How the Ideas of Samson Raphael Hirsch Can Help to Rectify American Judaism’s Shallow Obsession with Tikkun Olam

June 15 2021

One of the outstanding German rabbinic minds of his day, Samson Raphael Hirsch sought to articulate a vision of Jewish Orthodoxy capable of appealing to a Jewish community that was increasingly secularly educated, bourgeois, patriotic, and at home with Gentile mores. To Kylie Unell, Hirsch has much to teach the American Jews of today, especially those for whom the notion of tikkun olam—an ancient concept of “repairing the world” that has come to be synonymous with contemporary notions of “social justice”—is paramount.

Action on behalf of justice and love, Hirsch argues, is how humans fulfill their fundamental purpose of being created in God’s image. What is crucial about this, and the way it differs from most tikkun-olam efforts today, is the centrality of God. Throughout the Nineteen Letters, [one of his early works], Hirsch fills the heart and soul with a vision of God in the world. . . . God is at the center. The problem with tikkun olam today is that it has been secularized, putting humans at the center; God has largely been removed. Human beings are told to act for their own sake, not for God’s.

“Man’s entire life,” [Hirsch wrote], “all of himself, his thoughts, feelings, speech, and action—even his business transactions and personal enjoyments—[ought to] represent service of God. Such a life transcends all vicissitudes.”

Especially in America, where the denigration of religion is a creed in and of itself among most of the elite, people trying earnestly to help young Jews feel connected to [their] Jewish heritage tend to believe that God is the ultimate turnoff. Mention God and young people will run for the hills. But as a young person, and as someone who is committed to helping other young people feel that Judaism is a treasure given to them, I know that this misses the mark for many. Young Jews, like many young Americans, are starving for a conversation about God.

Read more at Sapir

More about: American Judaism, Judaism, Samson Raphael Hirsch, Tikkun Olam


The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy