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Is Social Activism Destroying American Judaism?

Is Social Activism Destroying American Judaism?

Tikkun Olam, For Real


Perhaps you’ve heard: The latest studies on American Jewry’s apathy and even antipathy towards Judaism are in, and guess what: It’s worse than you had imagined, even after Pew.

A Jewish People Policy Institute study, for example, looks at American non-Hareidi Jewish adults—the whole spectrum from Modern Orthodox to unaffiliated—between the prime child-raising ages of 25 and 54. Only 21 percent have a child who is being raised as a Jew by religion. Twenty. One. Percent. (Make that 13% for those under 40.) 1

In other words, eight out of ten young Jewish adults—your Hebrew-schooled, bar- and bat-mitzvahed, synagogue youth, college-educated Jewish kids have grown up. And unlike their parents, or any of their other ancestors going back to Abraham and Sarah, they are choosing not to have Jewish children and families of their own.

Why not? There are lots of elements to these millions of individual decisions to opt out of perpetuating Judaism, The bottom line is that nobody has shown them the point in having a Jewish family. but the bottom line is that nobody has shown them the point in having a Jewish family.

What does that mean for Jewish institutions like synagogues, community centers and day schools? What does it mean for support for Israel? What does it mean about funding for major Jewish organizations and their programs?

Is a population sustainable at a reproduction rate of 21%?

We Found the Culprit!

Everybody agrees that these are urgent questions and concerns and it’s only natural not just to round up the usual suspects, but to look for new culprits, and here’s one:

Tikkun olam.

Tikkun olam was, for a few brief decades, the tried and true feel-good meme—defining without-borders social activism as “the mandate of Judaism”. But some have now identified it as a cause and a culprit in Jewish assimilation and intermarriage. By making universal issues such as planting trees and defending civil rights the is-all of Judaism, we have diverted and sapped Jewish youth and energy from our own survival as a people. By making universal issues such as planting trees and defending civil rights the is-all of Judaism, we have diverted and sapped Jewish youth and energy from our own survival as a people.

In many ways, that argument makes sense. If you want to save the whales, you give money to Greenpeace, not Hadassah. If you want to make the economy more equitable, you turn to your congressman, not your rabbi. If you are interested in global anything, you volunteer at UNICEF, not at your local JCC-Y.

If the main thing to being Jewish is fixing an environmentally damaged planet and assisting broken and desperate people wherever in the world they live, why should anyone care for Jewish ritual, Jewish community, or building a Jewish family?

So, those people knocking tikkun olam are right, right? As the adage of Hillel the Elder goes, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”2 Jewish people should stop worrying about Muslim refugees from Syria, starving kids in Africa, endangered species, disappearing rain forests and persecuted religious minorities, and start focusing on their own Jewish backyards, right?


Because there’s the rest of the adage: “And if I am only for myself, what am I?”

A Jew has to ask himself: what am I doing in this world? Why am I witness to suffering, injustice and reckless destruction of natural resources, if there is really nothing I can do about it, if it has no relevance to my existence as a Jew?

Tikkun olam is not the problem. Tikkun olam is the solution. The problem is that we’ve fed an entire generation of Jews an ingenuine, shallow version of a great idea.

Ripped from its roots, tikkun olam dries up like cut grass in the sun. As an integral part of the Tree of Life, it provides rich and powerful meaning to all of Jewish teaching and practice.

The Meaning of Tikkun Olam

Let’s go back to the meaning of the Hebrew words. “Tikkun” is generally translated as “fixing.” Wrong. It’s true meaning is “improving” or “touching up.”

That’s the first thing you need to know—we’re not just trying to “get back to the garden.” We want to improve the garden.

Yes, you have the capacity to improve upon G‑d’s creation. Now that’s an empowering notion.

Next: “Olam” is used to refer to the world in time and space. It’s related to the word “helem,” meaning “concealment.”

That’s a key concept in Jewish thought—that in order for the world to come into being, G‑d had to conceal His presence.

Problem is, when G‑d hides, people assume the position is up for grabs. Every man can think that he is G‑d. And if he is G‑d, he can do as he pleases. And that is the source of all injustice and suffering.

Tikkun olam, then, means getting to the source of the problem and fixing up this concealment. Tikkun olam is the world discovering itself. Discovering that it is not a junkyard or a no-man’s wasteland. Discovering that its beauty is endless and its wisdom unfathomable, because it is the ultimate expression of the mystery of the divine.

Torah study, prayer, all the mitzvahs—these are the first-line approach to unveiling G‑d’s presence in His world.

When you wrap tefillin on your head and arm, you are unveiling that mystery within yourself. When you make your consumption of food sacred by keeping kosher, you are unveiling that mystery in the world of that feeds you. So it is with every mitzvah—all connect you and your world to a higher, divine purpose. To its true meaning.

Yet, ultimately, the darkness is only transformed when met face-to-face, on its own ground. By grappling with the apparent absence of G‑d in our world today. By struggling against the darkness, whether it be manifest as hunger, as war, as wanton disregard of life, or as reckless abuse of the divinely-designed ecology that supports life.

And that begins—first and foremost—with your personal struggles with the darkness in your own life. Taming the beast within you to recognize that there is a Master to this garden, and that it has valuable work to tend to. Standing up to the challenges that threaten your belief in a loving Creator. Uncovering the light within your heart and your mind, a light that empowers you to become a new being.

Tikkun olam, then, means revealing the true meaning of the Creator’s concealment. G‑d is not silent because the world does not matter to Him. He is simply making room for us, so that we can have a part in improving His world.

That’s why we were placed in this world—to grapple with the apparent absence of G‑d, and to discover Him even in His act of hiding Himself. Once that is accomplished, there can no longer be any evil or suffering—because the root cause will be gone.

Aid and medical workers in a tent outside Chabad of Kathmandu treat the injured and ill following a 2015 earthquake.
Aid and medical workers in a tent outside Chabad of Kathmandu treat the injured and ill following a 2015 earthquake.

Tikkun Olam, For Real

Writing in 2010, Abraham Socher, an Oberlin College scholar, noted:

For decades, the Reform movement has defined its mission as tikkun olam, “repair of the world,” understood not as metaphysical doctrine but as social justice. And yet it is the unabashedly metaphysical Chabad that opens drug rehabilitation centers, establishes programs for children with special needs, and caters to Jewish immigrants, to name just three of a seemingly endless list of charitable activities. 3

You might think Socher’s “endless list” includes only activities within the Jewish world. No one doubts that this is Chabad’s priority. But it’s a fallacy to believe that it stops there.

The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, spoke publicly about such issues as solar energy, moral education in public schools, prison reform, nuclear disarmament and his concern for wanton loss of life in world conflicts. Countless anecdotes describe his personal intervention in such matters.

And indeed, peruse the pages of and you will find story after story of Chabad activists involved in everything from rebuilding homes in Nepal to a providing food for Muslim families in Morocco at the conclusion of Ramadan.

Meals are provided in Milan, Italy, to Eritrean, Ethiopian, Sudanese and Syrian refugees, many of them Muslim, who temporarily stay in rooms below the Milan central train station, these days retrofitted as a Holocaust memorial and museum. Some of the cooking staff and volunteers, shown with Rabbi Igal Hazan, who oversees the kitchen.
Meals are provided in Milan, Italy, to Eritrean, Ethiopian, Sudanese and Syrian refugees, many of them Muslim, who temporarily stay in rooms below the Milan central train station, these days retrofitted as a Holocaust memorial and museum. Some of the cooking staff and volunteers, shown with Rabbi Igal Hazan, who oversees the kitchen.

Why were these Chabadniks involved? No, it’s not their institution’s mandate. But as individuals, they simply could not stand idly by. Because if that’s what comes your way, it’s up to you to do something.

After all, wisdom cannot flourish in a world at war with itself, the beauty of life cannot be told when children are starving.

This is what Maimonides is saying when he describes, in the very last halachah of his Code, the ultimate state of this world, an era when…

…there will be neither famine or war, envy or competition for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.4

Meaning: What is the point of eliminating famine, war, envy and competition? So that the entire world can be thoroughly engaged in the true purpose of the human being—to know our Creator.

Yet all this is with a mighty caveat: First ensure your own house is tidy.

Not just because you can’t help someone else with their oxygen mask until you’ve put on your own. That’s also true. But there’s a much greater reason: If it’s your house, it’s your primary divine assignment in this world. If so, for you, nothing can be more important.

Nothing can be more important for a Jew than building a Jewish home, ensuring the children and grandchildren will be good Jews, reaching out to other Jews, learning and teaching Torah, doing as many mitzvahs as possible. There is no greater contribution to tikkun olam.

The Meaning of a Mitzvah

Judaism, then, is synonymous with tikkun olam. Jewish life as a whole is an exercise in unveiling the divine in every detail.5 That’s why Judaism in general and tikun olam in particular encompasses every aspect of life—because there’s something divine hiding in your home, at your place of work, in the news you read, in all that exists.

Every one of us is assigned our particular sparks of the divine to seek out and rescue. Where will you find those that belong to you? As the Baal Shem Tov would say, wherever providence carries you.

The Rebbe was fond of repeating Maimonides, that “any one small deed could be the one to tip the scales for the entire world.”6

Get that? Not “change the world one mitzvah at a time.” No: This mitzvah that happened to come your way is the one to change the entire world.

Some are fond of describing the last decade of the Rebbe’s life as “messianic fervor.” If only they would realize that the fervor was for the same tikkun olam of which we all dream—and far beyond.

In Los Angeles, Donna Miller catalyzes addiction treatment with chassidic philosophy.
In Los Angeles, Donna Miller catalyzes addiction treatment with chassidic philosophy.

The Struggle With Halachah

Judaism has a unique means of preserving its stability through the complex field called halachah. Within this rich enterprise of the Jewish legal system, everything requires a precedent.

In 1994, Yeshiva University held a symposium entitled “Tikkun Olam: Social Responsibility in Jewish Thought and Law.” The symposium turned out to be more than a delivery of academic papers. It was a soul-searching of halachic Judaism.

The burning question: The burning question: Does halachah render Judaism an insular religion, focused entirely on its own self-preservation, or does it also include a mandate for us to care for the world’s future? Does halachah render Judaism an insular religion, focused entirely on its own self-preservation, or does it also include a mandate for us to care for the world’s future? Where is our precedent in halachah for tikkun olam?

Many of the speakers pointed out that Judaism, from its very origins, provides practical guidelines for society beyond the tribe. The Talmud lists seven laws prescribed in the book of Genesis that apply to all the descendants of Noah—i.e., all humanity.

Like the bare-bones protocol that makes the Internet so robust, these laws provide universal fundamentals. If you were a stranger under the ancient Jewish state and accepted these laws, you were considered a ger toshav (resident alien)—making you eligible for all forms of communal welfare.

These are not laws meant to make everyone Jewish, or to create any form of religion at all. They simply say that there’s a Creator, that He would like His creatures to act responsibly and get along, and here are the rules. They are a basis, in other words, for a harmonious diversity of humankind.

The concept is historically significant. In the Roman era, those who abandoned idolatry and accepted these fundamental laws proliferated throughout the empire.

In the 17th century, when England and the Netherlands realized they needed some form of international law to avoid conflict, Hugo Grotius and John Selden laid its foundations. Both considered the institution of the resident alien, as described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud, a precedent for religious tolerance and universal law.7

Nevertheless, at this symposium, speaker after speaker questioned whether delivering this universal message was truly our obligation, or just a nice thing to do. Yes, Maimonides writes in his legal code that we were commanded to do so. But perhaps that’s an obligation only of a king, or a supreme court. And who says other authorities agree with Maimonides? After all, the paucity of discussion on the topic since the Talmud is undeniable.

Michael Broyde cited a responsum of the Rebbe, and contributed the following comment: 8

Rabbi Schneerson’s view is unique in that he not only assumes that Maimonides is correct in ruling that there is a general obligation to compel gentiles to observe Noachide law, but he also assumes that the obligation to compel observance includes within it the obligation to persuade. Rabbi Schneerson thus extends to the obligation to cover a much greater area than any other rabbinical authority, both in terms of the responsibility to do so and in the means by which to do so. 9

Broyde was not alone. “Rabbi Schneerson gave the amorphous concept of participating as role models in the general society even sharper halakhic definition.” Jack Bieler pointed out that “Rabbi Schneerson gave the amorphous concept of participating as role models in the general society even sharper halakhic definition.”

The Rebbe’s argument does not rest on Maimonides alone. The Rebbe asked, “How does Maimonides know this? Where does he get it from?”

His answer is that Maimonides asks a simple question: The Torah was given exclusively to the Jews. If so, why does it discuss how the rest of the world should behave? It could only be that we have responsibility to influence the rest of the world, by whatever means available, to keep these foundational laws.

Nepal was devastated after a 2015 earthquake that leveled homes across the nation. Rabbi Chezky Lifshitz, co-director of Chabad of Nepal with his wife, Chani, partnered with an Israeli firm to design affordable metal frames for houses that can be finished using local building materials.
Nepal was devastated after a 2015 earthquake that leveled homes across the nation. Rabbi Chezky Lifshitz, co-director of Chabad of Nepal with his wife, Chani, partnered with an Israeli firm to design affordable metal frames for houses that can be finished using local building materials.

Now Is the Time

As to the reticence of so many halachic authorities on the subject, the explanation is obvious: Since the rise of Christianity and Islam, any Jewish interference in the realm of beliefs and teachings would have placed whole Jewish communities in grave danger. So, with rare exceptions, we had to keep our mouths shut. Until now.

We live now in a time when the world wants to hear what Judaism has to say. An era when the greatest contribution you can make to society is to sit down to dinner with your family every Friday night.

We live now in a time where nothing can be left behind. If you can find any way to use something for the good, don’t leave it lying in the mud. If you can’t find the good within it, struggle to look deeper.

We live in a time when all the promises of the prophets and sages suddenly appear plausible even through natural means alone—a time void of suffering and illness, a time of peace and harmony.

But it is left up to us to make it happen. The main thing, as the Rebbe so often repeated, is “just do something.”

You can start by raising a Jewish family. A family that sits together in peace and harmony at a Shabbat meal and celebrates the creation of heaven and earth. A taste of the world we are struggling make happen—now.

Sylvia Barack Fishman and Steven M. Cohen, “Raising Jewish Children: Research and Indications for Intervention.”
Mishnah Avot 1:14.
“The Chabad Paradox,” Jewish Review of Books, Fall 2010.
Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, chapter 12, halachah 5.
See Tanya, chapter 37.
Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance, chapter 3, halachah 4.
See Eric Nelson, The Hebrew Republic, chapter 3: “Hebrew Theocracy and the Rise of Toleration”; Abraham Berkowitz, “John Selden and the Biblical Origins of the Modern International Political System,” Jewish Political Studies Review 6:1–2 (Spring 1994).
Leket Divrei Torah 5745: Sheva Mitzvot Shel Benei No’ach,” Ha-Pardes 59:9 (1985), 7–11. Note that the version printed in Sha’arei Halachah Uminhag, vol. 3, is riddled with copy errors.
David Shatz, Chaim I. Waxman and Nathan J. Diament, eds., Tikkun Olam: Social Responsibility in Jewish Thought and Law (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), 135. Broyde opines that the Rebbe’s opinion “is not accepted by most authorities,” but notes (footnote 150), “Of course, Rabbi Schneerson—himself a preeminent authority of Jewish law—is quite within his purview to argue with the overwhelming weight of authorities.”
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
Yaakov Ort is Senior Editor and News Editor at
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David Charleston December 10, 2017

If a clock breaks and it no longer works, you have to repair it. You can repaint the the numbers on it (which would be improving it), however to truly improve it, you have to "fix it" and this true in every instance. I don't think dwelling on social justice is the cause of young people straying from Judaism. I feel it's the way Judaism is being taught or not taught at all. As Jews (all Jews) we 're commanded to practice Tikkun Olam and if the whole world followed the 613 mitzvot, It would probably be a much better place to live in. As a religious school teacher I alway loved discussing the laws of Leviticus with my students, If anything, working on social justice projects helps (non-orthodox) Jewish children keep their Judaism.
because it gets them together a group. So many Jewish kids out there , live in places where there aren't other Jewish families or have any type of synagogue to attend. Reply

Oskar Back Denver November 16, 2017

Thank you for this beautiful insight. I think people forget that G-d is with us every step of the way in improving the world, and so we tend to take it entirely on our own shoulders (often with unintended consequences, let alone the stress of having to do it all ourselves).
Also, your observations on the Halacha really point up the need for Judaism - and any religion, really - to serve as a voice of our concealed G-d, an example, "a light to all nations the the glory of your people Israel". Inculcating G-d's core values in the family creates a microcosm for their propagation in the greater society, and the world at large.
Keep up the good work,! Reply

Jonas Pikesville, MD November 16, 2017

What's this about choosing not to have Jewish children and a family of my own? I insist this is not a choice! If I could find a nice Jewish woman I would very much chooseto have Jewish children and a Jewish family. If Hashem provided for all men as he did Eve for Adam things would be much different. Reply

Anonymous new orleans November 16, 2017

Maybe more mikvah is the answer? I think it might be the loss of the mikvah in the non orthodox Jewish marriages that is the deepest cause of this loss of Jewish practice in so many. If there were a more widely relevant way to include rather than toss mikvah practice, in the more reform areas of our community, then the full spirit of the tradition and its value would begin to be more visible to our wider community as Jewish people. I don't think the challenge is that we do focus on tikkun olam, its that we have lost a part deep in the heart of the inner strength that tikkun olam should generate from, an inner strength that is carried through to us through mikvah attendance. It's like when people do yoga or pilates or any other physical exercise without making their core strength in their belly the source of the movement and strength. Eventually, if you are just using arm or leg strength etc. the whole thing collapses. To me, that core strength in our tradition is mikvah practice. It gives and is so beautiful. BH Reply

David Frederick Charleston November 16, 2017

The concept of Tikun Olam meaning " to Touch up or improve" as opposed to "fixing or repairing " is an interesting comparison, however I suppose it's the way one looks at things. It's actually semantics, for if you repair or fix something, you're clearly improving it or touching it up. I taught religious school at a reform Synagogue for 20 years where I taught G'milut Hasadim, Yet I focused on Picuah Nefesh, Maimonides rules of Tzedakah, Torah and Jewish History. One thing I always stressed, was "never put down another Jewish person for the way they practice and andandasaJudaism". I will say that sometimes I'm afraid of Judaism being reformed right out the window , but you're nevr going to get people to see things more your way by insulting them. The reform Jews give a great deal support to Israel as well as give food to kosher food banks Reply

Frits Melbourne November 15, 2017

nearly correct Just a small futile detail:. I believe the correct name of Hugo Grotius you are revering to, is Hugo de Groot. Reply

Anonymous November 15, 2017

Hello and I still see Tikkun Olam all over the place perfect article. This reminds me of a story I heard seating down with a Torah group about lending money to your fellow Jew. It had to do with a family who was not able to pay the rent, and most of all family members had part-time jobs. The bank showed up to ask for the money, or they would have to leave. He did not have the money, but later that day the Rabbi made an unexpected appearance and gave all he needed and more. How did he know? It is the Halacha to understand when people need help. When the Socialist party in 1920 made into law the manifesto, it made people think about what is the questions about assimilation. Why bring up the whole Holocaust memorial or WWII? In reality, it may reveal the hidden message of those who never knew why the law worked against them. Communicating with the world that slavery is not ok, is those sparks. I think Jews are ready to be the light to convey the warning sign of the world is changing fast. Reply

Jeff Illinois November 15, 2017

The article makes some very interesting and thought provoking points that I think I will incorporate into my Judaic consciousness, understanding, and approach. Family first is a great initial step to repairing the world and the larger family of humankind. And, the most effective. Thanks for posting the article. Reply

Yitzhak L Brooklyn November 15, 2017

The problem isn't "social activism." The problem are the concomitant political philosophies which place "social activism" above anything else.

Look at all of the Jews who are involved in "social justice" causes -- many if not most of them are unobservant in almost every way. And many of them have an ambivalent, if not antagonistic, view of Eretz Israel.

Every generation has these people. Those who put their Judaism well down on their list of values, if they put it on the list at all.

Left-wing political philosophies put "social justice" and activism as the centerpiece of their world view -- and repeatedly, traditional observance gets ridiculed and demeaned as outdated, prejudiced or "male dominated" (chas v'shalom).

The reality is that any time a Jew places something other than Judaism high on their list, it's only a matter of time that it becomes completely unimportant. Reply

Susan Hirshorn Boca Raton, FL November 15, 2017

Worshipping G-d or a reflection of themselves? I think social activism is only a symptom of the problem of apathy towards traditional Judaism. It is not the cause. Let me explain:

We don’t make it easy to be Jewish. We don’t rewrite our faith. We don’t but non-traditional Jewish movements do.

You see, these movements are great marketers. They identified trends within the Jewish population and appeal to them. These include: feminism, alternative lifestyles, intermarriage and affiliation with the political Left (and its “social activist” projects).

Yes these movements carry the façade of Judaism. They play with Jewish themes, justify a project with the phrase “tikum olam”. Why? Sentimentalism. Many of their customers loved their Bubbies and Zaidies.

But make no mistake. Their customers don’t want their Bubbies’ and Zaidies’ Judaism. What they want is a pat on the back. They don’t want to worship G-d. They want to worship reflections of themselves.

This is why we are losing Jews. And dear G-d, I pray there are solutions. Reply

David Frederick Charleston November 16, 2017
in response to Susan Hirshorn:

You're comments are so unfair Susan. There are many young reform and conservative Jews who "love" being Jewish and practicing it the way were brought up to practice it. Some are more traditional and some are not. Even traditionalists have "re-wrtten Judaism". If Moshe Rebanu were to appear tomorrow to group of traditionalist Jews, he would think they were from somewhere very different. Just from the particular ways of dress in remembrance of famous Rebbes from Eastern Europe (Russia/Romania, etc..) who's traditions have been engrained into the faith. So just from that perspective alone, things have been re-written. Religions evolve through experience. Unfortunately, the diaspora split us all up and we no longer have the Pharisees to keep us on the same page. But for you to say, "they don't want to worship G-d and only want to worship reflections of themselves" is unkind and simply not true. That's being very judgmental. Reply

Yitzhak L Brooklyn December 29, 2017
in response to David Frederick:

Reform The data on the reform and conservative jews is well established. Look at the Pew Research study -- reform jews rarely have jewish grandchildren.

Your reform friends can "love" being jewish all they want, but they are not putting their money where their mouth is. Reply

Philip Centanni Jr New Orleans November 13, 2017

Tikkun Olam As a Christian mystic, I love this Jewish meditation on what it means to “make this world a better place if you can,” as if it belongs to all of us. Because the world does belong to us, as do ancient spiritual perspectives like this one. Our purpose in this life is not just to “fix the world” - as in the way Hebrew words ‘tikkun olam’ are usually translated - but to “improve the world” as Rabbi Tzvi Freeman beautifully expressed it in this post.

Just as G-d’s love seeks to reveal to us our hidden depths, we also have an inborn desire to return to and seek G-d in the hiddenness of the everyday and of each other, so that one day the Creator will reveal divinity to us so that we will not fear the greatest glory as lovers of G-d have in the past, but love G-d to the maximum of our abilities as Divine Beloveds. Reply

artisanrox PA, USA November 13, 2017

Confusing. You have the quote within the article that says:

"The Rebbe was fond of repeating Maimonides, that “any one small deed could be the one to tip the scales for the entire world.”

...and the entire article written here stands in total contradiction to this quote, because it seems that any good deed (helping refugees, planting a tree, etc.) just isn't of value, doesn't "help" if it is not having a traditional family.

Discounting charitable work "just to do the work" (ex. planting trees)" is a bizarre concept to me. We are discounting small genuine acts of charity in an age when a billionaire can claim his own 501(c) and award himself money from it and in fact, get credit for charity when the smallest amount of money isn't funded to himself and actually does the purpose of the charity??

And Abraham planted trees.

R' Freeman is my favorite writer on when dealing with the metaphysical side of existence, but honestly I cannot extrapolate the point of this article Reply

Tzvi Freeman November 14, 2017
in response to artisanrox:

Sorry you found the article confusing and the message lost. It was certainly not our intent (yes, there are two authors) to discount any good deed other than raising a Jewish family. Rather, we wanted to emphasize that this is at least as important.

Personally I wouldn't trust an old environmentalist who has no grandchildren, or a social activist who has no community. Yet, to cite the article:

"… ultimately, the darkness is only transformed when met face-to-face, on its own ground. By grappling with the apparent absence of G‑d in our world today. By struggling against the darkness, whether it be manifest as hunger, as war, as wanton disregard of life, or as reckless abuse of the divinely-designed ecology that supports life." Reply

Ruby Gold Albion November 15, 2017
in response to Tzvi Freeman:

"Personally I wouldn't trust an old environmentalist who has no grandchildren ..."

What does this mean? If you don't have children/grandchildren you can't possibly care about the future?


Yitzhak L December 31, 2017
in response to Ruby Gold:

it's a figure of speech. Reply

Bob Kolker Monroe Twp, NJ November 12, 2017

Why aren't the seven Noah laws sufficient for getting along with our neighbor and acting responsibly?

If I were a sentient humanoid stranded on this planet and I needed a covenant to follow while I was living here I would chose the seven Noah laws in an instant. If seven suffice why do we have 613? Reply

Tzvi Freeman November 13, 2017
in response to Bob Kolker:

Yes, Bob, that is just the point. All of humanity is responsible to build a healthy, harmonious world.

But that is only the prerequisite, not the end-all. Ultimately, that harmony is meant to sing of its Creator.

The rest of the mitzvahs are the Jewish way of accomplishing just that—revealing the divine in this amazing world. Reply

Sarah New York City November 12, 2017

If our task is to teach the rest of the world the Noahide laws, and to do kindness to other people when the opportunity arises why do you end the article with Shabbat? It's obvious a Jew must do Mitzvot and keep Shabbat, and it is a clear way we "elevate the sparks" within our own family and home.

But the questions raised and answered here deal with our particular responsibility as Jews towards the rest of the world, through the lens of Tikun Olam according to Torah/Kabbalah. The whole mandate of this website is to teach Jewish people how to live as Jews, but enjoys a vast readership of non-Jews who are seriously interested in what Judaism has to say to them about universal responsibility.

Wouldn't you rather end it on the note that when you talk with a friend, co-worker, neighbor or a relative who is not Jewish, you would be able to share with them what are the actions, ethics, and beliefs that are mandated through the seven Noahide laws? Reply

John Winlow Norfolk, England November 13, 2017
in response to Sarah:

That's a very good point Sarah. I have Jewish relations through a sister's marriage to a British Jew, I have lived and worked in Israel, I speak Evrith and support organisations within our Jewish communities. But sad to say there is an overall perception that Jewish folk here show little desire to socialise or share with goyyim. Which is very sad. There are aspects of Jewish faith and life which are exceedingly valuable and attractive to non Jews.
The sense that some Jews want to remain separate and shun contact with non Jewish society makes it difficult to support them in the face of growing anti Israel/Jewish opposition. That's not an excuse - it's an observation. Reply

Moishe Las Vegas September 3, 2017

Well done, Reb Tzvi; however, I don't recall the Rebbe, zt"l, speaking about a need for nuclear disarmament. Would you be so kind as to site a source for this? Reply

Tzvi Freeman September 3, 2017
in response to Moishe:

Yes, that was on Shabbat Parshat Mishpatim, 27 Adar, 5752 (1992). You can read much of that in English here: Swords Into Plowshares Reply

Moishe Las Vegas September 7, 2017
in response to Tzvi Freeman:

The Rebbe, zt"l, was commenting there that where some money could be diverted from military spending to welfare that it reflects the redemption period. He was not advocating suicidal nuclear disarmament. Reply

Anonymous August 31, 2017

Amen! Very well said and much needed. Thank you for writing this! Reply

Allon Jerusalem July 19, 2017

This is a fantastic article worthy of much more than the shamed Nobel prize. Reply

michael texas July 18, 2017

I'm a noahide. Noahides are looking to the Jews for light, teaching, understanding, knowledge. We have been going it alone for the past twenty years. Many of us should already have converted if it wasn't so difficult. I would venture to say many of us are Jews. We are probably part of the lost tribes. We are a group that want to be part of Tikun Olam. We are not like xtians. We are not like Muslims. We can help you and you can help us. Its time. Not like anytime on earth. If you don't do it Mashiach will do it and ask you why you didn't do it.Baruch Hashem... Reply

Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA August 8, 2017
in response to michael:

Speed the coming of Moshiach Esau had Rueul and Rueul had Zerah (Genesis 36) and Pharez was Zerah's twin brother.
Judah begot Shelah, but Judah probably adopted the Edomite, Zerah; and his twin brother Pharez.
Tamar was a prostitute; the genetic origin of her children possibly unknown.
This explains that in the Middle Ages the Jews correctly likened the nobility to be of Edom, IMHO specifically the Zerahites, IMHO, among other things, Chronicles recorded that Zerah was adopted again into a Levite clan.
Judah is the tribe of kings, and this is how in some ways that the Zerahites became temporary kings over the Shelahites, observable because of prominence of the mix of Canaanite blood in the Shelahites, where the Canaanites were a source of Shua’s Neanderthal genetics to the Jewish Shelahites, such that Zerahites had genes somewhat distant to that of the Shelahites; same tribe, but different ancestors. Reply

Margaret Joy Gordon South Africa November 16, 2017
in response to michael:

I may only walk this way but once - any goodness I can do for any living thing or any man- Let me do it now, for I may never walk this road again.
What a wonderful opportunity that all of us never want to miss -
Thank you Michael (Texas) Reply

arthur yanoff July 18, 2017

tikkun olam very important commentary on continuing our jewish identity. this should be made available to all american yiddin. life is not either/or. we can be raised with a yiddishe education ,and still care about the environment. we can feed hungry yiddlichs delicious kosher corned beef while still going beneath the surface in Tanya. unfortunately the internet contributes to a state of mind that embraces the transitory over essential values. Reply

Esther July 17, 2017

When the Left talks about "civil rights" now it means denying business owners religious freedom and allowing transsexuals into women's restrooms. When it talks about "income inequality" it means replacing the Torah's requirement of tzedaka on the individual with government socialism. Taking care of the planet is great, but a recent study just said the best way to reduce CO2 emissions is to have fewer children. The Rebbe's position on having children is well known. And the VP of the European Commission has said figures from the border agency Frontex show that 60% of "refugees" are economic migrants, and taking them in reduces a country's ability to help genuine refugees. I went to a Reconstructionist temple as a child and am disappointed to see join them in equating Leftist political positions with Torah values. Of course we should help non-Jews and care for the vulnerable, but buying into an agenda that directly contradicts many Torah precepts isn't the way to do it. Reply

Margarita Stein August 16, 2017
in response to Esther :

Thank you for saying it. Most likely the author didn't research or heavily underestimated the modern implications of the term. Reply

Sydney November 12, 2017
in response to Esther :

Exactly... this, right here. Reply

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