Tikkun Olam: Not All It's Cracked Up To Be?
Agudath Israel’s Avi Shafran shills for the Bush administration in today’s Jerusalem Post, taking a swipe at the progressive’s pre-occupation with tikkun olam:
Redefinition of time-honored Jewish words and concepts, unfortunately, is nothing new. “Torah” and “mitzva” and “halacha” (Jewish religious law) and “observance” have all fallen victim to Jewish Newspeak. But there is a particular irony to the trendy twisting of tikkun olam to refer to the issue du jour of the politically progressive.
It stems from yet another legitimate employment of the term, as cited by Maimonides in his magnum opus the Mishneh Torah (or Yad Hachazaka).
Near the end of that 14-volume compendium of halacha, the revered 12th century Jewish luminary included several chapters of laws concerning Jewish kings. In the final law of the third chapter of that section, he writes:
[In] any case where someone takes human lives without clear proof [of a capital offense] or the issuance of a warning, or even on the strength of a single witness [as two are required in a Jewish court], or where a person hates someone and kills him [seemingly] by accident, a king is permitted to execute [the unjustified taker of life] in order to repair the world [“li’taken ha’olam”] according to the needs of the time… to strike fear and shatter the strength [literally, “break the hand”] of the world’s perpetrators of evil.
And so, Maimonides informs us, there is yet another meaning to tikkun olam, the authorization of a nation’s leader to do whatever is necessary, “according to the needs of the time” – even suspend the ordinary rules of evidence in capital cases – to preserve the security of his society from those who seek to disrupt it.
[…] So, interestingly, the concept of tikkun olam would seem to argue most eloquently today for things like, say, the imprisonment of enemy combatants, secret wiretaps and surveillance of citizens.
It might not please those who enjoy waving tikkun olam like a flag, but the concept, accurately applied, would seem to more heartily support the Patriot Act than a ban on Alaskan oil drilling.
Hey Reb Shafran, is it still tikkun olam if the king’s engaging in lifnei eiver?
I’d say “thanks for killing the concept of tikkun olam for me,” but personally I like the idea of claiming Torah for one’s self. Isn’t that what the rabbis do by standing Moshe rabbeinu’s statement, “lo b’shamayim hi” on its head?