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.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Sapir

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

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

Nov. 30 2022

After analyzing the struggle between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors since 1949, Dan Schueftan explains the current geopolitical alignment and what it means for Jerusalem:

Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de-facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.

For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. . . . On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World. . . . By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel.

In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel-Arab relations, Middle East, Shimon Peres, U.S.-Israel relationship