3 misunderstandings about my Jewish values

“You keep using that word… I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I keep hearing and reading statements from Jews, usually from America, prefaced by “my Jewish values.” Usually what follows is some sort of accusation against Israel that has little to do with facts – or an understanding of Jewish values.

The basics are really simple, if you take the time to actually look at them:

1. The Ten Commandments, not “Tikkun Olam”

The Ten Commandments are the fundamental guidelines of Jewish values, not the concept of Tikkun Olam. These are predicated on the Shema, the monotheistic declaration of faith in the One God: “Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God is one God.” Deuteronomy 6:4–9

The Ten Commandments are the guidelines that spell out what it means to be decent and provide the fundamental guidelines of moral society which have been accepted by to most of the nations on earth, including ones that do not adhere to Judeo-Christian faith. Societies that have not accepted these rules of behavior, (for example, those that permit murder for the sake of “honor”) are deemed immoral societies.

Tikkun Olam seems to be a very popular term with American Jewry. Interestingly, it has no basis in the Torah.

So where does Tikkun Olam come from?

The concept of Tikkun Olam can be found in in the prayer “Aleinu leshabei’ach” and the Kabbalistic understanding that the world is not whole because the male and female aspects of God are separated rather than united. At the time of redemption these aspects will unite and the world will be repaired. These references are so esoteric that many Israeli Jews have no familiarity with this concept at all.

Tikkun Olam does NOT mean social justice.

The literal translation of Tikkun Olam is “repairing the world.” It is not difficult to comprehend that the world is broken but who has the power to fix it? Why doesn’t God fix the world?

If one takes the time to actually consider this question, it is shockingly arrogant to conclude that a certain group of individuals have the ability to repair the world. Can any single group decide what is the “right” way for everyone to do things and by convincing (forcing?) others to comply, fix all that is wrong in the world?!

Judaism is not a missionary based religion and does not push faith or lifestyle on others. Jews never took part in Crusades or sent missionaries around the world to convince the “heathen” to adopt our religion and our ways of life. In fact, Judaism does the exact opposite, making it extremely difficult to become Jewish – so why would anyone think it is “Jewish” to “crusade” for social justice?

Judaism provides a very clear guidebook of how to live a good life and be a decent human being. The commandments of Judaism are for Jews and are not directed at non-Jews. By extension, redemption (at which time the world will be “repaired”) has nothing to do with what non-Jews do or don’t do but rather the behavior of Jews. Our influence on this process has to do with fixing ourselves, not changing others, fulfilling our own obligations, not demanding others do what we think is right.

History has shown that Jews, living a Jewish life (in contrast to Jewish-by-birth radical atheists) have a positive influence on the societies in which we live but this is not a result of being a “social justice warrior” but rather social justice, the creation of a good and moral society, is a by-product of adhering to the principles of Judaism.

To put it simply – be Maimonides (the Rambam) not Karl Marx.

2. “Do not kill” vs “Do not murder”

Recent condemnations of Israeli policy in regard to Gaza draw on “Jewish values” to declare that killing is wrong and accuse the IDF of massacring Gazans. On face value, the idea that the Jewish State implements policy that goes against Jewish values seems like a potent argument – unless you actually know what Jewish values are and have familiarized yourself with a factual accounting of events in Israel.

So, first things first –

Does Judaism say that killing is wrong?

No! The Ten Commandments say that murder is forbidden, not killing.

If killing was forbidden we would all be vegetarians. Instead of extensive chapters on the laws of warfare and the wars of Israel, the Torah would simply say that Jews must be pacifists.

But it doesn’t.

Judaism instructs that life is sacred thus we must protect life – first and foremost OUR own lives. When attacked by someone attempting to murder you it is necessary to make sure that the murderer does not succeed. If the murderer dies in the process this is regrettable but justifiable. Had they not been attempting to murder, they would not have been hurt.

Killing in self-defense is not murder.

So how does this translate to Israeli policy and IDF actions?

On May 14th some 40,000 Gazans rioted on Israel’s border with Gaza. They had explosives, knives and firebombs. Their leaders had openly declared that the goal was to storm the border, break through and eat the hearts of Jews. Many of the rioters used little children and even babies as human shields to hide behind as they attempted to breach the border.

IDF snipers killed 62 of the rioters.

Israel was promptly accused of massacring “peaceful protestors” and using “disproportional force.”

A massacre is the deliberate, indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of a large number of people.

Two days later Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, announced proudly that 50 out of the 62 dead were Hamas professionals, trained operatives who had left their uniforms at home to blend in with the civilian Gazan population while attempting to attack Israel. Islamic Jihad took responsibility for most of the remaining dead. These were not innocent or peaceful protestors. They were professional terrorists.

Had the IDF decided to drop bombs on the rioters that would have constituted a massacre. All of the 40,000 could have easily been killed. That would have stopped the subsequent 100 days of violent riots, missiles and arson attacks on Israeli communities. It would have been much easier for the IDF, faster and more effective. Israelis who lost their livelihood to arson terror would not be in the position they are today.

But we don’t do that.

The IDF, knowing that terrorists were hiding within the civilian population managed, astonishingly, to eliminate the terrorists and not the innocents they were using as human shields. This is an unprecedented level of pinpoint accuracy, discriminant, minimal violence made necessary after all other options were exhausted.

The accusation that the IDF “massacred” Gazans, using disproportional force, is utterly baseless and in fact contrary to Jewish values which demand that the State must defend the lives of her citizens. It would be immoral to do otherwise.

3. Arguing and questioning are the birthright of the Jewish people

Unlike religions that came before Judaism and those that came after, Jewish tradition demands questioning, not blind obedience. One can and in some cases, should, argue even with God. The best example of this is probably the story of Sodom and Gomorrah where God tells Abraham that the cities will be destroyed and Abraham critiques God for this decision, bargaining for the lives of the people living there.

It is imperative to ask “Why?” This is the mindset that has differentiated the Jewish mind from all others, made Jewish scholars extraordinary and is the driving factor in the success of the Start-Up Nation. The constant need to question, arguing sometimes for the pure joy of the mental gymnastics of debating makes Jews annoying but it also makes us exceptional.

In Judaism there is always a reason why. The problem is that those who do not know the answers and do not bother to search for them often jump to incorrect and even baseless conclusions. My Jewish values direct me to not accept bombastic statements but to question everything, think for myself and if I don’t know they answer, ask “why?” until I get an acceptable answer – particularly when it comes to big issues such as my Jewish identity and my right to live free in my ancestral homeland.

7 thoughts on “3 misunderstandings about my Jewish values

    1. Me too. It’s always a question if we are convincing the convinced or helping people think differently. I hope that at minimum I am giving people tools to help them explain these issues to others

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In my case you are definitely helping me to think differently. Maybe even to just think about things! Thank you!


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