Message from the Editor
Tikkun Olam is the subject of the present issue of JPSR. What we understand by this term can at the same time be clear and elusive. While it originated in the Talmudic period, the concept of tikkun olam at present has become fashionable and may well include applied programs of practical and political consequence. Although the term does have a kabbalistic interpretation, tikkun olam deals with practical problems, which include social relations and relationships between men and men, as well as women.
Six distinguished contributors have accepted the challenge of coming to grips with the meaning of tikkun olam: what it is and what it is not. Their essays may gently overlap, but each article presents a carefully considered scholarly analysis. In order to give the readers a solid working definition, we shall cite some passages from Levi Cooper’s article which appears in this issue:
Tikkun olam is now a familiar term, but it carries a variety of meanings and associations which makes its translation an exercise in interpretation. The Hebrew root תקן (t-k-n) appears in Ecclesiastes where it is used in the sense of straightening, repairing or fashioning.1 Many of its later uses, however, depart from those original connotations. Thus in rabbinic literature the root has a range of meanings such as fixing a variety of items, preparing for a significant event, legislating, composing liturgy, emending biblical texts, determining calendric calculations, propagating the species, and pursuing spiritual objectives.2 The Hebrew noun ‘olam also carries more than a single implication: world, society, community, universe, spiritual sphere, forever, and eternity.
As we have noted, tikkun olam is an idea with practical implications, which includes political expression. This subject fits in well with the editorial scope of our journal. It belongs to Jewish thought as such and to Jewish political thought according to the definition of the late Prof. Daniel Elazar. In a wider modern context, the concept runs parallel with the American Protestant school of thought known as the Social Gospel which was current in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This doctrine took the view that positive practical and socially responsible behavior could take precedence over religious observance.
Tikkun olam provides the positive and optimistic view that men and women have the opportunity to improve their relations in real and practical ways. It provides an opportunity for self-improvement and for making the world a better place. It rejects fatalism and particularly the fatalism of racism, namely that one’s destiny is determined by race. In the first essay of this issue, Ambassador Dore Gold deals with the unstated but real application of tikkun olam to the world of international politics.
It is no wonder that this concept remains current and continues to attract considerable attention in Jewish life and beyond.
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1. Ecclesiastes 1:15, in the kal verbal stem; 7:13, 12:9, in the pi‘el verbal stem.
2. Gilbert S. Rosenthal, “Tikkun ha-Olam: The Metamorphosis of a Concept,” The Journal of Religion 85, no. 2 (April 2005), 215–16. In this paper, I will not deal with uses of the verb t-k-n that appear without ‘olam or with other words, for it unnecessarily expands the parameters of the discussion without advancing our understanding of the idiom tikkun olam.
Joel Fishman, Ph.D.
Editor, Jewish Political Studies Review