In the pages of the liberal Jewish Daily Forward , Noam Neusner says that President Obama’s claim that religiously motivated schools and services are not truly religious runs counter to  tikkun olam , the Jewish obligation to do good to others:

The Obama Administration has held – and continues to hold – that if a religious institution wants to serve the community as a whole and employ people who do not subscribe to their faith, what they do is functionally not a religious mission at all, but a public one. In other words, you can practice your faith when it applies only to you. When it applies to other people, you can’t. Given the special freedoms from state oversight and control accorded to religion under the laws of our Constitution – freedoms which have served the Jewish people particularly well – this is a significant assertion. [ . . . ]

One wonders whether the political instincts of many liberal Jews will blind them to the underlying challenge to their core religious belief. Especially in the Reform and Conservative movements, tikkun olam has been the rallying cry of countless bar and bat mitzvah speeches and high holiday sermons for decades. Although they may attempt to look past this issue as a problem only for Catholics, they will soon begin to understand its implication for them.

If tikkun olam is to retain any meaning, it must mean what it has always meant: Judaism as a faith is expressed in actions benefitting all of society, not just Jews. It must be defended by these same liberal Jews and liberal denominations against this redefinition by the Obama administration.

Even if they agree with the Obama program for domestic policy, including publicly paid health insurance, on religious grounds, they must fight this. Even if they send checks to Planned Parenthood, they must fight this. Even if they see in Obama’s policy program the work of tikkun olam writ large, they must fight this. It’s one thing to favor policy for reasons of faith. It’s another thing to surrender faith in the process.


Hear hear. One hopes we’ll see more such calls for inter-religious solidarity.

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