Culture, Justice, Politics, Religion

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?

28 thoughts on “Tikkun Olam: Not All It's Cracked Up To Be?

  1. Any actual argument against what Rabbi Shafran wrote? This may involve actually looking up the Rambam he quoted along with its commentaries. It may also involve consulting with someone knowledgeable about what other sources (Talmud, later Rabbis) may have to say on the subject, and then studying those other sources.
    When you’ve done that, if you still have a credible disagreement, then you can “claim the Torah for yourself” (at least this part of it). Not until then.

  2. Mobi-
    Who is the eiver? You seem to be aware of everything bush is up to. What makes you think you have superior knowledge to the rest of us. And even if this wasnt the case, we dimwitted, ignorant folks always have the great privilege of learning this information from your wealth of knowledge If people refuse to take heed to your warnings, thats their fault. They were warned. So either way, no one is an eiver.

  3. Wow. Attack a good faith endeavor and flip it around to justify your unjustifiable cause. It is a new low for those who have abused the concept of religion in this country and soured it for the unaffiliated. Nothing is really bad or incorrect in politics unless it is an extramarital affair – hetero, homo or otherwise. Forget about lifnei eiver, gneivas daas, gazlanus, …

  4. J: Any actual argument against what Rabbi Shafran wrote?
    I’m not disputing what the Rambam says. I don’t know the Rambam to be “incorrect” so much as looking at things from his perception in his time and place in the world. Rather, I’m disputing Shafran’s claim that we have no right to reinvent Jewish concepts to fit into new paradigms. And I brought a prooftext for that.
    Joe: Who is the eiver? You seem to be aware of everything bush is up to. What makes you think you have superior knowledge to the rest of us. And even if this wasnt the case, we dimwitted, ignorant folks always have the great privilege of learning this information from your wealth of knowledge If people refuse to take heed to your warnings, thats their fault. They were warned. So either way, no one is an eiver.
    Why would I expect anyone to take what I say at face value without researching it themselves? That’s why I source all of my claims.

  5. “Personally, I like the idea of claiming Torah for one’s self. Isn’t that what the rabbis do by standing…on its head?”
    Oh Mobius, thank you.
    Up until now, we Messianic Jews haven’t been able to explain eloquently enough to our Jewish brethren why it is that our beliefs are valid and worthy within Judaism, not outside it. You (and the great prophet Rushkoff) have put our thoughts, our beliefs into words. The Torah was and is in our hands. And we do have a right to reinvent Jewish concepts to fit into new paradigms! You’re right. Praise Yesh–
    Oh, wait. I’m not a messianist. I don’t like “messianic Judaism.” Now what do I do? If I accept your arguments, I have to accept a lot of things that I consider to be entirely outside the realm of Judaism…because that’s the nature of “open source.” The only way to get around this issue is to insist that any understanding of Jewish concepts (“messiah,” “tikun olam,” etc.) have some basis in classic Jewish texts.
    I don’t like R’ Shafran’s reading of the Bush administration. But, his analysis of “tikun olam” progressiveness is true, whether I like it or not.

  6. nobody said there weren’t margins. no one said that there isn’t a framework. you bring an argument for reinvention to push the values of the tradition forward — to actualize them — not to throw them away.
    the amount of frum prejudice behind such critiques is so extreme…

  7. “Rather, I’m disputing Shafran’s claim that we have no right to reinvent Jewish concepts to fit into new paradigms.”
    The question here is not about “reinvention”. It’s about brand new inventions ignorantly (or knowingly and disingenuously) being labelled as reinventions of Jewish concepts. At a minimum, anyone who wants to justify their actions as being mandated by Jewish ideas should understand those ideas.
    Further, anyone who wants to use Jewish ideas to back up their worldview should be aware of, and able to explain, other statements in Judaism that apparently contradict or qualify the former ideas. You can’t just pick out some items that happen to agree with you while casually dismissing those that don’t and claim that you’re doing Judaism.

  8. “the amount of frum prejudice behind such critiques is so extreme… ”
    Maybe the frum are tired of seeing their religion abused by leftist sorcerer’s apprentices.

  9. the apprentices are sick of watching the sorcerers ravage the laboratory.
    ùàéï îùôèé äúåøä ð÷îä áòåìí àìà øçîéí åçñã åùìåí áòåìí
    øîá’’í
    what tikkun are you making on this olam if you are not bringing compassion, kindness and peace to the world?
    judaism is a folk tradition — an oral tradition — and its status of fixed legalities is a result of textual fundamentalism, which is a side-effect of its preservation, not the desired end in itself.

  10. “the apprentices are sick of watching the sorcerers ravage the laboratory.”
    The apprentices don’t have any idea what’s in the laboratory (sorcerers work in labs?!). They don’t even care. They’re like people who wear a band’s T-shirt but can barely name one song.
    “what tikkun are you making on this olam if you are not bringing compassion, kindness and peace to the world?”
    Kind of broad, isn’t that? I’ll let you figure out my response:
    a) Compassion? Kindness? Peace? Gee, I never thought of that…
    b) Who the hell needs compassion, kindness or peace?
    c) My ideas on how to increase compassion, kindness and peace are different from yours. And better supported by Jewish texts.
    “judaism is a folk tradition — an oral tradition ”
    Where did you get that from? Even in the case of the oral part of our tradition, it was always 1) based upon Scriptures and 2) hasn’t been oral for 1500-1800 years. And “folk tradition”? Judaism has largely been molded by an elite (mostly meritocratic) at least since Rabbinic times.
    “and its status of fixed legalities is a result of textual fundamentalism, which is a side-effect of its preservation, not the desired end in itself.”
    Bold and unfounded. Which “fixed legalities” are the side effects and which are the desired ends? And if the answer to that is preference, you’ve reduced Judaism to an empty shell.

  11. the talmud is a personal and interpersonal conversation structured in such a way to resurrect our (otherwise feared lost) communal dialogue and our personal dialogue with the divine, enabling us to pull it off the pages and back into our lives. through the folk culture of torah, we stay bound to one another as a people, and through the process of ritual and halakha, we keep our eye’s on the prize: reuinification with the One.
    a post-exilic jew is one who lives jewish law in fluid conversation with his fellow, not one who restricts himself to the discourse of his ancestors. as kaplan would say, halakha has a vote, not a veto. torah is in the world, not locked behind the doors of the beit midrash.

  12. If the Reform movement passed a resolution that 2+2 is 4, Shafran would find a way to argue that it was 5.
    If the Rambam permits extraordinary actions in order “to strike fear and shatter the strength of the world’s perpetrators of evil”, there is no evidence that Bush’s policies are accomplishing that. On the contrary, these policies seem more targeted to strike fear into the American voters.

  13. Mobius,
    It simply is not an issue of frum prejudice. I am not trying to make an argument about who has the “only way,” or that if it isn’t in the “Shulkan Aruch,” it isn’t Jewish. Not in the least. I do insist, with strong conviction, that people need to learn what the tradition actually has to say about something before rewriting. In the extreme case of Jews who become messianists, the need to learn more about what Judaism actually has to say about the messianic era and ideal before they begin syncretizing two religions. In the case of tikun olam, there are many, many Jews who talk endlessly about tikun olam without knowing a dang thing about where the concept came from and where it fits into Jewish thought.
    You don’t want to practice Judaism according to the orthodox tradition? Fine! No problem. But learn your history, your texts, etc. One shouldn’t pretend to be standing on the shoulders of all those who came before him, when all he is really doing is picking and choosing from a basic Jewish vocabulary.

  14. are you referring to me or shafran’s straw man?
    yes, there are woefully uneducated and undereducated jews in the world. and i certainly don’t consider myself as up to snuff as i care to be. i’m at least putting the effort in, making aliyah and trying to find a yeshiva that works for me.
    however, should we take the very bare essentials by which jews connect to yiddishkeit, the thread by which they connect to their heritage, throw it back in their faces and call them ignorant fools?
    none in this generation is capable of giving proper tokhakha. there are better ways of saying, “you have much to learn young skyewalker.”

  15. discrediting contemporary progressives through using a rambam-era definition is silly, it misses a very important set of steps in the evolution of the use of tikkun olam.
    the contemporary usage is much more deeply routed in the kabbalah, namely the act of reuniting the holy sparks disseminating with the original shattering of the klippot. tikkun is the process of raising up those holy sparks. there have been divergent paths emanating from that moment. the hasidim were the most major inheritors of the lurianic kabbalah. eventually these ideas made their way into the mainstream of jewish thought and are the most common traditional association with tikkun olam–raising holy sparks. judaism has always been evolving. judaism evolved past the toraic times and well past the times of the rambam. for shafran’s argument to be consistent (let alone correct) he would have to accept that all jewish concepts ceased to evovle 800 years ago. it is not only dishonest to ignore the most obvious traditional contexts for tikkun olam, it is blatant sophistry and partisan hackery.
    as for why progressives chose that term, it is about believing that the world can be better than it is and that your life ought to be dedicated to fulfilling that potential, to do so is to make forward progress. there is of course the opposite position, that the world was better and that betterment is about regress not progress, to move backwards to a more holy time. in the interest of fairness that idea is deeply enshrined in judaism as well, perhaps even moreso.

  16. i think progressives call themselves progressive because a fairly well-financed conservative media propaganda campaign smeared the word “liberal” until it wasn’t suitable for public discourse anymore.

  17. I call myself The Middle for fun. Why do you call yourself a progressive with all the seriousness you can muster? What is progressive about your views?

  18. “You can’t just pick out some items that happen to agree with you while casually dismissing those that don’t and claim that you’re doing Judaism.”
    You know why I’m a fan of “J”, because his comments are intellectually honest, not politically correct and they sting. I’ve been guilty of the very things he’s claiming. And I’m a little embarrassed to admit it. When I was preparing to enter JTS, and hanging out with liberal Jewish folk, they harbored a guilt complex about their “Judaism-by-choice” practice, and removed texts/ideas out of their context to justify their decisions.
    It’s hard to live as an traditional/Orthodox Jew. At this point in my life, I don’t want to. But I tip my hat to those who do.

  19. A little late, but I want to respond to Mobius (comment #13).
    “the talmud is a personal and interpersonal conversation structured in such a way to resurrect our (otherwise feared lost) communal dialogue and our personal dialogue with the divine, enabling us to pull it off the pages and back into our lives. ”
    Source, please? Sorry. As is clear to anyone who studies it, the Talmud is largely a conversation between a small elite group of Rabbis (small considering that they are stretched over the 300 years between 200 CE and 500 CE), the experts of their day. Not between anyone in the community with an agenda. If this seems too elitist for you, you are free to complain about or ignore the Talmud. But don’t misrepresent it.
    “a post-exilic jew is one who lives jewish law in fluid conversation with his fellow, not one who restricts himself to the discourse of his ancestors.”
    Yes. That’s why I greatly appreciate, for example, the writings of Rabbi S.R. Hirsch and others who followed his lead. Your assumption that contemporary discussion must overturn or contradict the previous discourse (rather than add to or illuminate it) is unwarranted and wrong.
    “as kaplan would say, halakha has a vote, not a veto. ”
    Kaplan can (could) do as he wishes. It’s a free country. But if you read the Bible, or Talmud, or Rambam or Shulchan Aruch, it could not be more clear that the rules they discuss are meant to be binding. And this was the understanding of virtually all Jews until the modern era. If you don’t believe halacha is binding, that’s your choice; but don’t tell me that this view is Judaism.
    Now for comment 18:
    “however, should we take the very bare essentials by which jews connect to yiddishkeit, the thread by which they connect to their heritage, throw it back in their faces and call them ignorant fools?”
    I think you have the sequence wrong. After 200 years of every ignoramus with an agenda claiming Judaism for himself and distorting it beyond recognition, it’s entirely proper and constructive to call these people on it and try to set the record straight.
    “none in this generation is capable of giving proper tokhakha. there are better ways of saying, “you have much to learn young skyewalker.”
    Absolutely stunning. Your lack of self-awareness is breathtaking. Just in the last few days alone, you devoted entire posts to severe criticisms of right wingers and Orthodox. Here, let me help you say what you really mean:
    “none in this generation is capable of giving proper tokhakha – EXCEPT ME.”
    And by the way, young Skywalker wasn’t getting in Kenobi’s and Yoda’s faces about how his own ideas about the Force were right, and theirs were outdated and wrong.

  20. Just to weigh in here with a little bit of information…
    I thought the conversation was about a particular term being stretched in a particular way. Mobius didn’t like Rabbi Shafran’s article for two reasons. First, he didn’t like its substance (since it tried to steal back an important value on the Left). Second, he didn’t like its theory, since it was, in his opinion, too fundamentalist ; Mobius wants to reinvent terms, and Shafran allegedly doesn’t.
    Then “J” took issue with both of Mobius’s points. On the former, he noted, correctly, that Mobius didn’t really offer any sources. On the latter, he argued that Judaism isn’t all that flexible after all, and that, at the very least, you have to learn a lot of stuff before you get a seat at the table.
    Lost in the theoretical debate, though, are Rabbi Shafran’s selective quoting and inaccurate representation of Tikkun Olam. True, Maimonides uses the term, but no one, in the academy, the religious world, or anywhere else, uses his iteration of the term — it would be like talking about the Sefer Yetzirah’s “sefirot” instead of the Zohar’s. Everyone (including Rabbi Sacks, in that very good article someone linked to) uses the one that stems from Lurianic Kabbalah, which is roughly about “mending the world.” So, to go back to Maimonides is a bit specious — and Rabbi Shafran obviously knows it. In fact, it’s Rabbi Shafran who displays Mobius’s value of creativity and flexibility.
    For hundreds of years, the creativity and flexibility which Mobius promotes, and “J” decries, have been used on the Right as well as the Left. On the Left, “tikkun olam” is indeed a good example – an obscure Kabbalistic doctrine about mitzvot has been turned into a fundamental norm (which it isn’t) that is about helping the disadvantage (which it also isn’t really). On the Right, the Chatam Sofer’s “Ein Hidush BaTorah” is a good example — the claim that no hiddush is ever permissible, even though for hundreds of years hiddushim were not only permitted but encouraged. Everybody is flexible when they want to be, and rigid that they want to be.
    “J” is certainly correct, though, that you have to pay to play; the Talmud is an elite discourse. Mobius is correct, though, that the Talmudic rabbis themselves were innovators, and left behind a textual tradition that does invite interpretation, minority opinion, etc.
    If one applies the question of “Tikkun Olam” to “J”‘s tests — basis in scripture, respect for precedent, based on good scholarship, etc. — then the Left-wing interpretation certainly passes, and the Right-wing one, though more of a stretch, does too. Really, both fail the test, since Tikkun Olam is itself an innovation, mostly by 16th century Kabbalists.
    Finally, “halacha is binding” is a phrase that admits of multiple meanings. True, the notion is that halacha is binding. However, cases like the prozbul, the ben sorer u’moreh, the gzerot against polygamy, and countless others show that while halacha is binding, precedent is played with so much that to say it’s really binding is a bit misleading. “J” is right that precedent is played with, traditionally, only by experts — but s/he is wrong if s/he suggests that it wasn’t played with at all.
    So then the only question is what qualifies one as an expert. Traditionally, the requirements are being able to poskin on issues of milk and meat, menstrual blood, and/or one other topic which escapes me at the moment — these are the classical Orthodox criteria for becoming a rabbi. Most responsible rabbis also require more “humanistic” qualities as well, but those are the formal ones.
    I think what Mobius is really objecting to here is the authoritarian model in general, because it offends his deeply-held anti-authoritarian beliefs. That is, indeed, the interesting difference between Mobius and “J” as regards the Jewish tradition and where it stands on that issue. As Mobius learns more about, e.g., the period of the Shoftim and how Chazal preferred that period (despite all the chaos) to that of monarchy, and things like that, then he’ll be able better to play the same game of finding within Jewish tradition the sources that support his view… maybe even as well as Rabbi Shafran, one day.

  21. Source, please? Sorry. As is clear to anyone who studies it, the Talmud is largely a conversation between a small elite group of Rabbis (small considering that they are stretched over the 300 years between 200 CE and 500 CE), the experts of their day. Not between anyone in the community with an agenda. If this seems too elitist for you, you are free to complain about or ignore the Talmud. But don’t misrepresent it.
    you’re completely missing my point. the oral tradition was very much a folk tradition until it was written down. i’m not disputing the fact that the talmud was written by the most esteemed and learned members of the community. what i’m saying that it was not intended to be written down as a final statement on the law of the jewish people. it was written to keep the elements of our oral tradition alive so that we can retain our connection to our heritage and one another as a people in exile. the shulchan aruch is also preceded with the warning that it should never be written down but that fear of our traditions’ loss in exile necessitated it. the point of learning jewish law is to keep the discourse, the conversation about the law alive. to keep the process of legal reasoning going. to keep not just the traditions themselves alive, but the tradition of examining the traditions alive. it is not intended to lock us into the past, but to keep us moving forward.
    Your assumption that contemporary discussion must overturn or contradict the previous discourse (rather than add to or illuminate it) is unwarranted and wrong.
    i never said that at all. what did i write? “nobody said there weren’t margins. no one said that there isn’t a framework. you bring an argument for reinvention to push the values of the tradition forward — to actualize them — not to throw them away.” a friend suggested i use the word “translation” as opposed to “reinvention.” we’re translating the concept so as to be relevant to the modern paradigm.
    your dispute is, i don’t know enough about judaism to translate anything. i would say i never proclaimed myself to be an expert, but i’m certainly not ignorant and i’m certainly doing my research.
    But if you read the Bible, or Talmud, or Rambam or Shulchan Aruch, it could not be more clear that the rules they discuss are meant to be binding. And this was the understanding of virtually all Jews until the modern era. If you don’t believe halacha is binding, that’s your choice; but don’t tell me that this view is Judaism.
    and that’s where i think you’re wrong. there is no one halakha. there have always been pathways through halakha. there have always been different communities and individuals practicing things differently. there have always been sects and movements splitting off from one another on major halakhic issues. jewish practice has become, in some circles, more restrictive than it’s ever been, and in other circles, freer than it’s ever been, and i think that, all throughout jewish history, there has been that pulling in both directions. halakha is only as binding as the community feels bound to it. some eat kitniyot, some don’t.
    I think you have the sequence wrong. After 200 years of every ignoramus with an agenda claiming Judaism for himself and distorting it beyond recognition, it’s entirely proper and constructive to call these people on it and try to set the record straight.
    the orthodox have been doing the same thing for longer than 200 years.
    “Lamenting the state of hasidic Judaism in Poland, The Yehudi once spoke to R’ Bunim, saying, ‘I thought to myself, after Moses there came the Judges; and after the Judges there came the Prophets; and afterwards the Men of the Great Assembly; and after them the Tanayim, the Amorayim, and the Poskim. And afterwards were those who reproved for the sake of heaven; and then that degenerated and there were many reprovers for the sake of heaven. And then that degenerated for there were many reprovers who were not genuine. And afterwards came the Rebbes. And therefore I’m groaning for I see that that too will degenerate — and what will the Jewish people do?’
    Absolutely stunning. Your lack of self-awareness is breathtaking. Just in the last few days alone, you devoted entire posts to severe criticisms of right wingers and Orthodox. Here, let me help you say what you really mean:
    go back and look at the posts. how often do i insert an opinion and how often do i just present the articles and let them speak for themselves? in the case of the jib post, i asked a question: which is a more effective form of israel advocacy, screaming for arab blood or accepting responsibility for our hand in this mess?
    And by the way, young Skywalker wasn’t getting in Kenobi’s and Yoda’s faces about how his own ideas about the Force were right, and theirs were outdated and wrong.
    i don’t get in people’s faces. maybe kelsey does. that’s his thing. i post articles. you don’t like the articles i think are important enough to post. then you back me into the corner of defending the articles or my reasons for posting the article which you generally presume because its rare that i interject my own opinion.
    in this post i asked a simple question, knowing full well that shafran’s entire thing doesn’t matter at all because bush isn’t a jewish king seated over a sovereign israel. the question was, if a king has a record of misleading the public, can he be entrusted with carrying out extrajudicial executions? is that tikkun olam? i think that’s a fair question ask.
    then i said, traditionally, haven’t we always taken things that originally meant something very different, and then reworked them to mean something new? and then i provided a case of that: lo b’shamayim hi. moshe says the law is not in heaven, the law is here in your hands, in this torah which i gave you. and before that he says, do not deviate to the left or the right from any of the commandmants i enjoin upon you this day. and then in the case of achnai’s oven, eliezer says, “the law” (which he takes from the torah) “is this!” and that bat kol says, “yes, he is right!” and the rabbeim say, “lo bashamayim hi! it’s in our hands!” and they invoke that to bypass what is clear from the torah. and this is a constant theme in the case of reb eliezer who is constantly berated for not being innovative and inventive with torah and “making it his own.” they looked down on him because he was great at teaching other people’s material but never came up with his own torah.
    now, you’re saying, “you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. shut up. you don’t have a place from which to talk.”
    you never once for a moment engaged the texts i brought up. you brushed them off. you ignored them. instead, you sidelined the torah i raised to tell me i don’t know torah.
    now which of my original two points is a statement that what orthodox people believe is outdated or wrong? which of those points is not entirely predicated on legitimate torah? which of those points is being misrepresented?
    i asked questions about halakha, and you took a big shit on me.

  22. I think it is important to note that:
    A) Bush is goyim.
    B) While Bush might think otherwise, the U.S. Constitution is crystal clear that the executive is NOT A KING.
    C) Whatever ancient texts may say, the U.S. Constitution is also clear that the executive cannot choose which laws it follows and which it does (any more than you or I can).
    Given the glaring false analogy presented to justify his point, it is very difficult to take what the writer says with anything less than a pound of salt.

  23. Baron Yakov brings up some interesting points, some I agree with, some I don’t. Clearly, there’s much more to say about these topics; we could fill books, and I’m not sure if the readership would find it interesting. But here goes…
    First, bear in mind that regarding innovation in Judaism, there are dozens of opinions WITHIN Orthodoxy alone, and dozens without. I wrote in very general terms in order to refute Mobius’ statements. So general, in fact, that pretty much the entire Orthodox spectrum, and a great many Conservatives, could agree. Within this generality, I have my own opinions, and they aren’t always those of R. Shafran.
    “On the latter, he argued that Judaism isn’t all that flexible after all, and that, at the very least, you have to learn a lot of stuff before you get a seat at the table.”
    Actually, no, I went out of my way to minimize the amount of knowledge needed to participate in the debate. I listed very specific research items. It’s not my intention to lock out the entire Jewish people from the discussion outside of a handfull of experts; however, a bare minimum of knowledge is of course required.
    “Lost in the theoretical debate, though, are Rabbi Shafran’s selective quoting and inaccurate representation of Tikkun Olam. True, Maimonides uses the term, but no one, in the academy, the religious world, or anywhere else, uses his iteration of the term — it would be like talking about the Sefer Yetzirah’s “sefirot” instead of the Zohar’s.”
    Rabbi Shafran mentioned the Kabbalistic use of “Tikkun Olam” in his article. He didn’t deny what you’re saying here. He simply found it odd that one of the major uses of the term was employed by a major source as coming down on the opposite side of the ‘progressives’ who so love to talk about Tikkun Olam. I think you are fundamentally (oops!) misreading the Shafran article. He’s not building a serious case that Tikkun Olam definitely supports Bush’s policies and opposes those of the ‘Progressives’. More like a tweak of the Left’s presumption and ignorance.
    “For hundreds of years, the creativity and flexibility which Mobius promotes, and “J” decries, have been used on the Right as well as the Left.”
    It’s not nearly that simple. It’s not “creativity” and “flexibility” per se that I have a problem with. It’s creativity without basis (or even reference, beyond superficial semantics) in what came before, and/or creativity that contradicts what came before. It’s “flexibility” that doesn’t just bend, but breaks.
    “On the Right, the Chatam Sofer’s “Ein Hidush BaTorah” is a good example — the claim that no hiddush is ever permissible, even though for hundreds of years hiddushim were not only permitted but encouraged. ”
    That’s not an example. Name your examples of hiddushim on the right. (Also note that the Chatam Sofer means something very specific by “hiddushim”, and that not every Orthodox authority would agree.)
    “Everybody is flexible when they want to be, and rigid that they want to be.”
    That’s pretty far-reaching and cynical. And you haven’t made a case for it. Some examples, please.
    “Mobius is correct, though, that the Talmudic rabbis themselves were innovators, and left behind a textual tradition that does invite interpretation, minority opinion, etc.”
    The extent of the innovation has of course been heavily argued, and a person’s view on this subject will be heavily dependent on which denomination the person belongs to. However, innovation based on a political agenda with a small fig-leaf of traditional terms by people ignorant of the tradition is outside the scope of the innovations of the Talmudic rabbis.
    “If one applies the question of “Tikkun Olam” to “J”’s tests — basis in scripture, respect for precedent, based on good scholarship, etc. — then the Left-wing interpretation certainly passes, and the Right-wing one, though more of a stretch, does too.”
    What exactly is the “right-wing” one? And how would the Rambam’s view be a stretch?
    “True, the notion is that halacha is binding. However, cases like the prozbul, the ben sorer u’moreh, the gzerot against polygamy, and countless others show that while halacha is binding, precedent is played with so much that to say it’s really binding is a bit misleading. “J” is right that precedent is played with, traditionally, only by experts — but s/he is wrong if s/he suggests that it wasn’t played with at all. ”
    Again, the extent of the “playing” is part of the difference between the denominations. But regardless, the question of the extent to which precedent can be modified is separate and distinct from the question of whether halacha is binding (or does prozbul bother you so much that the entire system becomes disqualified?).
    “So then the only question is what qualifies one as an expert. Traditionally, the requirements are being able to poskin on issues of milk and meat, menstrual blood, and/or one other topic which escapes me at the moment — these are the classical Orthodox criteria for becoming a rabbi. Most responsible rabbis also require more “humanistic” qualities as well, but those are the formal ones. ”
    Those are the criteria for obtaining smicha, yes, but I don’t think any Jewish community would consider that minimal level adequate to decide on major issues. Probably the minimum to decide major issues would be knowledge of the entire Talmud with major commentaries and the Shulchan Aruch, along with expertise (or diligent research) in the topic at hand.
    “I think what Mobius is really objecting to here is the authoritarian model in general, because it offends his deeply-held anti-authoritarian beliefs. That is, indeed, the interesting difference between Mobius and “J” as regards the Jewish tradition and where it stands on that issue.”
    That’s an overblown distinction. Is it “authoritarian” to insist on a minimal level of knowledge? And if the traditional view of Judaism supported Mobius’ beliefs, would he be complaining about authoritarianism?
    “As Mobius learns more about, e.g., the period of the Shoftim and how Chazal preferred that period (despite all the chaos) to that of monarchy, and things like that, then he’ll be able better to play the same game of finding within Jewish tradition the sources that support his view… maybe even as well as Rabbi Shafran, one day. ”
    I don’t see how a preference for the Shoftim over the King (degree of POLITICAL authoritarianism) lines up with a preference for RELIGIOUS anarchy over knowledge and precedent-based expertise. And again, that’s a very cynical statement. Do you really believe that ANY view can be as equally supported in the tradition as any other view?

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