How Was an Obscure Legal Concept Transformed into the Essence of Judaism?

The Hebrew phrase tikkun olam—“fixing the world”—has come to be one of the most well-known concepts in American Judaism, cited even by the President. In the Talmud, the term refers to adjustments in Jewish law made to benefit the workings of society. Medieval and Renaissance kabbalists then reinvented the term to refer to a mystical correction of the cosmos. In the 20th century, the term took on a whole new life, becoming a catchall for social and political activism usually of a leftwing variety. Jonathan Krasner surveys the history and examines what it says about the evolution of Judaism in America:

Even in its recent incarnation, tikkun olam is a highly flexible concept. In the 1930s and 1940s, it was invoked in order to show the harmony between Americanism and Judaism and to demonstrate the patriotism of an insecure immigrant community. In the late 20th century, it . . . could be invoked with equal vigor and to great effect by Jewish environmentalists and feminists, community organizers and peace activists. . . . It was social justice—Jewish-style—akin to wrapping the winter solstice in Hanukkah gift paper. . . .

The secret of the rise of tikkun olam was its power to give meaning to Jewish identity by reinforcing liberal political and social values that were already deeply ingrained in the vast majority of American Jews. Most Jews had a vague sense of correlation between their Judaism and their liberalism. Tikkun olam legitimized it and gave it a name. Tikkun olam promises much and demands comparatively little in the way of sacrifice. This is its greatest strength and, perhaps, its major weakness.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: American Jewry, Conservative Judaism, Emile Fackenheim, Reform Judaism, Tikkun Olam, Zionism

Israel’s Retaliation against the Houthis Sends a Message to the U.S., and to Its Arab Allies

The drone that struck a Tel Aviv high-rise on Thursday night is believed to have traveled over 2,000 kilometers, flying from Yemen over Egypt and then above the Mediterranean before veering eastward toward the Israeli coast. Since October, the Houthis have launched over 200 drones at Israel. Nor is this the first attempt to strike Tel Aviv, only the first successful one. Noah Rothman observes that the Houthis’ persistent attacks on Israel and on international shipping are largely the result of the U.S.-led coalition’s anemic response:

Had the Biden administration taken a more proactive and vigorous approach to neutralizing the Houthis’ capabilities, Israel would not be obliged to expand to Yemen the theater of operations in the war Hamas inaugurated on October 7. The prospects of a regional war grow larger by the day, not because Israel cannot “take the win,” as President Biden reportedly told Benjamin Netanyahu following a full-scale direct Iranian attack on the Jewish state, but because hostile foreign actors are killing its citizens. Jerusalem is obliged to defend them and the sovereignty of Israel’s borders.

Biden’s hesitancy was fueled by his apprehension over the prospect of a “wider war” in the Middle East. But his hesitancy is what is going to give him the war he so cravenly sought to avoid.

In this context, the nature of the Israeli response is significant: rather than follow the American strategy of striking isolated weapons depots and the like, IDF jets struck the port city of Hodeida—the sort of major target the U.S. has shied away from. The mission was likely the furthest-ever carried out by the Israel Air Force, hitting a site 200 kilometers further from Israel than Tehran. Yoel Guzansky and Ilan Zalayat comment:

The message that Israel sent was intended to reach the moderate Arab countries, the West, and especially the United States. . . . The message to the coalition countries is that “the containment” had failed and the Houthis must be hit harder. The Hodeida port is the lifeline of the Houthi economy and continued damage to it will make it extremely difficult for this economy, which is also facing significant American sanctions.

Read more at National Review

More about: Houthis, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy