Jonathan Neumann’s new book, “To Heal the World?: How the Jewish Left Corrupts Judaism and Endangers Israel,” is an important examination of the distorted theology employed by the radical left to lead many Jews astray.
Neumann describes how radical Jewish leftists distorted and turned a minor phrase, “tikkun olam” (repairing the world), into a left-wing political “social justice” universalist theology that is hostile to Israel and traditional Judaism, and which sympathizes with the Jewish people’s enemies.
Neumann explains that “tikkun olam” theology is relatively new, and is not grounded in traditional Judaism or an honest reading of Jewish sources. “Tikkun olam” is never mentioned in the Torah/Bible. The left takes occasional, insignificant mentions of the words “tikkun olam” in other Jewish writings out of context and reinterprets them.
For instance, a prayer (the “Aleynu“) that expresses the hope that G-d will establish his kingdom over the whole world, and that one day everyone will praise G-d and obey G-d’s laws, is reinterpreted by the left as a call for man to engage in left-wing political activism.
Neumann recounts how the Jewish Reform, Reconstructionist, and Renewal movements have rejected traditional Judaism in favor of universalist, left-wing “social justice.” However, their departure from tradition repelled some Jews who had a connection to or understanding of traditional Judaism. Thus, leftist leaders adopted a different approach: They falsely and deceptively claimed that revolutionary, left-wing “social justice” was really always part of the Jewish tradition. Thus “tikkun olam” theology was adopted by the liberal Jewish movements, and succeeded in turning many American Jews against the actual teachings of their own faith, and against the Jewish state.
“Tikkun olam” theology fixates on the Biblical creation story to support universalism above all else. Under this theology, there is nothing unique about, or even a need for, the Jewish people, because everyone came from the same creator.
“Tikkun olam” theology virtually ignores the pivotal event in Jewish tradition: G-d’s revelation on Mount Sinai and gift to the Jewish people of the Torah – the source of the Jewish people’s unique role in the world, and of the obligations to follow G-d’s commandments. By following G-d’s commandments, including rebuilding and living in the G-d given Land of Israel, the Jewish people becomes an inspiration and blessing to the entire world. That is the traditional understanding.
But “Tikkun olam” theology transforms uniquely Jewish events in the Bible into a secular revolutionary “social justice” creed that fits into liberation theology. For instance, Neumann explains that the traditional meaning of the Exodus is “the divine rescue of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, and the Revelation of the Torah and the covenant struck between G-d and the Jewish People at Mount Sinai, beginning the tale that sees the Israelites return to and inherit the Land of Israel-as G-d pledged to the patriarchs.”
However, the Jewish leftist “social justice” reinterpretation of the Exodus deletes G-d’s role and the Jewish people’s unique experience. The left transforms the story of “Exodes” and the “Promised Land” into mere metaphors for any supposedly politically “oppressed group” and their “liberation.” The left substitutes godless “revolutionary struggle” for G-d’s outstretched hand, which brought about the Jewish people’s redemption from Egypt. The left rewrites the conclusion of the Passover service, or “Seder,” turning “Next year in Jerusalem” into “Next year, liberation of [pick a supposedly oppressed group championed by the left]!”
Neumann provides the fascinating example of the left’s radical alteration of the beloved, traditional Seder song, “Dayenu.” Dayenu’s traditional lyrics thank and praise G-d for his many blessings. For generations, Seder attendees have sung that any one of G-d’s blessings would have been sufficient (“Dayenu”), and yet G-d gave us more, and more.
By contrast, the unappreciative leftwing “Freedom Seder” version of the song deletes G-d, and ungratefully says that each enumerated accomplishment “would not be sufficient,” demanding more revolutionary struggle on behalf of various purportedly oppressed groups – many of whom are hostile to, or outright enemies of the Jewish people.
Neumann’s book also discusses how the left cherry-picks and distorts the prophets’ ethical messages, to denigrate traditional Jewish rituals and practices. The “tikkun olam” left ignores that the prophets sought to have the Jewish people observe both ethical and ritual Jewish laws.
Neumann also points to the hypocritical double standard of “social justice “Jewish leftists, who exalt all diversity of “all other faiths and cultures except Judaism. The Jewish people alone must become obsolete. (These Jewish liberals would not dare to tender such an offensive assessment to other minority communities; it is a sign of their pathology that they do so to their own.)”
Bizarrely, Jewish leftists condemn pro-Israel positions and Jewish traditions, while giving a “free pass” to radical Islamists, Israel haters and Jew haters.
A recent example was when Reform movement head Rick Jacobs and other leftists condemned of Israel’s innocuous nation-state law, even though Israeli law continues to protect minority rights. Meanwhile, some on the Jewish left remain silent about the real discriminatory laws and practices of numerous Islamist countries.
Neumann notes that many rank-and-file liberal Jews, who have been taught “tikkun olam,” are well-intentioned. However, he goes on to explain:
But noble intentions alone do not a holy people make. However noble the motive of American Jews, their pursuit of tikkun olam is a betrayal of the traditional faith of their people. That faith holds that through Abraham’s Jewish progeny all the peoples of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 22:18). Jews and non-Jews alike should be alarmed by the prospect of tikkun olam succeeding in assimilating the Jewish People into all of humanity, for then that blessing will be no more.
Neumann also describes various radical organizations’ and rabbis’ role in promoting far left, hostile-to-Israel “tikkun olam” philosophies and agendas. These lef-wing groups include: Americans for Peace Now (APN), Bend the Arc (chaired by George Soros’ son Alexander Soros); Breaking the Silence (which falsely accuses the Israel Defense Forces of war crimes); J Street U; the radical, antisemitic Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP, a leading promoter of anti-Israel boycotts); the New Israel Fund (funded leading anti-Israel boycott groups); Jews for Racial and Economic Justice; The Forward; Michael Lerner’s Tikkun magazine; the Reform Action Center; and T’ruah (formerly Rabbis for Human Rights).
Individual Jewish leftwing radicals discussed by Neumann include: Judith Butler, Arthur Waskow, Peter Beinart, Noam Chomsky, Michael Lerner, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Samuel Norich, Michael Walzer, and others. Barack Obama’s use of “tikkun olam” to provide Jewish cover for his radical, anti-Israel policies is also described.
Neumann also discusses how the left reinterprets the story of Joseph into advocacy for government control and redistribution of resources – when in fact the story actually depicts how government control led to enslavement of the Jewish people (and others).
My organization, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), is particularly pleased with Mr. Neumann’s book, because ZOA has often pointed out how anti-Israel radical Jewish leftists grossly distort and twist Jewish tenets, traditions, and holidays into pretexts for harming the Jewish state, the Jewish people, the pro-Israel community, our Christian friends, and Muslim reformers.
ZOA’s free online book, “J-Street Sides with Israel’s Enemies & Works to Destroy Support for Israel,” has an entire chapter entitled “J Street Subverts Real Jewish Values and Traditions,” which documents how J Street ignores the Jewish laws authorizing the right of self-defense; falsely claims that appeasement is a “Jewish value” by picking a sentence out of context to reverse the meaning of the actual text; and falsely claims that Torah values support giving Palestinian Arabs a state, when the full Torah passage (Deuteronomy 20:10-20) reveals that a peace offer to an enemy does not involve giving an enemy a “state,” but rather an opportunity to live peaceably, and states that if an initial peace offer is rejected, the Jews must crush that enemy and end its terror once and for all.
ZOA’s chapter also described how J Street subverts the meanings of Yom Kippur, Passover, and Hanukkah.
Neumann’s book is thus an extremely important contribution towards understanding the same distortions of Judaism and authentic Jewish values that the pro-Israel community, including ZOA, has been battling.
Neumann’s book will surely enlighten anyone who wonders why so many Jews have been coopted by the anti-Israel radical left. I highly recommend it.
Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). A national Jewish weekly named Mort Klein as one of the five most influential Jewish leaders. Another Jewish weekly named Klein one of the top dozen Jewish activists of the twentieth century. Follow him on twitter @mortonaklein7 or at www.zoa.org