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June 7, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 7, 2013 PAGE 5A By David Suissa Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles As we witness the latest at- tempts to restart the comatose peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, we heard about the recent shutting down of Better Place, a much- ballyhooed Israeli venture that aimed to revolutionize the world of electric cars. It's hard not to see a poetic link between these two failed ventures--one dreamed of being free of war, the other of being free of oil. The closer you look at them, the more similarities you see. First, they both suffered from the poison of too much hype. It's not true that all publicity is good publicity--certainly not when you raise expectations so high that you set yourself up for failure. Has any diplomatic subject ever receivedmore hype than the Israeli-Palestinian con- flict? How many careers have been built on its poor back? How many times have we heard leaders, diplomats and activists prattle on about "the importance of the two-state. solution"--as if the mere act of conveying importance were a magic potion that would get us to that solution? Similarly, Better Place was Israel's most-hyped private ven- ture. Everywhere you went, you heard about Shai Agassi's revo- lutionary "battery solution." This was the infrastructure solution to electric cars that would change the world: Drivers would pull up to a station and a fully charged battery would be installed to replace the old one--in minutes! The two-state solution and the battery solution: TWo dreams thatwere pitched as crucial and inevitable, two dreams that at- tracted enormous investments and two dreams that crashed on Israel's better place the shores of reality. In both cases, Israelis were initially caught up in the hype but then sobered up when they looked at reality. With Better Place, they saw that this sexy new system of "recharging" batteries wouldn't save them that much money afterall.Then they Iookedat the paltry number of battery stations that Better Place had set up throughout the country: 38. You do the math: 38 battery stations versus 1,500 gas sta- tions. Which one feels like less of a hassle? With the peace process, after getting caught up in the dreams of Oslo, Israelis again looked at reality: 126 suicide bombings in the Second Intifada that left more than 1,000 Israelis dead following an offer of a Palestinian state in 95 percent of disPuted land. They also saw reality not get- ting any better: nearly 10,000 terrorist rockets raining on Is- rael after the country withdrew from Gaza, and 1million Israelis terrorized by those bombs. This reality also included figurative bombs from their "peace partners'--such as the glorifying of terrorists, the teaching of Jew-hatred and the denial of any Jewish connection to Jerusalem--along with the rejection of Israeli peace offers, the refusal to negotiate even after a settlement freeze and the longstanding refusal to recognize a Jewish state under any borders. So, when Israelis today hear the tedious mantra about the "importance of the two-state solution," you can't blame them for yawning. For too many Israelis, "land for peace" has come to mean land for terror. Peace dreamers might still hollerthatthe status quo is"un- sustainable," but Israelis today see another status quo that is markedly less sustainable: the West Bank turning into Gaza. Yes, Israelis still dream of peace. But the story of their country has always been abattle between dreams and reality. They need dreams to shape their reality, buttheyalso need reality to shape their dreams. In the brutal Middle East, it seems as if reality always wins. The failures of the two-state solution and the electric car battery solution remind us that while having great dreams is im- portant, it's not as important as the ability to turn these dreams into reality. Israelis are reality people. They hear their glorious presi- dent Shimon Peres wax poetic about how peace with Jew-hat- ers is right around the corner, and they roll their eyes. They see the hundreds of diplomatic photo-ops over the past five years just to get peace talks go- ing, and they think only of the hundredsofHamasbombswait- ing to be launched at Tel Aviv. "Debating the peace process to most Israelis is the equivalent of debating the color of the shirt you will wear when landing O n Mars," an Israeli told a New York Times reporter two weeks ago. Israelis have learned the hard way that evidence is more important than hope. Show them an electric car that really makes life easier, and they'll buy it. Show them peace partners who really want peace, and they'll buy that, too. Ultimately, no matter how much hype you pile on, whether you're pitching a peace process, baby diapers or an electric car, things need to work. In Israel today, that reality is the better place. David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at This article was reprinted by permission of the Jewish Jour- nal of Greater Los Angeles; wu. jewish By RabbiAshira Konigsburg With the beginning of sum- mer comes a time of reflection. School's out and summer break is starting, so now is a time when we lookbackatthe pastyear.And this past year was difficult. It included majornaturaldisasters (tornadoes i n Oklahoma, Hurri- cane Sandy) and human tragedy (Boston Marathon bombing, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary). We sense that our world is in need of repair. And those of us who think of ourselves as global citizens, as well as Jews, feel called to do something to counteract this chaos.Working to fixour broken world, in Jewish terms, is called Tikkun Olam. The term Tikkun Olam comes from rabbinic literature. The Mishnah seems to use Tikkun Olam as a legislative principle correcting a flaw in the legal system that, if uncor- rected, could lead to an injustice. Tikkun Olam: Ethical mitzvot are mitzw t The idea of tikkun is also found in the mystical traditions. Ac- cording to Lurianic Kabbalah, there was a problem with the creation process and thus the world requires tikkun (repair). This worldview acknowledges that creation is imperfect. The innovationofthe kabbalistswas to suggest that the actions of humans can impact the Divine. In our times, these two ideas are combined into the modern concept of Tikkun Olam. Liter- ally translated as "repairing the world," the term has been applied pretty much any time we act to impact the world beyond ourselves. It's been used to describe both volunteering and advocacy. From feeding the hungry to signing a petition, those who engage in such activi- ties are taughtthat theiractions are cosmically important and that setting the world right is a Jewish imperative. Critics fairly point out that the tikkun of the kabbalists meant fulfilling mitzvot (corn- mandments), many of them ritual. To such kabbalists, every mitzvah performed helps to repair creation. That is why we have been accustomed to find- ing Chabbadniks on the street recruiting Jewish men to wear tefilin or distributing Shabbat candles to women. They encour- age more Jews to observe ritual mitzvot, in order to hasten the coming of the messiah and the redemption of the world. To focus only on social concerns, while leaving ritual command- ments unfulfilled, however, can feel, to some, as abetrayal of the intent of the kabbalistic concept oftikkun. While I certainly uphold the religious importance of fulfill- ing ritual commandments, it seems far too simplistic to criticize proponents of Tikkun Olam for not engaging enough in mitzvot. For one thing: even if Tikkun Ola itself isn't one of the 613 commandments, ethi- cal mitzvotare mitzvot. Perhaps there is no categorical impera- tive to repair the world, but there are clear Jewish imperatives to teed the hungry, care for the needy, and save lives. Furthermore, engaging in social justice activities arid fulfilling ritual mitzvot are not mutually exclusive. For many Jews, Tikkun Olam is the entry poin. t into learning more about their heritage and taking on other obligations. For Jewish Americans who have a better sense of universal values than Jewish ones, connecting their general impulse to make adiffer- ence in the world to the relevant Jewish concepts can bring them closer to our tradition. Those who are committed to what they call Tikkun Olam do it out of a strong sense of the traditional Jewish values of tzedek (Justice) and hesed (kindness). Many in the Jew- ish social justice community take their observances even further--choosing to go above and beyond (lifnei meshurat hadin), seeking out extra oppor- tunities to fulfill these mitzvot. Responding when you come across someone needing help is commendable, but to seek out such opportunities and dedicate time to community service must be even more praiseworthy (in rabbinic parlance, harei zeh meshubah). One example of the impor- tance of ethical mitzvot comes from the Talmud (Taanit 22a), which contains a story in which the prophet Elijah singles out two rather unremarkable look- ing men and indicates that they have a share in the world to come. In order to understand why, Rabbi Beroka asks them in what profession they work. They reply that they are jesters who cheer up men who are de- pressed, and thatwhen they see two people arguing, they work hard to make peace between them. From the context Of the story, it is unlikely that these two men are exemplars of ritual observance. The moral of the story is that these seemingly areligious acts are supremely important. Living a life that includes the regular fulfillment of these mitzvot is enough to earn these performers a place in the world to come. Ifayoung professional choos- es to spend her time after work helping to cheer up patients in the hospital, or a college student chooses to spend his summer vacation volunteering for a grassroots peace movement, we should applaud their com- mitment rather than scrutinize their levels of ritual observance as ifhelping others is no mitzvah atail.Another generation of Jews is taking ong'miluthasidimand giving tzedakah. Whether or not they call it Tikkun Olam, surely they are hastening the redemption of the world. Rabbi Ashira Konigsburg is Associate Director of Rabbinic Services at the Rabbinical As- sembly: http://www.rabbini- Follow her on Twitter: @ashirak, https:// The fallacy, delusion and myth of Tikkun Olam By Grand RabbiY. A. Korff It is so very difficult, indeed utterly unbearable, to sit si- lently by while Jews, and now the general religious and secu- lar communities, completely misuse and distort the term Tikkun Olam--certainly not intentionally or out of any malice, but rather out of igno- rance in the pursuit of virtu- ous goals and principles which may be applicable to general society and civilization but which have tragically become a poor substitute for authentic religious observance. This repair rhetoric has become an obsession, a catch- all credo. Everything today is Tikkun Olam. Enough with the Tikkun Olam. It isa sense- less and meaningless mis- conception, its true meaning nothing like it is commonly used and purported to be. It is not at all a centuries- old tradition, it is not a call to action, and it is not a, com- mandment. And to be clear, Tikkun Olam does not even mean repairing the world in the sense of social justice. Nor in traditional sources is Tikkun Olam in any way even a direct human imperative or action, but rather one that is left inG-d's hands. We cannot, and are not instructed to, save the world, or even to repair it. Judaism teaches no such thing. Rather, we are instructed to conduct ourselves properly, to observe the Mitzvos, the Command- iiaents (which are not good deeds, but rather command- ments, required imperatives), and in that way to contribute to society and civilization both by example and through practice and action. For Jews those Mitzvos include not simply socially or politically correct precepts such as giving charity and engaging in political action, but also observance of the Sabbath, dietary restrictions (Kashrus), daily prayer, and other commandments which seem to have fallen out of favor and are ignored, if not openly denigrated and violated, in some segments of the com- munity, as they substitute the false lanacea of something they call Tikkun Olam for the authenticity of true Juda- ism, clinging desperately to Tikkun Olam to avoid their actual responsibilities as Jews to observe the Torah and the commandments. The term and concept Tik- kun Olam appears nowhere in the Torah itself, but first appears only in the Mishna and Talmud in the context of the courts and halakhic (legal) regulations involving disputes and legal rights. Subsequently in Kabbalah the term was used to refer to the upper worlds or to the repair of the individual soul damaged by the sin of violat- ing or neglecting Jewish law. Following that, the only men- tion ofTikkun Olam in prayer is in the Aleinu prayer recited at the conclusion of every ser- vice, but even in that context it means either that G-d, not man, will ultimately repair the world, or, as others interpret, it does not mean repair of the world at all but rather is a prayer for the uprooting of idolatry, the rebuilding of the TemlSle and establishing G-d's kingdom on earth, through the observance of the commandments and not through any separate social imperative. Indeed, scholars from across the spectrum and diversity of the Jewish com- . munity have acknowledged and bemoan the misuse and distortion of the term Tikkun Olam by the community. Thus Rabbi Jill Jacobs ob- served years ago (Zeek, July 2007) that, "In its current incarnation, Tikkun Olam can refer to anything from a direct service project such as working in a soup kitchen or shelter, to political action, to philanthropy. While once regarded as the property of the left, the term is now widely used by mainstream groups such as synagogues, camps, schools, and federations, as well as by more rightwing groups wishing to cast their own political agendas within the framework of Tikkun Olam." After quoting Arnold Jacob Wolf ("Repairing Tikkun Olam," Judaism 50:4), who writes, "All this begins, I believe, with distorting tik- kun olam. A teaching about compromise, "sharpening, trimming and humaniz- ing rabbinic law, a mysti- cal doctrine about putting God's world back together again, this strange and half- understood notion becomes a huge umbrella under which our petty moral concerns and political panaceas can come in out of the rain," Jacobs points out that one of the key figures in the Kabbalistic school of thought which developed the concept of Tikkun Olam was the same person who codified Jewish law, since it is individual observance of halakha, Jewish law, which is the way to repair the world. Professor Steven Plaut of Haifa University wrote about "The Rise of Tikun Olam Pa- ganism" (The Jewish Press, January 23, 2003), calling it a "pseudo-religion," "social Olam on page 18A Dry Bones ,N GIVEN THE I00ANE ORGY Of: HATE AND VIOLE00E SYRIA WE'RE LUCKY WE WERE I00EVER TRICKED 00JTO RETURNNt00 THE GOLAN HEIGHT5 i O io THE ONLY THING POSITIVE THA? CAN BE 5AO THAT TO BASHA2 A55AD HI5 ARMY Of: SYRIANS. ,,