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My Good News column 26/27 July 2019

My Good News column 26/27 July 2019 by UPJ President Roger Mendelson

If more Jews had read Hitler’s Mein Kampf in the 1930s, they would have had clearer warning about the enemy they faced.

With this principle in mind, I recently read TO HEAL THE WORLD.HOW THE JEWISH LEFT CORRUPTS JUDAISM AND ENDANGERS ISRAEL. The author is Jonathan Neumann, who is a Cambridge educated British journalist. 

I knew that it wouldn’t be pretty and it wasn’t.

It is a lengthy book but the main points he makes can be simply summed up.

In his view, Tikkun Olam (to repair the world) is a recent concept which has little basis in the Torah or Talmud, although there are some references to it.

He asserts that non-traditional Judaism in America (which includes Reform) has lifted  Tikkun Olam well beyond soup kitchens and helping needy people at an individual level to being a justification for political social action on a range of issues, including income re-distribution, universal health care, near-open borders, energy policy etc.

Furthermore, this has led to treating the bible as being universalistic rather than particularistic. That is, it is really the story of  God’s relationship with mankind rather than just the Jews. For example, the Exodus is not just about God guiding Moses to free the Jewish slaves but about redemption for mankind.

He believes that this is a distortion of Judaism and that a consequence is that left wing Jews in America have set a standard for Israel which is far higher than they would expect from any other country. 

We see Tikkun Olam through  a  soft- lens and our embrace of it is a distinguishing feature of our Movement vis a vis Orthodoxy. Their  the focus is basically on helping other Jews but much less so the wider world. 

It really helps to understand what  many traditional  Jews think of American  Reform  because we tend to follow in American footsteps.

The UPJ has previously made the decision to be non-political.As a roof body, we do not see it as our role to push a political agenda. Once a religious institution becomes political, it is going to upset many adherents and it sews the early seeds of its demise. There are legitimate differing views on how to solve social ills and  those who wish to pursue a particular agenda should do it through the political process  or advocacy  group pressure.

A vivid example to me is Oxfam. When I lived near Oxford, it was a highly respected local institution, devoted to raising money for the needy. It did a great job.  As it got bigger, it morphed into an advocacy group, seeking to achieve its goals politically. It has recently become embroiled in scandal. I ceased supporting it when it began advocating against Israeli policies and painting Israel as a cause of suffering. A long way from  its op shops in Oxfordshire beginnings. 

Our focus at the congregational level is very much on keeping going, providing services, providing a Jewish presence and meeting needs of Jews.Keeping the lights on and filling the leyning roster for Shabbat take precedence over solving world hunger. However, we need to be aware of wider trends and to debate our future.

As an aside, my preferred definition of Tikkin Olam is ‘to improve the world’. We live in an amazing world and one which certainly isn’t broken. However, it can always be improved.

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