Radical Hope Has No Meaning

By Yoffie, Eric | Tikkun, November/December 2004 | Go to article overview

Radical Hope Has No Meaning


Yoffie, Eric, Tikkun


The idea of radical hope has no meaning to me.

I am a religious Jew who attempts to devote his life to the study of Torah and to the observance of the mitzvot that I find there. I never question that it is my task to pursue justice in the world, because Torah commands me to do so.

In my daily study, I never cease to be amazed, fortified, and inspired by the ethical power of our traditional texts, which speak of justice in a clear and unequivocal way. I am astonished by those who profess to be religious Jews and yet fail to discern in Torah God's passion for justice on earth. God is preoccupied with the well-being of the poor and is immersed in such nitty-gritty matters as debts, mortgages, wages, and interest. I demonstrate my belief in God by emulating God's behavior. The notion that one can be a practicing Jew and yet be unconcerned with economic justice is beyond my understanding.

Do I occasionally get discouraged by my failure and the failure of others to implement the Torah's principles of justice in the world? From time to time. But when I get discouraged, that is not the fault of the world or of other people; it is my fault. I am not naïve about the human capacity for evil. The advantage to being part of a 3500-year-old tradition is that we are prepared for whatever happens today because it has happened to us before. Believing Jews-at least those of the liberal variety-are students of history, and we Jews have had ample experience with prejudice, cruelty, mass murder, and death. Furthermore, Torah records in great detail the persistent unwillingness of the human species to submit to God's desire for justice on earth, and therefore no student of Torah has a right to claim ignorance of the realities of our world. But being a realist does not excuse me-or any other religious Jew-from fulfilling my Jewish obligations to the surrounding society.

And if I get discouraged nonetheless, what do I do? If I am able, I travel to Jerusalem and drink in the miracle of the rebirth of a sovereign Jewish nation in her ancient homeland. More often, I open my Tanach and turn to the prophets, who express in language of sweeping lyrical power their belief that no matter how wrong things are, God will someday put them right. Astute students of human nature who were also thunderous critics of how mighty nations exploited weak nations and the rich exploited the poor, the prophets nonetheless dreamed of a time when the lion would lie down with the lamb, nations would be joined together in brotherhood and sisterhood, and all of us would walk with God and delight in God's teaching. When I read their words, I cannot help but share their dreams and their hopes. In addition, I do as Jews have always done and find strength and reinforcement in prayer and the rituals of my tradition. Just as I am appalled by those right-wing Jews who refuse to acknowledge the ethical side of Judaism, so too am I saddened by left-wing Jews who see Judaism primarily as a culture of ethics and not a religion at all. In my experience, these Jews-denied the glow of the Shabbat candles, the structured holiness of ritual life, and the support of a religious community-are very likely to end up as discouraged dropouts or embittered fanatics in the fight for justice. …

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