According to a recent survey conducted by the Jewish Electorate Institute (JEI), a majority of Jewish voters have a favorable view of the leading Democrat candidates and would support each one of them in a head-to-head competition against President Trump.
It is nothing new to note that a majority American Jewish voters tend to support Democrats. Throughout history, Jewish voters believed that the Democrats’ policies aligned more closely with their vision of social justice and their “religious” duty to “repair the world”—a concept oftentimes referred to as tikkum olam. Jewish Democrats today and in light of the dramatic leftwards shift of the Democratic Party should recognize, however, that the concept of tikkun olam has very little (or nothing) to do with the modern-day Democrat agenda.
Historically, American Jews primarily have supported those on the left. Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, told Salon: “American Jews have tended to vote Democratic since 1928, mostly because they perceived that their values and interests aligned more with the Democratic Party, especially on issues like immigration, civil rights, church-state separation and Israel.”
They have done so for the most part because they have accepted the basic premises of the party: calls for state responsibility for the welfare of its citizens, a state that is active for those who find themselves in need, and efforts, like civil rights broadly understood, which envision a society in which access to resources are not tied to race, religion or national origin. This formula appealed to most of them throughout this period because it worked for them and helped strengthen their own place in America as it also worked for others.
Stated differently, liberal American Jews have tended to place a high level of importance on social issues/social justice and believe that Democrats’ policies align more closely with their own vision and their “religious” duty to “repair the world,” or tikkun olam.
Naturally, Democrats have noticed. As a matter of fact, many on the left are quite explicit about wanting their political beliefs and policies to be perceived as in line with the concept of tikkun olam. For example, at an event organized by the Jewish Labor Committee, Hillary Clinton criticized the Trump Administration and spoke of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam:
At heart of it all is the concept of tikkun olam which says that repairing the world is the responsibility of each and every one of us, or as I learned growing up in the Methodist church, “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.”
Not too long ago, another liberal Jewish Democrat referenced the same concept. According to this particular Jewish Democrat:
Democratic policies reflect Jewish values. My parents instilled in me the importance of “tikkun olam” (repairing the world) and “tzedakah” (charity). It is Democrats who have tried to welcome the stranger by unanimously passing legislation to grant Venezuelans fleeing the despotic Maduro regime temporary protected status. It is Democrats who have been working to heal the sick and keep people healthy by making sure all Americans have access to quality affordable health insurance, regardless of preexisting conditions. And Democrats are determined to act now to save our planet from the catastrophic effects of global warming for future generations.
While the concept of tikkun olam is an important one, it has nothing to do with social activism and contrary to the wishful thinking of Democrats, it is not a stand in for generic leftism. The term tikkun olam, loosely translated, does mean to “repair the world.” As Melanie Phillips has observed in The Jerusalem Post, tikkun olam is referenced in the “aleinu” prayer. In that prayer, the idea of “repairing/perfecting the world” is placed in the Lord’s hands, not in ours.
According to Grand Rabbi Y. A. Korff:
It is not at all a centuries-old tradition, it is not a call to action, and it is not a commandment. And to be clear, tikkun olam does not even mean repairing the world in the sense of social justice. Nor in traditional sources is tikkun olam in any way even a direct human imperative or action, but rather one that is left in G-d’s hands.
In a recent article in the Times of Israel, Rabbi Aryeh Spero further explains the real meaning behind tikkun olam:
Long ago, the Zohar, the foundation of mystic kabbalah, saw “Tikkun O’lam” as a call to mankind to produce products and services that benefit people, as is the goal of industry, science, modern companies, and our human creativity. It also was used by the Talmud to warn people and institutions not to physically harm or abuse their neighbors and be considerate of boundaries between shops and between humans, to deal with courtesy and manners. Tikkun O’lam is not a call for a domineering Nanny State, rather for individuals to do their part to spread the News of God and perform acts of individual concern and courtesy that make civic life possible.
While many liberal American Jews place a heavy emphasis on social justice when voting, they should realize that the socialist policies promoted by the Democratic Party have nothing to do with tikkun olam.
The concept of tikkun olam is not about jeopardizing our nation’s safety by having open or porous borders, implementing a “no-vetting” policy on immigrants, or eliminating ICE. It is also not a call for a socialist “police state,” nor was it ever meant to overturn the principles of personal accountability and liberty.
Moreover, liberal Jewish voters should not assume that being “open-minded,” “tolerant,” “accepting,” or “progressive” will automatically lead others to accept the “Jewish people.” The belief that “if you love everyone else, that will cause them to love you forever in return” is simply not the case. For example, as reported in National Review:
Jews now form a significant percentage of the membership and leadership of organizations affiliated with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, which ultimately seeks to end the Israeli “occupation.” For the most part, these far-left partisans swear that they are pro-Israel — despite stamping Israel an “apartheid state.”
The Jews of BDS, aiming to heal the wounds of the international polity, have in fact fostered a global setting that is more perilous for Jews of all denominations and political stripes, including the BDS members themselves.
Getting back to Spero, he provides several excellent examples of what tikkun olam actually means in practice:
- Real tikkun olam is fighting Islamic terrorism and building up our military so as to defend this country from external foes. That brings peace and protection.
- Real tikkun olam is making it possible for people to find real jobs at real companies so as to work and earn a living. This brings dignity.
- Real tikkun olam is sanctifying wholesome family life, the bedrock of God’s blueprint for society and life. This brings sanctity.
- Real tikkun olam is creating an economic atmosphere that yields a bounty of medicines and products and services that brighten the condition of mankind and fosters grand possibilities. This brings hope and comfort.
- Real tikkun olam is realized in free speech and not the muzzling of people in obsequious compliance with political correctness and cultural Marxism. This brings liberty.
- And real tikkun olam is realized by venerating God and his laws and giving a chance to the State of Israel, bequeathed by Him to the Jewish nation. Ironically, it is the tikkun olam crowd who, just the opposite, promote attitudes and policies that undermine the glorious goals just mentioned above.
Real tikkun olam simply cannot be equated with socialism. As a matter of fact, many of these socialist policies are likely to hurt Americans in the long run and run contrary to tikkun olam.
There is nothing wrong with liberal American Jews’ desire to push for justice and equality. It is commendable in many ways. But they should not be confusing these ideas with the socialist policies espoused by many on the Left.
The Democratic Party has morphed. We can only hope that serious liberal American Jewish voters will keep this in mind come November.