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 Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security