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Flatiron Hot! News | January 16, 2018

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Flatiron Hot! Pundit: Never is Now – Jewish Resistance Against Trump is a Moral Imperative

Flatiron Hot! Pundit: Never is Now – Jewish Resistance Against Trump is a Moral Imperative
Eric Shapiro

I am both an atheist and a Jew. Although making this seemingly contradictory statement risks drawing criticism from both atheists and Jews, I feel obligated say it when someone asks me about my faith. Seeing Jewish Resistance trend on Twitter almost moved me to tears, and I am not an outwardly emotional person. Seeing my fellow Jews demonstrate against Steven Bannon and in solidarity with Muslims the Trump administration would put on an immoral, un-Constitutional watch list, is tremendously inspiring. And it provides a perfect example of how it is possible for all Jews, believers or otherwise, to live out the example of their faith and cultural tradition. Allow me to explain, because it is an important point that guides not only my beliefs and actions, but those of many secular Jews.

Atheism and Judaism have a long history of commingling; many Jewish radicals renounced their theological faith in favor of a Marxist faith. While I derive from that lineage, I am not a Marxist. Rather, I am someone who does not believe in gods but takes tremendous pride (and sobering lessons from) the moral and historical legacy of the Jewish people. I believe that being Jewish is about more than prayers; it is an identity and a culture. It comes along with an obligation to live one’s life in accordance with a certain set of values. It is possible to be a bad observant Jew just as it is possible to be a good Jew who de-emphasizes religious rituals. At the center of Judaism (particularly Reform Judaism) is the concept of Tikkun Olam, roughly translatable as “repairing the world.”

Search Tikkun Olam on Google and the definition you find at the top of the page will be this one:

“A Jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world. The phrase is found in the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings. It is often used when discussing issues of social policy, insuring a safeguard to those who may be at a disadvantage.”

While Jews can carry out the moral imperative of Tikkun Olam in all kinds of ways, I believe that it is inseparable from politics. The personal is, indeed, the political. Government policies, as well the values promoted by leaders and politicians, have a profound effect on the lives and livelihoods of citizens, whether in a democracy or under an authoritarian regime. Donald Trump has promised to persecute some of society’s most vulnerable groups. A group that has endured pogroms, the Holocaust and many historical atrocities before that has a special obligation to protect others from similar treatment. This is not the case, as is commonly implied, simply because victims must help other victims. Rather, Tikkun Olam mandates that we stand up for the inherent human rights and dignity of all human beings. This happens to be in line with the concept of secular humanism that provides a moral framework for many atheists, myself included.

There is simply no way to square Tikkun Olam with grim promises of a Trump presidency. Aside from Donald Trump’s appalling bigotry, Paul Ryan’s agenda, much of which the President-elect will likely pass, would eviscerate the social safety net, replacing it with a black web of poverty and moral callousness incompatible with the best moral traditions of not only Judaism, but most religious faiths. I hope that the Jewish Resistance, despite its silly name, will promote the values of Tikkun Olam for the duration of the Trump presidency and beyond, in the form of both principled protest and Tzedakah (charitable giving, another moral imperative gleaned from Jewish tradition). We may never repair the world fully, as many of our utopian Marxist forebears disastrously attempted to do, but that doesn’t make the task of improving it in the moment any less necessary.

Reprinted by Special Arrangement and with the permission of Just Off Kilter Blog.