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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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Jews, Tories and tikkun olam

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I’ve been writing columns since 1996. There are certain tricks of the trade when it comes to crafting a piece. Two of them are to be provocative and controversial.

This particular column will likely be one of the more provocative and controversial you’re ever going to read in The CJN. It might make you angry, but I also hope it makes you think about preconceived notions and long-standing positions.

One of the first op-eds I ever wrote was for the Globe and Mail about the Jewish bias against political conservatism. It frustrated many left-wing Jews (which I had expected) and led to a barrage of letters to the editor and media requests (which was unexpected).

A couple of those letter writers caught my attention. They claimed it would be impossible for Jews to support right-leaning political parties in Canada. Why? Due to the principle of tikkun olam.

This Hebrew phrase from the Mishnah is roughly translated as “repairing the world” or “healing the world.” While it represents different things to the Jewish community, tikkun olam has gradually become a battle cry for left-wing Jews. They interpret it as the need for social justice, and a requirement to help the needy and feed and clothe the poor.

In a Jewish left-winger’s view, the only way to supposedly follow tikkun olam’s principle is to support progressive ideas – and vote for progressive parties. Left-leaning parties such as the Liberals and NDP should be the only acceptable choices for all Canadian Jews. The right-leaning Tories, who oppose social justice and progressivism, were verboten. 

I’ve seen this argument made many times since. Some comments were either in response to pieces I’ve written or attacks on many other right-leaning Jewish writers and pundits.

Enough is enough. Let’s put an end to this train of thought.

I don’t have an issue if Jews want to follow tikkun olam for personal reasons. If that’s what they feel will make the world a better place, fine. I certainly don’t believe in this principle, but I’ll defend your right to support it.

At the same time, please stop this juxtaposition of tikkun olam with left-wing voting behaviour. Don’t suggest or infer that Judaism commands you to vote for the Liberals, NDP, Greens and others. It doesn’t.

For what it’s worth, our Christian brethren also believe in charity, helping the poor and the needy. Somehow, they’ve voted for right-leaning political parties without being consistently reprimanded for not following biblical writings and traditions.

Do left-wing Jews really think their religion is unique in this fashion?

Meanwhile, using an ancient Hebrew phrase from the rabbinical period as a personal defence for modern voting patterns is preposterous. The first political parties originated in 17th-century England. Trust me, tikkun olam was the furthest thing from their minds – and there simply isn’t any association, past or present.

Canadian Jews are therefore free to believe in whatever they wish, and support whomever they choose. In the 2011 federal election, more than half voted for the Tories. You know, the ones who don’t believe in tikkun olam.

Contrary to popular left-wing myths, many small “c” conservatives want to help the poor and disenfranchised. Not by paying lip service to social justice, mind you. Rather, by giving society a hand up, and not a hand out.

That’s why conservatives champion the free market and personal liberty. That’s why they support tax credits and broad-based tax relief. That’s why they believe in maintaining public social services and balancing them with private initiatives. That’s why they endorse programs such as workfare and school vouchers. The list goes on.

Hence, a conservative’s ultimate goal is to improve society and repair the perceived political and economic damage left behind by previous progressive governments. To take a page from tikkun olam, that’s the way we want to heal the world. 

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