Yoffie misreads Alperson’s point


To the Editor,

When I first read Joel Alperson’s Opinion piece (“Judaism is more than ‘tikkun olam,’ ”), I saw it as a wake-up call to the non-Orthodox world — a plea that engagement in “tikkun olam” alone simply not lead Jewish youth to remain Jewish. As I understood him, Alperson was fearful of an ineluctable, widespread perception in the non-Orthodox Jewish community that there was nothing specifically Jewish about being Jewish. If doing good to others, as it were, was all that was required, this is an approach to life that surely is not limited to Jews.

Then I read Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s rejoinder (“Judaism is always ‘tikkun olam’ — and more”), and either he was reading a piece with which I was totally unfamiliar or, even worse, he totally misread Alperson. To read Rabbi Yoffie, Alperson was challenging the notion of “tikkun olam,” per se, as an aspect of Divinely mandated Judaism.

Rabbi Yoffie wrote, "The essence of Mr. Alperson’s argument, and the height of his folly, is that ‘we can’t have it both ways’; we cannot, he says, both insist that tikkun olam and social justice are central and also embrace serious Jewish education and Jewish practice. But we can, and in fact, we must. To do one without the other is to retreat from the world and distort Judaism’s very essence."

But Alperson actually said something very different: “We can’t have it both ways. We might insist that tikkun olam and social justice are central to our Jewish way of life, but they are increasingly taking the place of serious Jewish education and Jewish practice.” And I don’t see anything in Rabbi Yoffie’s response that even attempts to deal with that issue.

By merely defending the merits of seeking social justice, which was never in issue, Rabbi Yoffie ignored the thrust of Alperson’s opinion piece — the challenge facing the non-Orthodox Jewish world if one eschews the complete picture of Judaism, including ritual observances and the studying of Jewish texts, and focuses only on the pursuit of tikkun olam.

Julius Berman
New York, N.Y.

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