Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Reclaiming the phrase "Tikkun Olam"

Rabbi Jill Jacobs of Jewish FundS for Justice writes in the June 2007 issue of Zeek magazine:

"There may be no other term that is simultaneously as beloved and as reviled in Jewish progressive circles as the phrase 'tikkun olam.' For some people, this concept, generally translated as “repairing the world,” offers the motivation for involvement in social justice work; for others, the term has become so overused and so little understood as to be meaningless...

"...As the meaning of the term tikkun olam has expanded to apply to virtually any action or belief that the user thinks is beneficial to the world, some Jewish social justice activists and thinkers have moved away from using the term at all.

"...Rather than throw out the term tikkun olam altogether, or putting it on a twenty-year hiatus as others have suggested, I propose weaving together the four primary definitions of tikkun olam present in Jewish history: the anticipation of the divine kingdom in the Aleynu prayer; the midrashic call to preserve the physical world; the rabbinic desire to sustain the social order; and the Lurianic belief in our power to restore divine perfection. This definition will occupy a space between a limited definition of 'tikkun olam' as relating only to a specific theology or legal process and an expansive definition that equates 'tikkun olam' with any type of social action or social justice work."

Read her article, "The History of Tikkun Olam," for her complete program for rejuvinating the use of this overused phrase. The image to the right is from Temple Judea of Tarzana, California.

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