Healing an Injured Phrase

You may also like...

22 Responses

  1. Chaim Cohen says:

    Rabbi Shafran, in his convenient and self-serving interpretation of Tikkun Olam, engages in the same sophistry as the targets of his critique.

    Apparently we agree that all branches of Judaism believe themselves to be the carrier of the true traditions of our forefathers. Rabbi Shafran from his corner of the universe and our more secular minded brethren from theirs.

    So long as Rabbi Shafran and his ilk refrain from their indefensible posture of exclusive truth, we can all agree to coexist in peace and harmony. After all there is room for much and varied Tikkun Olam.

    As our sages used to say after an unresolved heated debate in which the opposing sides firmly believe in the sole truth of their position, “ailu v’ailu divrei elokim chaim.”

    Rabbi Shafran, its time for tolerance and a return to your true religious roots.

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    I disagree with R Cohen. No, Tikun Olam is refered to in no less than a statement of faith than the
    Aleinu prayer which is said daily and in as august a prayer as the Mussaf of Rosh HaShanah to state
    that our goal in observing all of the mitzvos is to magnify G-d’s presence as the King of the world.
    However, I think that it is wrong to state that the Torah reflects either a perspective that is either exclusively liberal or
    conservative. One can find arguments pro and con in Dinei Shmitah vYovel and much of Seder Nezikin ranging from compensation
    of injured persons to civil and criminal procedure to the corruption of the judicial system.

  3. Leapa says:

    Mr. Cohen:
    Rabbi Shafran makes the entirely legitimate point that, as in most Talmudic, scriptural and indeed Jewish phraseology, there is a precise and definable meeting to specific phrases.
    Feel-good pop psychology has its’ place, perhaps in Hollywood or among the leisure classes.
    However, exposing the intellectual hijacking of technical terms is not sophistry. It is the advance of truth and education.
    The route to peace and harmony is the closeness which comes from common definitions – of words and ultimately of right and wrong.
    We can tolerate well intentioned people who cannot accept the yoke of a Jewish lifestyle more easily than conscious diversion of truth for less than pure goals.

  4. Aaron says:

    “Chaim Cohen”, (no, I don’t believe that your real name), what exactly is wrong with believing what you believe is the truth. Every religion believes they have the truth. I just depends what you want to do to everyone else that defines tolerance. Just answer one question, do you believe messianic Jews deserve your tolerance as ‘elu v’elu’ or not, and why.

  5. Chaim Baker says:

    I’m curious about something. Chaim Cohen calls for tolerance on the part of Rabbi Shafran.
    Personally, I didn’t see anything particularly non-tolerant in the Rabbi’s article.
    However, I’ve always wondered. Is it just me, or does anyone else find the term ‘his ilk’
    somewhat less than tolerant, perhaps even, offensive?

  6. Seth Gordon says:

    Rabbi Shafran appears to be saying, in short, that (a) Reform Jews do not understand technical terms used in the Oral Law, and (b) the Torah grants more power to a Jewish king than the legislatures and judiciaries of many contemporary countries will grant to their own chief executives.

    I look forward to the rabbi’s next learned treatise explaining that (a) the Pope is Catholic, and (b) the sun rises in the east.

  7. Yaakov Menken says:

    [Update: I had a comment here which responded somewhat sharply to my misunderstanding of Seth’s point. My apologies to Seth and to readers, as I completely misunderstood — not that he was being sarcastic, but what it was that he was being sarcastic about.]

  8. Michoel says:

    Come to think of it “ailu v’ailu divrei elokim chaim” is another injured phrase in need of healing. The fact that there can be many valid interpretations does not mean that ALL interpretations are valid.

  9. DMZ says:

    I guess Chaim Cohen believes we must ALL believe in pluralism. But, you know what? No one actually believes in pluralism, at least in my experience. Every Jewish movement takes the opportunity to beat down on everyone not like them. I mean, it’s obvious from the tone of his very post that he dislikes people of R’ Shafran’s “ilk”. What happened to love and tolerance?

    -DMZ

  10. Chaim Cohen says:

    Leapa: My point in suggesting Rabbi Shafran engages in sophistry is similar to yours. If Tikkun Olam is not a basic tenet of our religion but has instead been adopted by those wishing to cloak their mission in the garb of the Torah, than Shafran is as guilty as they are. Indeed, he and his ilk (yup, that word again) do so with a regularity. Many of their proclamations are issued claiming divine origin when they are in fact weak or distorted interpretations of custom by unqualified individuals merely interested in the perpetuation of their self-interests. Can we agree that improving the human condition while “waving Tikkun Olam like a flag” is in fact a wonderful kiddush hashem?

    Aaron: So you object to my pseudonym? I have no problem with yours. While true that absolute truth is a credo of many religions and movements, I ask you to look at the results of this belief system (e.g. the Crusades, Nazis and of late the Taliban and Bin Ladenism were all bearers of the absolute truth.) Orthodox Judaism has many factions believing themselves the sole purveyors of the “truth” to the exclusion of their neighbors. Are you suggesting this is acceptable? Which leads us to your last point; I too have serious reservations over the bona fides of Shabbateans, the followers of Chabad-Lubavitch and Ger and would point out that the more exclusionary we get, the more we look like them.

    Finally, in response to those who accuse me of intolerance due largely to my “ilk” tic, I confess that I am intolerant. However, unlike Rabbi Shafran and his ilk (oops), I limit my intolerance to an intolerance of intolerance.

  11. Aaron says:

    So, Chaim, you do believe there are movements in Judaism that don’t speak the truth, and ‘eilu v’eilu’ doesn’t apply to them. Ipso facto, according to you, you are intolerant. Or are you the sole decider of who is intolerant? By the way, when is the next crusade being led by those violent, intolerant Orthodox Jews? I’m getting bored here in my office.

  12. Debbie says:

    I believe that Chaim is not angry about this post but already came with a bias that people who are “to the right” are fanatics and are automatically exclusionary.

    The post was only pointing out the “traditional” definition of Tikkun Olam according to the sages of the Talmud, the author of the Aleinu prayer, and Maimonides (all of whom I highly doubt were unqualified individuals with an agenda).

    Tikkun Olam was a great kiddush Hashem when it was combined with the mitzvah of Tzedaka. But when you take the term and twist it to be used for things totally unrelated to mitzvahs there is a perversion of the definition.

    But languages and meanings of words change with time and perhaps that is just what has happened with the term Tikkun Olam. As has already happened with Mitzvos (any good deed vs when it is traditionally meant commandments from Hashem), Kosher (anything that is appropriate vs things appropriate under Hashem’s commandments), and of course Kabballah (something any person can learn and follow vs some mystical book that only people knowladgeable about Judaic studies and is old enough to have sufficient life experiences should undertake).

    These changes from the original definitions could be viewed as bad or they might be good. But you can not deny that they are not the original meanings.

  13. DovBear says:

    Rabbi Shafran fails to remember two things (aside from the rather obvious details about George Bush being neither Jewish nor a king.)

    First, a Jewish King was given this great power, because he was imagined to be the Pure and Humble Servant of God. His presumed goodness, and loyalty to the Torah was meant to function as a check on his power. An American president is entitled to no such presumption of Goodness, which is why the Founders imposed serious checks on his power. Second, as the Book of Kings dramitically demonstrates the king who is also a Pure and Humble Servant of God is a chimera. He never existed, not even when the Temple stood.

    Rabbi Shafran argument is no good not because Bush is bad, or because the Rambam was wrong, but because the King who was worthy of the power Shafran wishes Bush to have, has never in human history existed.

  14. Bob Miller says:

    It’s not our duty to tolerate fiction dressed up as truth. Some healthy intolerance has kept Judaism from being swept away altogether by inauthentic movements that were popular in their time. The decay of our general Jewish society caused by such movements, whether these meant well or not, is all around us. We should be at least as judgmental about activists who purport to fix society as we are about car mechanics and plumbers.

  15. Ari says:

    Amen, Debbie – good post.

  16. DMZ says:

    “Can we agree that improving the human condition while “waving Tikkun Olam like a flag” is in fact a wonderful kiddush hashem?”

    Improving the world is indeed a wonderful Kiddush Hashem. Distorting traditional Jewish thought and history (which is what casually redefining Tikkun Olam is) is not. Debbie’s really brings this point out. This isn’t an either-or situation – just find a new phrase for it.

    “While true that absolute truth is a credo of many religions and movements, I ask you to look at the results of this belief system (e.g. the Crusades, Nazis and of late the Taliban and Bin Ladenism were all bearers of the absolute truth.)”

    It turns out the Nazis, crusaders, and radical Islamists also:
    1. Eat
    2. Sleep
    3. Breathe

    I think you know my point, which is that correlation is not causation. Comparing your fellow Jews (of any stripe!) to these groups is stunningly insensitive, and you really should be ashamed of yourself. Indeed, the problem was not that they thought they held absolute truth – it was that their absolute truths had no room for anyone else. This is, of course, diametrically opposed to any Jewish thought I’m aware of, which accepts the presence of non-Jews in this world as almost necessity.

    As for your pseudonym, I think you’re just a coward hiding behind the anonymity the Internet provides so your constant slander of Orthodoxy doesn’t actually impact your real life. Not all of us are cowards – see below.

    -David Michael Zakar (http://david.zakar.com)

  17. Edvallace says:

    “Indeed, the problem was not that they thought they held absolute truth – it was that their absolute truths had no room for anyone else. This is, of course, diametrically opposed to any Jewish thought I’m aware of, which accepts the presence of non-Jews in this world as almost necessity.”

    Very well put!

  18. Seth Gordon says:

    [DMZ:] Improving the world is indeed a wonderful Kiddush Hashem. Distorting traditional Jewish thought and history (which is what casually redefining Tikkun Olam is) is not.

    So when you hear someone refer to a cheeseburger or a ham sandwich as “treyf”, do you rebuke them for redefining treyfah?

  19. Alexander says:

    Shafran’s objection is one of semantics. Perhaps he is right that saving the enviroment is not a “tikun olam” in the original sense, but so what? That’s not an argument against saving the enviroment. It’s just an argument for calling it something else, which is a very trivial argument indeed.

    Furthermore, where is his argument against the Kabbalists of Sefad? According to the Mishna and the bit of Maimonides he cites tikun olam means to protect the world from evil, but the Kabbalists took it to mean imbuing the world with holiness. These aren’t the same thing.

  20. DMZ says:

    “So when you hear someone refer to a cheeseburger or a ham sandwich as “treyf”, do you rebuke them for redefining treyfah?”

    No, but I probably should, considering how few people seem to know the origin of the word. “Not kosher” suffices just fine.

    -DMZ

  21. DP says:

    with all the comments here on chaim cohen’s post and the nature of what rabbi shafran wrote about, i’m really surprised no one picked up on one particularly ironic phrase: “all branches of Judaism believe themselves to be the carrier of the true traditions of our forefathers.”

    i wholeheartedly respect the pride our fellow jews have for upholding the traditions of their forefathers. we all want to be in sync with what came before and this is part of what makes klal yisrael so unique – the spiritual magnet implanted within each neshama that yearns to be connected just won’t let go that easily. and while time marches on and we find ourselves in new worlds within each successive generation, we are challenged to find meaning within new scenarios and changing realities…the truth is that anyone who wants to believe that they can remake judaism, as as we each travel down our separate paths, and refashion it in their own image was granted the right to this belief by virtue of free will (bechira). but engaging in this pursuit, and then calling myself a “carrier of the true traditions of our forefathers” would mark me as either really misinformed about the original material, or perhaps really deluded. our forefathers, as a united whole, were orthodox. yes, of course there were always those whose observance slipped from the optimal (just as “even” none of us – the orthodox today – are perfect), but they were still orthodox. (see lawrence kelemen’s excellent piece re this in jewish action summer 1999 entitled TRACING THE TREE OF LIFE)..)

    “halacha” (law), “mesora” (tradition) and “emes” (truth), like “tikun olam”, actually have real meanings. they are not subjective terms. “tikkun olam” begins with “tikkun atzmi” – changing myself. only once i’ve effected change within myself can i hope for change in the larger world around me. remaking or reinventing torah concepts around what i want to see happen – changing the standards, the qualifiers, and the rules – just doesn’t cut it, unfortunately. and doing this and then thinking we’re carrying on the traditions of our forefathers – well…

  22. 4jkb4ia says:

    Rabbi Shafran is correct. Tikkun Olam is not in and of itself a mitzvah. The liberal use of “tikkun olam” can be reduced to the pursuit of justice instead. I looked up the section on Luria’s use of the phrase tikkun in Scholem and found the interesting statements that Luria finds the most important expression of tikkun olam to be prayer, kavanah, and the unification of the name of G-d. That said, DovBear is 100% right.

Pin It on Pinterest