Sunday, April 04, 2010

The "Social Justice" Fetish of Assimilated Jewish Liberals

Social Justice Fetishism

By: Steven Plaut

            Liberal Jews have invented the myth that Judaism is a synonym for the pursuit of "social justice."

On Internet search engines, the combination of the terms "Judaism" and "social justice" yields a considerably greater number of web-page hits than a search for "Judaism" and "kosher" or "Judaism" and "Passover," and nearly all of these are Internet sites proclaiming the quest for "social justice" as the essence of Jewish ethics. Many of the websites are, unsurprisingly, associated with Reform and Conservative synagogues or organizations.
But is social justice really the essence of Judaism? It would be an exaggeration, but only a small one, to say that nothing in Judaism directs us to the pursuit of social (as opposed to judicial) justice. It is therefore an absurdity to claim that social justice is somehow synonymous with Judaism and even the essence thereof.  Social Justice refers to "justice" among economic and social GROUPS of people within society, such as when it comes to distribution of wealth and income among such groups.  Ordinary justice refers to courts and to relations between individuals in their day-to-day behavior.
Like those old advertisements about Levy's rye bread, you don't have to be Jewish to pursue social justice. Christians, Muslims, Hindus and atheists are just as capable of caring about social justice and pursuing it as are Jews. Moreover, pursuing social-action fads is hardly the same thing as pursuing justice.   Murder is considered wrong by all religious traditions and in all strands of secularist humanist philosophy. So who needs Judaism to teach us that murder is unjust? And if Judaism is simply a quest for "social" justice, would not a gentile who pursues it be practicing the essence of Judaism? In that case, intermarriage between a Jew and a socially concerned gentile would not be intermarriage at all, since in essence they practice the same religion.
          As it turns out, the Torah clearly decrees capital punishment for murderers. Yet to the extent that the issue is addressed at all by Jewish practitioners of social justice fetishism, one would think Judaism unambiguously condemns capital punishment. One would be hard pressed to find a single synagogue social action committee promoting the death penalty.
A major problem with social action fetishism is that it refuses to acknowledge the tradeoffs involved in real-world choices over issues of social justice. In the name of social justice, should Jews be siding with the Ossetians against the Georgians or with the Georgians against the Russians? Or if subsidizing ethanol reduces American import dependence on carbon fuels but causes grain and food prices to rise, is the subsidization socially just or socially unjust?
Practitioners of social justice fetishism do not want to be bothered with such complications; they seek instant moral gratification, effortless armchair recreational compassion. Studying cost-benefit analysis would be such a distraction.
The Torah does, of course, attach considerable importance to justice - court justice. In fact, the requirement to operate a functional legal and judicial system is one of the commandments to Noah according to Jewish understanding and so obligates all gentile societies.
But social justice generally concerns the relationships between groups of people in society and concentrates on collective economic well-being and power. In this narrow sense, Jewish ethical teaching has little if anything to say about group social justice. Indeed, the proper understanding of tikkun olam, that mantra recited senselessly and obsessively by all Jewish practitioners of social justice fetishism, has nothing at all to do with social justice.
The only mention of tikkun olam in traditional Jewish prayer has to do with the eradication of pagan idolatry from the world. More generally, one can squeeze under the notional umbrella of tikkun olam the demand that courts do their work properly.
This point cannot be stressed enough. Justice in Judaism, be it social or not, means mainly that courts function well and fairly. But courts only function well when they ignore group social considerations altogether. The Torah explicitly warns judges against favoring a poor individual over a rich one out of any sense of misplaced compassion.
And while judges are commanded to protect orphans and widows, they are instructed to do so by applying the laws to them without bias. Poor people do not get to dodge their legal obligations - paying debts, restoring property, etc. - because of some affirmative action-type preference on their behalf.
As for economic "discrimination" and income disparities, under Judaism these are none of the court's business. The Torah deals with income disparity by requiring the giving of tzedakah, or charity, and the economic inequities that concern Judaism are internal Jewish ones. Jews are required by Judaism to look after other Jews living in hardship. Jews of course are not prohibited from helping out non-Jews in economic distress, but they are not religiously obligated to do so.
            I suppose one could argue that there is socially utilitarian merit to the charity-related commandments - i.e., giving charity contributes to a more harmonious society by reducing resentment and jealousy. But that is a modern sociological gloss. Charity is obligatory because it is the good thing to do. True wealth, the Talmud tells us, is being satisfied with your lot in life and not coveting your neighbor's Porsche.
As for group entitlements in the name of social justice, according to the Torah the primary groups entitled to collective allotments and wealth-sharing are the Levites and the priests. Converts to Judaism are often mentioned as a group deserving compassionate treatment and consideration, but specifically as it concerns their feeding themselves (alongside the poor or destitute) from fields owned by Jews and being treated fairly in courts of law.
One can just imagine how Moses would react were he to hear modern practitioners of social justice fetishism touting as "Jewish social justice" affirmative action programs that discriminate against Jews through quotas and reduced standards.

And since Moses was known to have a sharp temper, I do not suggest anyone try going back in time to ask him his thoughts on gay marriage.





The Rise Of Tikkun Olam Paganism

By: Steven Plaut

Date: Thursday, January 23 2003

I have long had a pet peeve about the vulgar misuse and distortion of the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam (repair of the world) by assimilationist Jewish liberals in the United States and elsewhere.

Elements of American Jewry have fallen captive to what can only be described as Tikkun Olam Paganism. Tikkun Olam Pagans are people who misrepresent Judaism as nothing more and nothing less than the pursuit of the liberal social action political agenda, all in the name of a suitably misrepresented Tikkun Olam.

Tikkun Olam is the banner waved by the countless "social action" committees at synagogues across America and in other liberal Jewish circles in support of liberal-leftist causes, including some that are harmful to Jews and some that are just plain wacky.

The Tikkun Olam Pagans' pseudo-religion consists of the following reductionist

"theological" foundations:

1. Judaism in its entirety is essentially the advocacy and promotion of social justice.

2. Tikkun Olam means pursuit of peace, environmentalism and economic equality.

3. Justice, peace and equality are synonymous with this week's PC liberal-leftist political fads.

Ipso facto, all of Judaism is reduced to the pursuit of being a nice liberal. Now, as it turns out, each one of the propositions listed above is totally false.

This Judaism-as-Liberalism form of reductionism is extremely common in the Reform synagogue (especially its misnamed Religious Action Center) and is universal in the Reconstructionist movement. It is popular among many Conservative Jews and even has its Orthodox advocates.

A search for the term Tikkun Olam on the Internet will show you how near-universal is the equating of this concept with liberal "social activism." Even the far-left anti-Israel magazine Tikkun, published by "Rabbi" Michael Lerner, has misnamed itself after the concept. Indeed Tikkun magazine has even advocated the use of illegal psychedelic drugs by Jews and demanded that Jews understand Osama bin Laden's "pain, " all in the name of Tikkun Olam.

The equation of Tikkun Olam with liberal political activism is so commonplace that it is recited as ethical basis by many of the same liberal "social activists" who cannot recite the Shema prayer correctly, who practice no Jewish ritual, and have no idea of what any other concepts are in Judaism. For a nice laugh, ask some of these people to explain even one basic Jewish concept other than Tikkun Olam.

But a clarification is in order. Tikkun Olam does indeed play an important role in Jewish theology and ethics, but its meaning is nothing like that understood by the Tikkun Olam Pagans. Tikkun Olam, the "correcting" of the universe, has little if anything to do with things like social inequality, environmental cleanliness, and distribution of wealth and jobs. Rather, it refers to the Messianic era when G-d's laws will replace human laws, when G-d himself will be the acknowledged earthly ruler, when all forms of idolatry will cease and all will turn their hearts to the One G-d.

In other words, Tikkun Olam is a theological notion and not a trendy socioeconomic or political one. Tikkun Olam is mentioned in a major place in the Aleinu prayer that closes all prayer sessions, but again it is conjunction with the wish to see idolatry and paganism erased from the earth. There is no mention of "social justice" or environmentalist issues, no gun control proposals and no AIDS marches. This will no doubt come as a rude surprise to Jewish assimilationist liberals.

It is all the more ironic that Tikkun Olam is dredged up as underpinning for some forms of "activism" that are themselves little more than idolatry, such as the worshiping of trees, whales and nature in the name of "Eco-Judaism" by some radical Jewish environmentalists.

Even if one believed a certain amount of "social justice" could be squeezed under the Tikkun Olam theological umbrella, this would hardly justify the hijacking of the concept as artillery support for the liberal-leftist political agenda. At most, Tikkun Olam can only be conscripted as support for liberal social activism if one believes that this activism really promotes social justice. If it does promote social justice, then the incantations regarding Tikkun Olam are superfluous -- the "causes" are justified on their own merits.

But does anyone today seriously believe that liberals and leftists only promote causes that are "socially just" and moral? Suppressing school choice and supporting Palestinian terrorism, affirmative action apartheid, and many other liberal causes promotes injustice and immoral outcomes.

The real issue is whether or not liberal political fads promote justice and peace and morality. And the only way to settle that question is to debate these "causes" analytically and on their own merits: Tikkun Olam has nothing to do with it.

Analytic debate of course would require some training and study of social science, policy analysis, cost-benefits accounting, and history, and liberal poseurs are far too lazy for all that, preferring effortless ethical posturing and recreational compassion. They are much too busy patting themselves on their ethical backs.

To emphasize these points, let us state what is not covered under the heading of Tikkun Olam:

1. There is nothing in the Torah concept of Tikkun Olam that can justify government programs that take people's private wealth and property away from them to help the poor. There is of course a Jewish religious precept requiring charity for the poor -- at least 10% of one's income in two years out of seven, but never to exceed 20% of one's wealth even if one is feeling ultra-compassionate. This charity, however, is privatized welfare and generosity, never state-run confiscation of property in the name of doing good. There seems to be rabbinic disagreement over whether government taxes that take away more than 10% of one's income, especially to finance the welfare state, exempt one even from this 10% tithe. The only other biblically-mandated income redistribution involves supporting the Levites (and priests).

2. There is nothing in Tikkun Olam that can be considered to be a judgment holding that income and wealth disparities are evil in and of themselves. Wealthy people are expected to give charity to help the poor; the poor are expected to give charity to the poorer. No one is expected to give charity to those too lazy to work or who are poor because they are drunks or addicts.

3. There is nothing in Tikkun Olam that can be regarded as a condemnation of materialist desires and pursuits. Quite to the contrary, Judaism is not embarrassed at all about asking God to make us rich, such as in the Havdala prayers where we ask for lots of silver.

4. There is nothing in Tikkun Olam that could be remotely regarded as justifying affirmative action programs that discriminate against Jews. There is nothing that can justify pursuing ethnic "equality" through quotas, through lowered standards and preferences, and certainly not through programs that give other ethnic groups preferences ahead of Jews.

5. There is nothing in Tikkun Olam that can be regarded as sanctioning homosexual relations. Indeed, the Torah makes these a capital offense.

6. There is nothing in Tikkun Olam that can be regarded as supporting the public school monopoly or single-payer health care system. People who want such things should have the intellectual honesty to come out and debate these on their own merits (if they have any), not by hijacking the concept of Tikkun Olam.

7. There is not even the tiniest inkling of a rationalization in Tikkun Olam for granting Palestinians or anyone else territorial rights within the Land of Israel.

8. There is no basis in Tikkun Olam for refraining from retaliating militarily against those who attack Jews.

9. There is no basis in Tikkun Olam for claiming that animals have "rights."

10. There is no basis in Tikkun Olam for refusing to acknowledge that human environmental goals must be traded off against other social and private goals.

11. There is no basis in Tikkun Olam for abortion on demand.

12. There is no basis in Tikkun Olam for opposing capital punishment for convicted murderers. To the contrary, the Torah explicitly endorses capital punishment for murderers.

A first giant step toward real Tikkun Olam would be the renunciation and discrediting of Tikkun Olam Paganism.


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