A number of readers have posted thoghtful questions over the past few weeks, to which I haven't related, mostly for lack of time. I have however made myself a list of comments I should respond to by and by. Here's one.
A reader asked me what my position is on Tikkun Olam, the Hebrew term which literally means "fixing the world", and which has become a recognized term in English, at least in broad circles of progressive thinkers in America but perhaps also beyond; I expect Richard Goldstone sooner or later will tell us he's engaging in Tikkun Olam.
Judaism is a very (very) old religion, and it pre-dates all the major ideological fault lines of the modern world by two or three millennia. So in that context, it's meaningless to speculate what "traditional Judaism" thought about the role of government in redressing the woes of society, for example. The Bible says nothing about health care one way or the other, and the Talmud has no position on international law. True, some of the most visionary and uplifting sentiments in human history come from the Bible - the aspiration to a world without war, and a world ruled by justice (until you begin to look closer and it turns out mercy may trump justice). Yet the same Bible - sometimes, the very same prophets - also contains some extraordinarily harsh sentiments about the fate of evil people and evil nations.
Anyway, traditional Judaism as developed by the Pharisees - the only group that culturally survived the cataclysm of the destructions of the first and third centuries - was a practical culture, and mostly shied away from visionary meta-schemes. Tikkun Olam is a perfect case. It's a Talmudic term, and as I've explained here, and also here, it doesn't mean what the English language thinks it means. Tikkun Olam in Talmudic tradition is a legal mechanism for resolving some kinds of complications which can arise from pedantic readings of the law.
So you've got some Biblical prophetic statements that contain a yearning for a theoretical perfected world (but no program to reach it). You've got the earthy rabbinic scholars who don't worry about perfection of the world and focus on the here and now. To be fair, in the middle ages there are once more Jewish voices that talk about perfecting the world, indeed, perfecting all of existence; some of those strains of thought then made their way into Hassidic Judaism, three hundred years ago - but I really don't think there's much affinity between those ideas and the ones of rabbi Lerner at Tikkun Magazine. The contemporary Tikkun Olam thinkers may not be earthy and pragmatic, but they're hardly religious mystics in the meaning of the Kabala.
Where did the modern usage of Tikkun Olam come from? I don't know. If any reader wishes to point us at some way of finding out, be my guest. I expect that if someone were to trace the lineage, it would be something like 18th century Enlightenment, French Revolution, then the more radical parts of the French Revolution, from there to the utopian strands of 19th century European thought -and about that time, newly enlightened Jews leaving their ghettos and joining the general European discussion, liking one of the camps and going back to their own sources to prove that Judaism said the same thing - which it probably didn't, but that was irrelevant.
This is a subject worthy of more than a blog post, but that's what I'm offering at the moment.