From: Jewish Journal
The real meaning of Tikkun Olam
A few months ago, while studying tractate Gittin, the volume dealing with divorce law, we came across the well-known concept of tikkun olam. According to everything I had learned growing up as a typical reform Jew, tikkun olam means “repair of the world” — sometimes referred to as “social justice” — often entailing government programs to make the world a better place. However, delving into the Gemara, the Talmudic commentary, I was in for a little surprise.
According to the translation in the ArtScroll publication, tikkun olam means “benefit of society.” In the Koren publication, it means “betterment of the world.” Either way, the meaning is very different from the popularized one often used today. As Adam Kirsch, head of the graduate program in Jewish studies at Columbia University, observed in his recent Tablet article, “We have interpreted ‘the betterment of the world’ to mean the improvement of society in the name of social justice … I don’t mean to disparage this idea … but there is no doubt that this is not what our ancestors meant when they used the words tikkun olam.”
The idea of “social justice” may, for many, still be worthwhile, but, according to the Talmud, tikkun olam it is not.