I propose that we should pursue tikkun olam actively and tangibly through our Messianic congregations and communal institutions, and that doing so forms a stronger link to our people. The practice and pursuit of tikkun olam is a large source of Jewish identity and strikes at the heart of Jewish communal values. In summary, the pursuit of tikkun olam is (or should be) the defining characteristic of a community tasked with ushering in the person and the age of Mashiach.
Tikkun and Jewish Identity
Tikkun Olam is a large source of Jewish identity. Sixty years after the Holocaust, and in the face of genocide continuing unabated a few hundred miles from Israel’s borders, American Jews are more socially active than ever before. On the front lawns of most major Reform synagogues sit green plastic savedarfur.org banners. Several of America’s wealthiest Jewish philanthropists and charitable foundations spend significant sums each year supporting social action, advocacy, and humanitarian intervention on behalf of marginalized groups.
- In 1988, 59% of respondents to an LA Times poll stated that a commitment to social justice “was what was most essential to Jewish identity” (only 17% said religious observance).
- Fourteen years later, 58% of one thousand Jewish college students surveyed said that “making the world a better place” was an important way to be Jewish (only 22% said “observing halacha” and 17% said “attending synagogue”).
Clearly, tikkun olam is important to modern Jews. One of the many reasons that Messianic Jews remain on the fringes of Jewish society is that our movement is conspicuously absent from Jewish efforts to correct profound injustice and defend marginalized groups. As Rabbi Jason Sobel noted in a paper presented at the 2007 Borough Park Symposium, “if we want to be attractive, relevant, and engaging to younger Jewish people and develop a better reputation and testimony in the wider Jewish world, we must find ways to participate in social action.”
Tikkun and Jewish Values
It is not enough that tikkun olam is popular. The second reason that Messianic congregations should more actively engage in tikkun olam is that its pursuit strikes at the heart of Jewish communal values. Rachel Wolf recently suggested that greater numbers of Jewish individuals have not adopted Yeshua faith because we have presented a message that speaks to individual spiritual interests, rather than the common destiny of our Jewish people:
“Jewish individuals will never receive the message of Yeshua the Messiah in any significant numbers until that message speaks to the Jewish community as a whole — addresses the issues of Jewish community, and Jewish identity — the question of the ongoing and eternal significance of the Jewish people.”
What is the ongoing and eternal significance of the Jewish people? Why are we significant? The Scriptures are clear: we are significant because we usher in G-d’s kingdom on earth. Says Wolf, “our gospel, our good news, for Jewish people is not necessarily, firstly, the message of forgiveness, but it is the message of the Messiah, which is the message of the resurrection, the restoration, of the Kingdom of David.” What exactly is this Kingdom? This Kingdom is the kingdom where wolves live with lambs (Isaiah 11:6) and swords that once spilled blood are used to till soil (Micah 40:3-4). In this Kingdom, widows and orphans are not oppressed, women are not exploited, and aliens are not marginalized (Isaiah 1:16, Jeremiah 6:7).
As Jews, we are uniquely tasked with the obligation to usher in this Kingdom. To do so, we must fill in valleys, and flatten mountains and hills (Isaiah 40:3-4). We must correct disparities between humans, stop injustice, bring in the marginalized, and stop impunity. Our unique role in ushering this Kingdom is so critical and non-negotiable that our privilege of living in Ha’Aretz is conditioned on fulfillment of this obligation: “if you stop oppressing foreigners, orphans and widows … then I will let you stay in this place, in the land I gave to your ancestors forever and ever” (Jeremiah 6:7). By ushering in G-d’s Kingdom, through the practice and pursuit of tikkun olam, we directly address the question of the ongoing and eternal significance of the Jewish people (ushering in Mashiach), and even preserve our physical presence in Eretz Yisrael!
There is no greater task.
We must position ourselves at the center of Jewish society and link arms with our Jewish sisters and brothers. To position ourselves “at the center of Jewish life,” we must actively and tangibly pursue tikkun olam through our Messianic congregations and communal institutions. This endeavor requires that we embrace others on the margins, and empower those who are marginalized in our own community (especially women). Pursuing tikkun olam also requires that we extend social action beyond the needs of the Jewish community, and advocate for non-Jews as well. Although acting charitably toward other Jews is an absolute obligation, it does not make us special. Every Jew is obligated to defend our kins(wo)men. We are a tribe, a people, and a culture, and we are bound both by our interests in self-preservation and our covenant with G-d to help each other. But it does not make us special. What makes us special, and what aligns us with the heart of Jewish society, is concern for the “Other.” In embracing the “Other” and defending her, we can position ourselves at the center of Jewish society.
*Excerpt from a paper originally presented at the 2008 Hashivenu Theological Forum