More than 500 Jewish activists were arrested in the US for taking over one of the Capitol buildings. This was announced by the organisation “Jewish Voice for Peace” - initiator of the protest in the American capital, which made a lot of noise last week.
On 18 October, activists protesting against the bombing of Gaza stormed the Cannon Building, the oldest US Congress building. They were dressed in T-shirts that read “Not in our name”. Many of them wore Jewish religious attributes: talits, kippahs and tefillin - boxes with Torah texts tied to their foreheads and hands.
Formally, the seizure of a Congress building and the protest march of 10,000 people had a secular basis. The protest was against the oppression of Palestine. But it was Jews who were protesting. It would seem that it was only leftists.
Leftists all over the world have traditionally supported Palestine. “Jewish Voice of the World” is an organisation that makes no secret of its “left-wing” political orientation, with philosopher Noam Chomsky among its founders. Why shouldn’t Jewish socialists and internationalists support an oppressed people?
But these left-wing Jews wear the kippah, the organization is based on the principle of Jewish ethnicity and has a board of directors composed of rabbis, most of whom are interested or involved in Kabbalah. So, it is a bit more complicated than that.
However, there is a Kabbalistic code phrase that explains what it is all about: “tikkun olam” - “collection of the world”.
These two words have become a kind of watchword for left-wing pro-Palestinian American Jewry. They also explain the deep foundations of Zionism, against which the Jewish Voice of the World protests. And they are also what many of the Orthodox Jews who, like their left-wing brethren, do not accept the State of Israel turn to.
In the mid-16th century, the Kabbalist Isaac Luria developed an original metaphysical concept.
In it, the creation of the world was explained by the “compression” of God. In the resulting vacuum, the “vessels” of the ten Kabbalistic sefirot are formed and filled with divine light. However, the vessels cannot withstand the light and break. Light pours into the divinely forsaken world of the “shells”.
To gather the light, the Shechina, the divine presence, i.e. the Jewish people, is sent into this world of demonic entities and nations (goyim). His task from now on is to gather the light and restore the world to its pristine paradisiacal state - “tikkun olam”.
Then the end of the world will come, the Shechina will return to its place (sefira Malkut – “Kingdom”) and the promised king to Israel, the Mashiach, will arrive.
Thus, in the Kabbalah of Isaac Luria the expulsion of the Jewish people from Palestine receives a new and elevated significance. The Jews are expelled from their home not only to repent before God, as the Talmud said, and passively await the messiah. They are called to gather the divine light dispersed in the world. It was worth waiting and enduring.
Some, however, could not wait.
In the second half of the 17th century, a Jew from Izmir, Shbtai Zvai, declared himself Mashiach and led a movement of thousands of Jews in the Levant and Europe. Shabtai Zvi promised that the Turkish sultan would give him Palestine, from where he, the Mashiach, would rule the world. Instead of Palestine, Zvi was sent to prison, after which he converted to Islam under threat of death. Shabtai was not the first Jewish false Messiah, but his actions were the first to be justified in the light of the Lurianic Kabbalah.
According to the Kabbalist Nathan of Gaza, Shabtai Zvi committed a “holy sin” and decided to descend into hell to become the king of demons and collect the divine light from the depths of creation. “Tikkun olam”.
Other followers of the false Messiah believed that the actions of Shabtai Zvi should be repeated.
The light should be gathered among Muslims and Christians, go to them, while committing the “holy sin”, so that then with its holiness (and a Jew is always holy) and the fullness of the light gathered to destroy kingdoms and faiths and bring about the coming of Mashiach.
This was the opinion, for example, of Jacob Frank, a representative of the European branch of Sabbatism, who in 1759 converted to Catholicism in the Austrian city of Lemberg. The newly-baptised man later declared: “I came to Poland to destroy all religions, all laws”.
As the famous researcher of Jewish tradition Gershom Sholem shows, the Frankists went from words to deeds rather quickly: they took an active part in revolutionary events in Europe and also influenced the Jewish Enlightenment - Haskalah and the formation of Liberal Judaism - Reform.
Two tendencies manifested themselves vividly in Sabbatism. The first is the justification of descent to the underworld, to the “goyim”, to gather light (mystical power, knowledge, values), to restore the world to its heavenly proportions, to build paradise on earth. The second is the idea that if the Mashiach does not come, the Jews themselves must become the Mashiach or prepare a place for him, the wait for the messiah can be active.
The Jewish mystics who founded the religious movement of Chassidism in the first half of the 18th century in Podolia took a different path.
For them too Isaac Luria was an authority, but they understood the gathering of divine light differently, as an inner, mystical process in which the figure of a spiritual master and at the same time the pole of divine presence in the world - the tzadik - plays a special role.
The “Tikkun olam” in religious Zionism
In the 20th century, the concept of “tikkun olam” - “restoration of peace” - moved from Kabbalah to politics in an open form.
First and foremost, Zionism.
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, founder of the modern Chief Rabbinate of Israel in the 1920s, stated that the restoration of the Jewish state was for the purpose of “tikkun olam”.
Rebbe Kook interpreted the Lurianic Kabbalah in this way: the essence of Judaism is the dialogue between man and God that stems from Jewish monotheism. This dialogue takes place on two levels: the level of the individual and the level of the nation. Judaism developed the idea of dialogue between God and the people before the destruction of the Second Temple. Christianity and Islam developed the idea of dialogue between man and God. The sparks of the Jewish light - monotheism - were scattered throughout humanity and Jews were scattered throughout the world.
The creation of the State of Israel is the gathering of these sparks and the restoration, the healing of the world - “tikkun olam” - first at the level of restoring the full dialogue of the people of Israel with God, with the State and with the Temple, and then at the level of gathering the other nations around Israel.
After that, according to the logic of Jewish doctrine, the end of the world should come.
The most radical branches of religious Zionism today are the organizations that advocate the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem, destroyed by the Romans 2000 years ago. They believe that the Temple is necessary for a complete dialogue between Israel and God.
The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosques, venerated by Muslims, stand on this site today. They must therefore be demolished. And to begin with, to clear the site of filth.
For this purpose, it is necessary to sacrifice “a red heifer without blemish, [and] on which there was no yoke” (Book of Numbers 1-10). Heifers have already been bred with the help of radical American Protestants from Nebraska and Texas. They believe that they will bring about the end of the world, when Muslims, Jews and Russians will fight in the Holy Land and Americans will ascend into heaven (Rapture).
The “restoration of the world” on the left
The “tikkun olam” has been interpreted differently by liberal Jews in America.
During the Second World War, Jewish educator Alexander Dushkin identified the idea with “social service” and the promotion of the ideals of democracy. The “Tikkun olam”, he said, placed the Jew “as a child of God and a partner of the Almighty” before the ongoing task of reordering the world.
In 1949, the representative of American liberal Judaism, Rebbe Abraham Feldman, defined it even more definitively: “the establishment of the kingdom of God”, “social justice, the reign of God on earth”.
According to Rebbe Feldman, God”s reign on earth was facilitated by the establishment of Israel.
But the more radical “enlightened” Jews disagreed with him. In the 1980s, representatives of the left-wing Jewish movement in the United States founded the New Jewish Agenda, whose platform stated: “We are Jews who firmly believe that authentic Judaism can only be complete with serious and consistent attention to tikkun olam (the right ordering of human relations and the physical-spiritual world).
The right ordering of human relations requires the establishment of a Palestinian state, the protection of the environment, the defense of the rights of sexual minorities, etc. One of the most influential representatives of this current is Rabbi Michael Lerner, close to the US Democratic Party, who publishes the magazine Tikkun.
Both left-wing liberals and religious Zionists, although at odds with each other, have much in common. They believe, as the Sabbatians once did, that the expectation of Mashiach must be active, that the Jewish people themselves must transform the world - in fact, act as a collective Mashiach, to make “tikkun olam”.
The main disagreement is only about what counts as divine light and where to gather it - among Jews alone or among all nations, and what the messiah’s kingdom will be - a global left-liberal kingdom of “justice” or a Jewish nation-state that will arise among other nations.
The orthodox answer
Among Jewish believers, however, there are those who are convinced that both are in a hurry.
These tend to be the ultra-Orthodox Jews. Technically, they are now in the same ranks protesting against Israel as the liberals. However, their reasons are different.
For example, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish organization Naturei Karta (Guardians of the City) opposes Israel as such, whether it is “fair” to the Palestinians or not. There should be no Israel, because the Zionists have committed the same sin as the heretic Shabtai Zvi: the sin of pride and self-righteousness, equating themselves with God, deciding that it is possible to return to the Holy Land before the coming of Mashiach, to “hasten God”.
But it is not Mashiach that will come to these people, but the wrath of God.
According to the leaders of “Naturei Karta”, the Zionists have violated three Talmudic commandments: not to rebel against the peoples of the world, not to approach the end of the world and, finally, not to return together to the Land of Israel.
Another religious community, much more numerous than the “Naturei Karta”, although less often mentioned, the Satmar Hasidim (named after the city of Satu Mare, in present-day Romania), hold similar views. They number over 100,000 and are the largest Chassidic community in the world. By comparison, the most famous, the Lubavitch chassidim, number 20,000.
The Satmar Hasidim live mainly in the United States and are engaged in the diamond trade. And this largest and richest community in Chassidism considers the State of Israel illegal.
At the beginning of the last century, the founder of the community, Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum, ruled that the Zionists were violating the commandments of the Talmud by rebelling against non-Jewish authorities and trying to conquer the land of Israel by force. Therefore, the Satmar, even when living in Israel, refuse to deal with this state. For example, they do not take the shekels into their hands. And the most radical are sure that only the destruction of Israel will pave the way for the true Mashiach,
Even for this part of the Jewish people, Lurianic Kabbalah and “tikkun olam” are important, but as inner work, not as politics. However, Isaac Luria taught that until all the sparks of divine light are brought together, Mashiach will not come.
The protests of part of the Jewish community against Israel’s policies and even against Israel’s existence as such demonstrate that there is no monolithic “world Jewry”, regardless of what anti-Semites may think.
The divergence is not just at the level of specific policies, but of metaphysics, of the very meaning of the Jewish people’s existence.
All are certain that they have a special mission in this world, somehow linked to the idea of the fulfilment of world history and the establishment of a special messianic era, but there is no agreement on what exactly this mission should express, where and how to look for the lost light of the Sfirot.
In such a rift, paradoxically, lies the strength of the Jewish people.
One hundred years ago, the stars of world geopolitics aligned in such a way that, thanks to the support of first the British and then the American empire, a group of Jews - the Zionists - rose to prominence.
However, even if Israel disappears from the world map with the decline of the United States, the Jews will remain. Moreover, many of them, some with a hat and a lapserdak and others with a hippie yarmulke and a rainbow flag, will say with satisfaction, “Well, we warned you!”