Preface 1 – Tzedekah

As we begin this collaborative project on activism, I actually have two things to say regarding theology. I will divide these between Prefaces 1 & 2.

First, I want to point out a few key Hebrew concepts that illustrate the expansive range of topics that may appear on this blog–from the micro (chesed and gemulat chassidim) to the macro (tikkun olam), that is, from giving cups of water to changing laws about water quality. The following quotes are from Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice. After all, the history of our Father’s work on this earth didn’t just start in AD 1.

Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, PhD:

Jewish existence was to be based on bringing tzedek and mishpat, righteousness and justice, to all God’s children. The covenant forged at Sinai committed the Jewish people to a life of ethics and values. It was the spiritual/moral genesis of the Jewish people, and it was powerfully connected to the Jewish people’s understanding of what God wants of them. The Torah’s teachings about acting with compassion (chesed), protecting the stranger in one’s midst (ahavat ger), and pursuing peace (shalom) and truth (emet) shaped the Jewish notion of how one should live in the world. (p. 4-5)

Rabbi Jane Kanarek, PhD:

Today, the term tikkun olam–usually translated as “mending the world”–is used throughout the Jewish world to summarize the efforts of Jewish social justice movements. We view tikkun olam as our Jewish inheritance, a mandate to Jews to make the world in which we live a better place. (p. 15)

Tikkun ha’olam may be translated and understood as a recalibration of the world, a recognition that the world is out of balance and that legal remedies are needed in order to readjust the world to a better balance. The focus is not so much on the power of an individual to effect change, but rather on the power of the law to correct systemic injustice. (p 19)

Most people using the phrase tikkun olam today think [of]… an attitude expressed by words compassion, generosity, and lovingkindness. Jewish tradition embraces such individual acts of kindness, but gives them another name: chesed. (p 20)

Acts of chesed are immediate responses to an individual in need. A person is cold: give her clothes. (p 20)

In the Talmud, tikkun ha’olam is a response not to one person but to a perception of overarching injustice, a sense that existing law must be modified to create a more balanced society…. What distinguishes tikkun ha’olam from acts of lovingkindness is that tikkun ha’olam is geared to the future as much, or even more, than it is geared to the present. (p 21)

Tikkun olam means Jewish social justice. It means having a large vision of the world as it ought to be…. As we pursue this lofty goal,  however, it is important to bring with us a reminder from the world of chesed. All too often, as we pursue our grand visions for the world, we can forget the people who are in the immediacy of suffering…. Chesed reminds us not to forget the people that make up our societies. Tikkun olam teaches us to try and change society itself. (p 22)

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One Response to Preface 1 – Tzedekah

  1. The Areyvut website ( has resources that may be of interest including

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