TO HEAL THE WORLD? (All Points Books, 2018) Is Jonathan Neumann’s scathing expose of how progressive politics has become the religion of social justice warriors who are hell bent on replacing traditional Judaism. Neumann takes issue with the notion that the essence of Judaism is its adherence to universal ethics. Judaic practices, such as Kashruth, Shabbat Observance, Prayers in Hebrew, and a myriad of particularly Jewish customs have set Jews apart from the rest of society by design. But Jewish reformers, since the late nineteenth century, want to appear less different than their neighbors so they dropped the very practices, which by design, differentiates them.
Paradoxically, the early reformers of Judaism abandoned traditional Jewish laws, commandments and practices, while todays reformers claim they are embracing their original purpose. To appeal to those less knowledgeable of Jewish law, ritual and practice, the reformers infuse their ideology with trivialities or replace it with social radicalism. Tikkun Olam has several meanings such as, to perfect, standardize, improve, and remedy the world. Ironically, Tikkun Olam the favorite word of the left, appears nowhere in the Torah. The left twists the term to mean repair and heal. But the world is neither broken nor sick. Granted, it needs improvement and restoration which are accomplished by perfecting one’s soul, which is the traditional Jewish passageway to Tikkun Olam.
Traditional Judaism, according to Neumann tends to stress particularism, God, Israel, Torah and Jewish Peoplehood, while progressives obsess on universal political ideology, like saving the whales, open borders and redistribution of earned assets.
Judaism is like two sides of a coin, on the one side ethics and the other side ritual. One without the other is not Judaism. Ethics without ritual is universalism, not Judaism and ritual alone without ethics is hypocrisy.
Neumann’s work is a primer on how not to read the Bible and answers the question: Are you a citizen of a world of your own creation – or that of God’s?
The question Neumann posits is rhetorical because if we all come from the same place and are citizens of the world, then why retain the notion of Jews as being a distinct people. If universal social justice is the foundation of Jewish social justice, then why do we need Judaism at all? If there is nothing special, extraordinary or unique about Judaism, then why are Jews necessary at all. The notion of Jews as the chosen people does not sit well with the universalists. According to Neumann, the attributes of kindness, caring and concern starts first with the family, then the community, then the nation and finally the world. That kind of hierarchical order is rejected by the left in favor of the universal idea that we are all members of the same family, the family of mankind, thus we should treat everyone the same.
Jews are people of the Covenant and as covenantal people they have additional obligations to one another, humanity, and God, not required of non-Jews. Abraham’s protestations against the destruction of Sodom points to the fact that there are cultures and communities deserving of eradication. In making the case for not destroying the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham pleads to spare those cities for the sake of as little as ten good people living within their walls. According to God, there are communities that warrant destruction because they have attained a critical mass of evil people.
The Biblical story of Joseph’s miraculous transformation from jailed slave to Pharaoh’s chief of staff is well known in the Judeo-Christion world. During the seven years of plenty, Joseph compelled the Egyptians to give grain to the Pharaoh, which during the subsequent years of famine was sold back to them; the price being their land. Since the land was subsequently owned by Pharaoh, those who worked it became indentured servants. Classic dependency on government leads to servitude and slavery. (FDR’s New Deal set the foundation for the Welfare State). State run welfare ultimately will turn out to be for the welfare for the state – not the individual.
The Haggadah is not a social justice publication the left makes it out to be. The Seder is about divine redemption of the Jewish People not about the climate, borders, immigrants, same-sex-marriage, gender identification, distribution of assets, women’s’ issues, etc. For the left – liberty is Utopia, for observant Jews it’s Israel. ‘Let My People Go’ is only half of the plea, the other half is ‘so they can serve their God’. Social justice warriors site only the ‘freedom’ phrase but omit the ‘religious’ phrase. By expunging Jewish particularism, the social justice warriors have made a Jewish experience universal – which it is not vis-à-vis the Covenant, the Promise, the Exodus, and Mt. Sinai Revelation all of which are unique to Judaism.
In Jonathan Neumann’s insightful view, Tikkun Olam is God’s oral prescription of how to bring about the kind of world He intends us to inhabit. And He leaves it up to us to have it filled.