In contemporary parlance, “tikkun olam” (repairing the world) has come to connote social action and social justice work. In this article, the author surveys the use of this concept in the work of a number of Jewish writers and organizations in the past several decades, and explores some implications of the term’s wide-ranging use and development from its place in Lurianic Kabbalah. (He does not connect it with the use in classical rabbinic texts of the term “tikkun ha-olam,” referring to social legislation not strictly required but enacted because it was good public policy.) The following is reprinted with the author’s permission from “Tikkun: A Lurianic Motif in Contemporary Jewish Thought,” in From Ancient Israel to Modern Judaism: Intellect in Quest of Understanding–Essays in Honor of Marvin Fox, Vol. 4, ed. Jacob Neusner et al. (Scholars Press).
Bypassing Mystics for Scholars—or Ignoring Both
A philosophical thinker far removed from mystical interests such as Emil Fackenheim, an historian of modern Judaism such as Ismar Schorsch, [and] a rabbi/story teller such as Lawrence Kushner, find themselves drawing upon [scholar of Jewish mysticism Gershom] Scholem‘s expositions and formulations of esoteric materials in order to present their own creative views on a variety of questions.
While these authors–scholars and teachers of Judaica in their own right–have adopted and adapted Lurianic ideas directly from Scholem (and from other scholarly expositions of the kabbalistic tradition), others, have clearly appropriated the notion of tikkun without recourse to Lurianism or Scholem.
Thus, for example, [editor-in-chief] Michael Lerner’s original editorial statement in Tikkun Magazine makes absolutely no mention of and betrays no interest in the kabbalistic tradition which is the source of his journal’s name. [Contemporary liberal Jewish thinker] Leonard Fein can write of tikkun as if it were a central conception of Judaism as a whole, one which any Jew should be able to recognize automatically. A middle-aged Jewish male searching for female companionship can place a personal ad in an Indianapolis magazine and identify himself as searching for a woman “committed to tikkun olam.”