Social justice and traditional Judaism can peacefully coexist 

Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin believes that “tikkun olam” is a red herring — a false identification of Judaism with social justice (“Rosh Hashanah has nothing to do with the attractions of tikkun olam,” September 14). Creating an easily defeated socialist straw-man, he says (implausibly) that social justice “does not seek human greatness, but equality of outcomes.”  Furthermore, Rabbi Rocklin claims, an obsession with social justice has led Jews astray from (his) cherished conservative political-religious values: School choice, “religious liberty,” unquestioning support for Israel, strict religious observance.

I agree that “tikkun olam” is overused and does not exclusively define Judaism. In fact, “repairing the world” is too grandiose a translation for the expression. In the Talmud, it is a practical extra-legal principle: Courts must look to “tikkun olam” when existing civil law results in undue hardship, especially to vulnerable members of ancient Jewish society like widows, divorcees and slaves. (A better translation might be “the betterment of society” or “basic decency.”)

But let’s not set up a false choice between traditional Judaism and social justice. They should coexist. When Isaiah exhorted his audience, as recited in the Yom Kippur haftarah, “to unlock the fetters of wickedness . . . to let the oppressed go free . . .  to share your bread with the hungry and to take the wretched poor into your home,” we can be confident he was promoting authentic Jewish values, not the equality of outcomes.

David Zinberg

Concern for the other is a necessary part of Orthodox Judaism

Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin, the Tikvah Fund’s leading researcher, questions the importance of social justice within Orthodoxy by claiming that such concerns devalue the “individual’s potential for greatness” (“Rosh Hashanah has nothing to do with the attractions of tikkun olam,” September 14). Without citing Jewish sources (classical or contemporary), he advocates a political agenda that raises genuine concerns about the Tikvah Fund’s objectives, curriculum, and programming.

One need only have a superficial exposure to the works, lectures and thought of Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik (the Rav) to know how much he emphasized the centrality of chesed (responsible empathy for the other) in Orthodox Judaism. Indeed, perhaps the Rav’s most quoted statement is his description of Halakhic Man’s heroism as devoted thoroughly to social justice:

“Halakhic Man . . . publicly protests against the oppression of the helpless, the defrauding of the poor, the plight of the orphan. The rich are deemed as naught in his view.”

Individual greatness and obsessive concern for the self may be the heroic model that Rabbi Rocklin discerns from classical western literature and thought.  It is not the hero in Halakhic Judaism.

Daniel D. Edelman

Rabbi erred in calling out Stephen Miller by name

I was singularly disappointed in the singling out of a former child congregant by Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels as his “Rabbi” (“Why Stephen Miller’s childhood rabbi singled him out in his Rosh Hashanah sermon,” September 21); while that designation may have been appropriate 22 years ago (when a child congregant) it is disingenuous at this point in time.  I am a Jew by Choice, I joined because of the strong values that are at the core of every Jewish text, Jewish worship services, and rites of passage, and are reflected in each of the people in leadership — rabbi, cantor, educator, synagogue board (both formal and informal) and more importantly, in the congregants and members of religious, educational, or charity organizations.

I believe in free will (I exercised mine to become a Jew); I believe each of us has personal responsibility to contribute to the world; I believe each of us is “imperfect” and each of us is “perfect” as reflected in the Torah and other teachings; and I believe each of us has a right to their own perspective or view regardless of our differing one.

The singling out a specific person acting as judge, jury and punisher on Rosh Hashanah goes against the Jewish way founded in the words of the Torah and reinforced in the Talmud and other writings and is a reflection of an attribute of mob rule (go….get… the…X) from a bully pulpit.

Meeting with applause during a sermon is not my idea of an endorsement; more playing to the choir instead.  You were playing to the media and you are in the media as an entertainer as well as a rabbi.

Instead, each religious leader who has public opportunities to call out your beliefs should openly reflect on the desired changes, actions of your congregation, and, by extension, the world that align with Jewish values and with the obligations of the New Year.

Deborah E Hammond, M.D.

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