Throughout the west, the left has a big problem with Israel. This much is well established.
In America, the Jewish community has a big problem with galloping assimilation, intermarriage and the steady abandonment of Judaism by its children. This much is also now all too obvious.
What’s less appreciated is the extent to which the two are symbiotically linked, and the disturbing implications of how that link works.
It’s not just that so many Jews are leaving the faith. It’s not just that the loss of connection to Judaism produces in addition a loss of connection to Israel or even hostility towards it.
Far worse, so many Jews, particularly in America, are turning against not just the state of Israel but Judaism too – surreally, in the name of Judaism itself.
This astonishing state of affairs has been analysed in barnstorming detail by Jonathan Neumann in his recently published book, To Heal the World.
The fact that so many American Jews are on the “progressive” side of politics – some 70 per cent vote Democrat – is of course nothing new.
The American thinker Norman Podhoretz wrote an entire book asking Why Are Jews Liberals? (the title surely should have been instead Why Are American [ital American] Jews Liberals?).
Their watchword is the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam. Loosely translated as “repair of the world,” this has become synonymous with “social justice” and is the leitmotif of American Jewish liberals.
In his book, Podhoretz described how the Jews who came to America from eastern Europe got involved in labor activism and radical politics, thus effectively converting from Judaism to Marxism.
Neumann’s devastating insight is that the social justice movement has reversed this process. “Tikkun olam is not about turning Jews into Marxists. It’s about rebranding Marxism as Judaism.”
As Neumann has it, American Jews have been led to believe that “the purpose of the Jews in the world is to campaign for higher taxes, sexual permissiveness, reduced military spending, illegal immigration, opposition to fracking, the banishment of religion from the public square and every other liberal cause under the sun – all in the name of God”.
As he asks: “Isn’t it just a little bit incredible for the teachings of the ancient faith of Judaism to happen to comprise without exception the agenda of the liberal wing of today’s Democratic Party?”
Incredible indeed – because it isn’t true. Remorselessly, Neumann charts the way in which progressive American rabbis have grossly misinterpreted or distorted the ancient faith of Judaism, both its religious texts and rabbinic sources, in order to claim falsely that maxims which are in fact hostile to Jewish precepts represent Jewish moral and ethical teaching.
Everything about tikkun olam as social justice is bogus. The phrase doesn’t mean what the Jewish left says it means – and “social justice” is neither just nor very social.
Neumann is not the first to point out that the apparent origin of tikkun olam in the mystical “aleinu” prayer has been fundamentally misrepresented. In the context of that prayer, it is the Almighty himself in whom hope is invested to “perfect the world under the kingdom of God.”
In other words, tikkun olam isn’t the province of man at all; it is instead the work of God. The Jewish social justice warriors would therefore appear to have replaced God by man. Far from giving practical application to Judaism, then, they are repudiating it from the start.
Neumann’s dense analysis of Jewish sources to show how these have been misused has been criticized as inaccurate by some of the Jewish leftists he has targeted. Regardless of these scholarly disputes, his argument that the social causes claiming the mantle of tikkun olam are in fact a repudiation of Judaism – owing more to Marxism, moral relativism and paganism – is overwhelming.
THE PRINCIPAL value of Judaism is justice itself (with compassion a close second). Contemporary “social” justice, however, hijacks the word and evacuates it of meaning.
For what it boils down to is group “rights” which fragment society into interest groups fighting each other for power and privilege and using bullying, smears and intimidation to do so; “victim culture” under which certain approved groups claim victim status which gives them a free pass for their own bad deeds; and giving everyone the right to identical outcomes regardless of their own behavior or circumstances.
In other words, “social justice” is all about self-interest and takes an axe to responsibility, duty and social order. It is therefore inimical to Judaism.
Neumann’s book prompts one further question. Why has tikkun olam become such a feature of Jewish life in America but not in Britain (or anywhere else, for that matter)? To put it another way, the question is not just why so many American Jews are liberals but why they have now become so determined to make liberalism Jewish.
The answer lies perhaps in the fact that, over the past few decades, liberalism has itself mutated into its own antithesis. Far from enshrining personal morality, it has been hijacked by Marxism which stands for the absolute negation of morality – a transformation which, in suitably Orwellian manner, liberals now call “social justice.”
There is thus an absolute head-on confrontation between Judaism and Marxist “social justice.” And so, in order to resolve this crisis, American Jews for whom secular liberalism is their real religion have branded social justice tikkun olam – and thus rebranded Marxism as Judaism.
As a result, they are also turning not only anti-Zionism but also anti-Judaism into Judaism, thus frying the brains of American Jewish children.
This has now become an existential crisis for American Jews, and by extension a threat to the entire Jewish world.The writer is a columnist for The Times (UK)
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