
The phrase “tikkun olam” was quietly lifted out of context from a Jewish prayer before the Second World War to mean social justice. It was popularized in the 1970s and 1980s by radicals like Michael Lerner, who founded the extreme left-wing magazine, Tikkun.
Since then, we have been led to trust that the purpose of the Jews in the world is to campaign for higher taxes, sexual permissiveness, reduced military spending, illegal immigration, opposition to fracking, the banishment of religion from the public square and every other liberal cause under the sun — all in the name of God.
But the truth is that tikkun olam and its leftist politics have no basis in Judaism. Tikkun olam is not Judaism at all but a distinct religion, whose adherents, it might be said, have culturally appropriated this ancient faith. This religion of tikkun olam commands the allegiance of most non-Orthodox Jews (and some Orthodox ones), who make up the overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community. The dogma of this religion is appealingly simple: Judaism is tikkun olam, which is social justice, which is liberalism. The Jews are called upon to do no less — and no more — than cultivate a liberal paradise in America.
In this, liberal Jews have often had the hypocritical backing of the celebrity corps — literati, Hollywood executives, academics, politicians and financiers — who say one thing in public while, in several cases, doing unspeakable things in private.
But above all, this liberalism — this tikkun olam — teaches that the Jewish People is an outdated and chauvinistic relic, with no need for a nation-state of its own in its ancient homeland. Consequently, Jewish social justice activists help to defame Israel and weaken America’s bond with the Jewish State.
This dangerous ideology culminated in the election and administration of Barack Obama, who was hailed as the “tikkun olam president” and (synonymously) as the “first Jewish president.” He repeatedly referenced the significance of tikkun olam to his own life, nurtured by his liberal Jewish mentors in Chicago, and it was because of this commitment to tikkun olam, not in spite of it, that he was the most hostile president toward Israel in history.
But now the tikkun olam movement is in disarray. Its activists have been evicted from the White House, together with their messiah, replaced by a coalition of religious Christians and traditionalist Jews. And natural as it comes to the political exiles to oppose the new administration, these activists are discovering that left-wing social justice marches have no place for Jewish warriors.
And so the Jews have to choose between social justice and being Jewish. Chabon and Waldman have made their choice.
But there is an alternative.
A new generation of traditionalist Jews, proud of their heritage and jealous to preserve it, is unimpressed with America’s broken Judaism. These Jews know that their ancestors did not live to worship a political party nor die for faddish causes.
They recognize that the American Jewish future depends on overcoming the superficial and ignorant equation of Judaism with leftist politics. What is needed is a real Jewish renewal — a community that stands for religious liberty, not against it; affirms the alliance between America and Israel, rather than undermines it; and above all believes it is a community that has a compelling reason to persist.
It’s time American Jewry repaired itself instead of the world.