Helping Others Or Ourselves?

Helping Others Or Ourselves?

Having read professor Jack Wertheimer’s essay in Commentary as well as Ruth Messinger’s response in The Jewish Week (“Encountering Our Faith Through Serving ‘The Other’,” April 2), I believe the disagreement mirrors a significant and growing chasm within the larger Jewish community. The issue is not whether the Jewish people have a role and responsibility within the larger world. We are not the children of Noah but of Abraham. Noah built an ark only for himself and his immediately family. Abraham was concerned for the whole city of Sodom. We share his universal concern. We were all extremely proud, for example, when Israelis touched ground in Haiti after the earthquake, and led the world in a breathtaking medical response.

However, when that universal concern is not supported by a strong foundation of Jewish literacy and practice, it lacks sustainability. And today, according to more and more data, that foundation is looking weak in many spots. Somewhere along the line “tikkun olam” has become our “holy grail” in place of ritual practice, study and a quirky value that seems virtuous in connection to all other aspects of life except religion: sacrifice. Tikkun olam does not demand we change our dietary laws, it does not restrict our behavior once a week for 24 hours, nor does it require literacy about Jewish texts, holidays or history. Tikkun olam, helping others in need, feels great, even if many haven’t a clue to its origins in liturgy, nor the more important two words that follow. Tikkun olam, while noble, has evolved to be the Jewish-sounding candy in place of the well-balanced meal.

Highland Park N.J.

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