Our tradition bids us to align our values and beliefs with the ways we conduct our daily lives. Central to Judaism’s codes of ethical conduct is the notion ofredifat tzedek, pursuing justice in every aspect of our lives and our communities. Jewish ethics that help to create a more just and compassionate world can be divided into three traditional areas: tzedakah, in its narrow sense of supporting good in the world through financial contributions; gemilut Chasidim, performing acts of loving kindness for others; and tikkun olam, repairing the world through social action.
Tikkun means “repairing”; olam means “world, cosmos, eternity”. The Mishnah bids us to help others beyond what may be required, “for the sake of tikkun olam“. In the Aleinu prayer we express our hope for a repaired world through Divine domination. Isaac Luria, the 16th century kabbalist, expanded our understanding of tikkun olam: with each mitzvah (commandment/good deed), we return a spark of God to its source, thus repairing the cosmos. Today, the words tikkun olam are often used as shorthand for “efforts to better the world,” such as reading to an at-risk child, serving meals at a homeless shelter, or speaking out on an important matter of public policy.
The obligation to repair the world emerges from various Jewish sources. Some, including many of the ancient prophets, see our responsibility to engage in social action as emulating God’s holiness and righteousness (Lev. 19). Others understand it as arising chiefly from the Jew’s historical position as an oppressed people (Ex. 23). Still others believe that acts of tikkun olam are the primary means of satisfying the need to create a sense of Jewish community and identity, making the commitment to tikkun olam a calling, a vocation. In each case, Jewish survival and meaning depend on our being a community organized around values and committed to tikkun olam. Whatever its sources, tikkun olam is central to Judaism and to our Adat Shalom community.
Jews today are fully integrated into American society. We at Adat Shalom are drawn to the more universal teachings of the Jewish tradition requiring care and concern for all who suffer. At the same time, we recognize our special kinship with fellow Jews, both at home and abroad. In this spirit, Adat Shalom seeks to maintain a balance between its particular concerns to be active on behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and our universal commitments to help repair the larger world.
Similarly, while we now live in a “global village” , we realize that those nearest to us often require special concern. We thus seek to balance local needs with global issues, never forsaking the one for our focus on the other. In considering these questions of particular and universal, near and far, we turn to Hillel’s ancient wisdom-“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Avot 1: 14). While deeply committed to standing up for our own self-interest, we also seek out opportunities to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
Moreover, the mitzvah of tikkun olam obliges us both to serve immediate needs and to work toward the prevention of hunger, homelessness, disease, ignorance, abuse and oppression among all people, as well as working toward preserving the health of the global ecosystem upon which all life depends. It obligates us to maintain democracy, equality, and free expression and to safeguard Jewish people and society’s most vulnerable members. Adat Shalom promotes tikkun olam by encouraging and facilitating individual as well as group participation in efforts to repair the world. While acts of tzedakah and gemilut chasidim do manifest a commitment to making the world a more caring and compassionate place, there are occasions when tikkun olam, the healing of our world, may most effectively be achieved by taking collective action.
The highest degree of tzedakah is enabling those in need to become self-sufficient (Maimonides’ 12th century ladder) – sacred work which often requires working in coalition with others to create systemic change. Adat Shalom seeks new ways to build community and consensus, internally and externally, in order to pursue the work of justice. The Social Action Committee will continue to educate toward, encourage, and facilitate personal action to defend the Jewish people and improve the lives of others (efforts to support the Jewish state will primarily be handled by our Israel Connection Committee). At the same time, the Social Action Committee will from time to time pursue Board approval for taking communal action on issues where broad-based support exists within the Congregation, consistent with Jewish values and Reconstructionist thought. Specific procedures to approve any Adat Shalom affiliation or endorsement of collective action – such as marching on the National Mall under the Adat Shalom banner or putting our synagogue’s name on non-partisan, issue-oriented advocacy statements – will supplement these guidelines.
Our Social Action Committee is primarily responsible for coordinating members’ participation in individual and group tzedakah and tikkun olam efforts. This committee identifies areas of interest and develops programs to provide a framework for membership action. Frequently this involves interaction with other organizations that share our interests and values. Individual members are encouraged to present new issues or projects to the Social Action Committee they believe merit congregational involvement. The Social Action Committee will then be charged with determining which initiatives have such broad-based support within the Congregation as to merit consideration by the Board. The congregational newsletter, the listserv, the website and other special publications will be used to provide wider dissemination to social action projects or initiatives, and to solicit feedback and opinions about particular issues.
Ultimately, the true measure of our commitment to the advancement of righteousness and justice in the world lies in our actions not our words or prayers. At Adat Shalom, we encourage members of all ages to actively participate in Social Action activities within the Congregation. We emphasize that acts supporting social justice, alongside prayer and study, are an essential part of our spiritual practice.
An earlier version of these guidelines was approved by the congregation in 1995; these guidelines were approved by the Board on March 21, 2006 and ratified by the Congregation on May 21, 2006. Members of the congregation had opportunities for input to this statement throughout the process of its development.