“The central mitzvah or commandment for our era is the mitzvah of Tikkun Olam. It is the defining mission of Jews to strive for the repair of the world by making society more just, fair, egalitarian, and sensitive. Judaism demands that we repair the world by striving for social justice. It is the mission of Jews in the Divine Plan for the universe to repair the world by repairing man, by improving and advancing mankind.”
The above paragraph is a fair representation of what has become the defining raison d’etre of Judaism as conveyed by non-Orthodox liberal Jewish organizations and synagogues in America. It is not a direct citation from any of them, but is an accurate paraphrase of what has become the canon of non-Orthodox Jewish liberalism in our time.
It is the “modernized” and contemporary “reinterpretation” of “Jewish ethics” as defined and inculcated by much of the Reform and Conservative movements. It is also the “theology” of Jewish radical leftist groups operating at the fringes of the Jewish community, including the “Renewal/ALEPH” movement, the “Eco-Judaism” groups, the “Tikkun community” of people and groups that are satellites to the magazine by that same name published by tikkun-activist Michael Lerner, and what remains of the “Reconstructionists.” Lerner, it should be added, discovers “repair of the world” even in LSD consumption.
What are we to make of “Tikkun Olam” proclamations?
The most important thing that must be understood about the Tikkun Olam catechism in the United States is that each and every sentence in the above proclamation is false.
First of all, there is no such thing as a mitzvah or commandment of “Tikkun Olam.” Jews are nowhere commanded to “repair the world.” In all the authoritative or traditional compilations of the commandments of Judaism, none list “Tikkun Olam”. The expression itself does not appear anywhere in the Torah or in the entire Bible.
Those assimilationist liberals who insist that the entire “ethics of the Prophets” can be reduced to the pursuit of “Tikkun Olam” have to explain why none of the Books of the Prophets use the term. “Tikkun Olam” is used sporadically in the Talmud, but as a technical term for resolution of certain judicial problems that arise before rabbinic courts.
The only place the expression appears in Jewish prayer is in the “Aleinu” and there it clearly has nothing at all to do with social justice. In the “Aleinu,” Tikkun Olam is explicitly explained in the prayer text itself as the quest to eliminate pagan superstition and to see God’s rule of the universe implemented. It is a theological concept, not a social, political or environmental one.
In Judaism, the world does not get repaired by redistribution of income and wealth nor by cutting carbon emissions, but by humans subordinating themselves to God’s will.
Secondly, “Tikkun Olam” does not mean that Jews are obligated to strive to make the earth a more just, clean, fair and equal place. Nowhere in Judaism are Jews commanded to restructure or re-engineer the societies of nations. Jews have a certain obligation to participate in the Jewish community and to assist other Jews, especially Jews living in hardship, including through charity. Even within the Jewish community, there is no religious imperative or justification for coerced schemes of income or wealth redistribution, aside from payments to the Levites and priests. And while there is no prohibition against Jews using their resources to assist the downtrodden among the non-Jewish nations, there is also no Judaic imperative to do so.
The Torah and the Prophets do speak out about the plight of Jewish widows, orphans, and converts, but in every single case where the matter is brought up, the concern is for protecting the rights of these weaker groups in the courts, assuring they do not face judicial discrimination. There is no official obligation to transfer resources to these disadvantaged groups except for the “tithe for the poor” collected out of agricultural produce in two years out of seven. (If you do the math, it averages out to about 3% of farm resources per year.)
The idea that it is somehow the religious duty of Jews to “repair mankind” is not only unfounded, it is a manifestation of the ignorance of assimilationist Jewish liberals. The simple fact of the matter is that in actual Judaism, it is none of the business of Jews to fix or repair humanity. More generally, in Judaism it is the job of Jews to repair the Jews–a not inconsiderable task–not to repair the world.
Non-Jews are not in need of being “repaired” by Jews, at least as long as they observe the seven “Noahide Commandments,” the rules of living that Jews interpret to be conferred upon all humans, all descendants of Noah, by God. Beyond that, what the gentiles do and how they do it is none of the business of Jews, and Jews simply have no religious standing to interfere.
It is certainly not the job of Jews to instruct non-Jews about matters such as income and wealth distribution, abortion, environmentalism, health care provision, or discrimination. Only in matters of cruelty that negate the Noahide Laws are Jews commanded to interfere.