Of the Sacred Slogans we have addressed so far, none are as socially significant as “tikkun olam.” Tikkun olam literally translates to “repairing the world,” which is ambitious as it is open to interpretation. Despite the fact that there is no commandment mandate anywhere in Biblical1 or Rabbinic literature for Jews to undertake tikkunolam,2 some have understood it as a universalist mandate for the Jewish people. For example, according to Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, “We cannot consider ourselves servants of the Divine King unless we take upon ourselves the task ‘to perfect the World under the Kingdom of the Almighty.”3 Nearly 60 years later, R. Richard Hirsch asserted, “God has chosen us for a sacred mission: Tikkun Olam, to complete the universe. This concept of Tikkun Olam as the collective mission of the Jewish people has permeated every movement in Jewish life.”4
With the extensive literature discussing tikkunolamconstantly growing, a discussion of how the term has evolved would be a worthy study in its own right.5 However, my focus here is what did the idiom mean in its original context, with a focus on its practical implementations.
The rabbinic idiom “Tikun Olam” literally means “repairing/fixing the world” and has been invoked to promote advocacy for numerous causes and policies. But what did “Tikun Olam” mean to those who coined the phrase? In the final installment of his Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law series, Rabbi Yuter explores the specific instances of Tikkun Olam to extrapolate and infer the ideal social system as understood by the Rabbinic Sages.