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Social Justice

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Social Justice

There is a growing debate within Jewish circles about the term “Tikkun Olam” – meaning to fix or change the world. Some Jews place this at the center of our nation’s mission. The mission of the Jewish people, according to this approach, is to stand with the oppressed and bring societal change and redemption to the entire world. Others, however, have criticized this approach. Some feel that the notion that Tikkun Olam stands at the center of Judaism has warped the focus of Judaism as a religious movement and makes it more into a political movement.

Each month, and each topic, we enter a different part of the vast world of Jewish thought and life. With guests, essays, and recommended reading, we approach these topics from a number of directions, all while trying to answer a few core questions. Here are our fundamental concerns on the topic:

Social Justice: Our Central Questions

1. Jewish Values and Social Justice: Is there a theological imperative in Judaism to be involved in social justice? 

2. Social Justice and the Orthodox community: Why does the Orthodox community seem to be so much less actively engaged in social justice work than other parts of the Jewish community?

3. Particularity and Universalism: Does belief in Jewish chosenness allow for broad social activism?

Stay tuned as we explore these important questions…

What this Topic Means to Me:

By: David Bashevkin

I grew up in a relatively sheltered community in Long Island, NY. I don’t have any regrets about being raised there—I very much love the community and friends by whom I was surrounded. To this day, my closest friends are the people I grew up with. But there certainly are drawbacks to such insularity. There was precious little economic diversity within the community I was raised. It was so upper-class that despite my father being a doctor, it always felt like we were one of the more financially strapped families. I know, it sounds crazy thinking about it today. I remember my uncle—a social worker who lives in Vermont (whom I absolutely adore)—once visited. My father introduced him at shul and someone asked him what he does. He said he was a social worker. “You mean you own a social work agency,” the man asked my uncle. No, he was a social worker. The lack of economic diversity in many Jewish communities is a blessing and a curse. Of course, it’s a blessing—so many Jewish families have been able to find incredible success in the American dream. I wouldn’t want to diminish that for a moment. But can we stop pretending that our success hasn’t come at a cost? I think there are three serious costs to our community:

  1. Obscured Vision of Others: I did not grow up really knowing anyone who struggled financially. If you were to ask my seventh grade self what families I knew who had financial difficulties I likely would have naively replied “my own.” Wealth can obscure our vision of the broader difficulties people within and outside our community have to contend with. I have a close friend, a gem of a human being, who comes from an extraordinarily wealthy family. He’s one of the most generous people I know. He once said that in our increasingly flattened society where geographic boundaries have been rendered nearly moot by the internet, the only lasting significant barrier is wealth. Those who struggle financially often look like they live in a foreign country to those who don’t. It becomes too easy to blame them—if only you tried harder, worked more, then you’d be successful. When our successes are attributed solely to our own efforts, the difficulties of others become their problems and not our problems. One of the most impactful experiences I remember from when I was growing up was when my shul would collect money to support people before Pesach. The person explained that this money was going to people who all live within a one mile radius of the shul. Financial difficulty does not just exist in some distant land. But if you don’t look, you’ll never see it. 
  2. Confusing Jewish Life for Socio-Economic Status:  I recently did an AMA on Reddit. It was a lot of fun. Someone asked me about the most concerning trend in the Orthodox community. This was my response: The scariest trend in Orthodoxy is how, especially in the tri-state area, it is becoming increasingly intertwined with socio-economic status and culture. I find that most scary and discuss it a lot in my class at YU. It’s scary because Judaism can’t just be for certain careers or neighborhoods. But the good thing, in a way, of Orthodoxy becoming more cultural is that it makes it both harder and less necessary to leave. I’m worried Orthodox Judaism today is where Conservative Judaism was in the 1950’s. Top of the game, a bit triumphalist, and convinced that it would always be the wave of the future. It’s important for Jewish leaders, parents, and communal members to pay closer attention to why those who leave do. Others have raised the issue about the effects of our lack of economic diversity on our community and I think it is a serious issue that is, unfortunately, only getting worse. Jewish life needs to be more than an economic status.
  3. Warped Definition of Success: I think the most insidious effect the lack of economic diversity has on our community is in the very definition of success itself. Sadly, for many the word success has become synonymous with financial success. I believe this is nothing short of tragic. If someone is going to lack a sense of esteem and worth for the work they do and what they contribute— absent of wealth—they will find other communities that appreciate them. In many ways, this is not a Jewish problem, it is an American one. And, believe it or not, it is one that began to escalate in the 1840’s. As detailed in Scott Sandage’s fantastic book, Born Losers: A History of Failure in America, the notion of the American Dream also created the reality of feeling like an American failure. Our success can’t just be measured in dollars. We know the price of everything, said Oscar Wilde, and the value of nothing. It’s important that people don’t view themselves as a price tag, but find other ways to measure their value and find satisfaction in their success.


The other major price to the insularity of our community—and increasingly the focus of social action—is racial diversity. I did not grow up with any black friends. In our home, of course, we never allowed racial slurs of any kind, but avoiding overt racism is not enough to qualify you as a Social Justice Warrior. I think the first time I became conscious of the racial component of the Jewish community was at the book launch of
Letters to President Clinton (a book I helped edit) by Rabbi Menachem Genack. There were rumors that President Clinton would come to the book launch, so I invited a friend of mine, Jeff Lindor, who I knew was a big admirer of President Clinton. When we arrived, it dawned on me: Jeff was the only black person in the entire room. Now I’m not saying “I don’t see color.” I knew Jeff was black, but I guess I never experienced the sense that you could be the only black person in a Jewish room. I wasn’t sure if Jeff was uncomfortable (he says he wasn’t) and he was very gracious even though President Clinton never arrived. But this was the first time I became viscerally aware  that, while many Black Jews exist, overall our community does not have a great deal of racial diversity.

What’s the moral of this story? Honestly, I am still trying to figure it out. Religious communities require some measure of insularity. And there is a blessing in that. The amount of charity, social services and care extended within the Jewish community is simply remarkable. It heartens me as a Jew and makes me so proud to be a part of our community. But insularity also has its challenges. I reject the notion that we should all become global citizens and erase any differences among us. I think there is a way we can have both. It’s not easy since all of these issues—economic diversity, racial diversity, and the very notion of Jewish chosenness—oftentimes merge together in one confusing cholent pot. I recently wrote about this in my reflection on Tractate Eruvin for Tablet Magazine.

Is it better to be a global citizen or a member of tribe? Is it better to have not been created and remain connected to the Source of all humanity or to have been created and live in our fractured and divisive world? Eilu v’eilu divrei elokim chaim—these and these are the words of the living God. To be alive, to be living, to have some modicum of engagement in the ultimate chaim—life itself—is to be engaged in these negotiations. To emulate the living God is less about understanding the nature of existence and more about the nature, pain, alienations, and the sublime struggle of coexistence. To connect and preserve, to unify and divide, to be joined while also remaining separate. And Eruvin shows us how to build this complex notion of self and community. Through the doorways of the eruv, we can see the other and they can see us. And as we peer through the synthetic divisions of the eruv, we are reminded that no matter which side you may find yourself—these and these are the worlds of the living God.

Preserving our differences while also connecting to others are both values that can learn to co-exist. We each have a responsibility to ensure that this world is better than we left it. Judaism is more than floor hockey, fancy bar mitzvahs, and affording a nice home in the tri-state area. But we have to allow it to be more than those things or that is precisely what it will become. The Judaism we create will only be as big as the capacity that our hearts allow. Becoming a bigger, broader, more caring person in turn expands the scope of Jewish life and Jewish ideas. 

I’ll leave you with a moving interview with Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, the former dean of Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school. He was asked about Jewish participation in social justice. He responded with a moving idea from his grandfather Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlop, one of the primary students of Rav Kook:

My grandfather wrote, “The future redemption is the redemption of the entire world, all of Israel and all the nations, and all the animals and plants and inanimate objects, and the whole host of the heavens, all the planets, and all the worlds. All will be redeemed to eternal freedom.” We have to believe in this idea and feel it: ge’ulah (redemption) is not for Jews alone. It’s for the whole world.

Rabbi Jeremy Wieder: Is There a Torah approach to our Social Responsibility?

On December 17, 2014, a rosh yeshiva stood at the podium of Yeshiva University’s Glueck Beit Midrash, and urged the usually cloistered world of the Beit Midrash to watch the video of Garner’s tragic death at the hands of the police. Read this rosh yeshiva’s words:

I implore you, again, to watch the video.  At a minimum, you should be able to feel the pain of a man whose blood was spilled needlessly, the pain of his family, and the pain of his community, that with a good deal of justification, feels oppressed.

The rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Dr. Jeremy Wieder, used his own pained reaction when watching the video of Garner’s death as an invitation to speak about the Jewish values of engaging with the pain of the world around us:

The Netziv (R.  Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, last head of the Volzhin Yeshiva, d. 1893), in his somewhat famous and very powerful introduction to his commentary on humash (the Pentateuch), in Sefer Bereshit (Genesis), speaks about the fact that Sefer Bereshit is referred to as Sefer Ha-yashar (the Book of the Just.)  Why is it called the sefer ha-yashar? The yesharim (the just ones) were the avot (patriarchs) —Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov.  He explains that they were called yesharim because of their concern for people who were not in their own dalet amotAvraham Avinu pleaded with and badgered  the Ribbono shel olam (Master of the Universe) on behalf of the people of Sodom, who were the worst kinds of wicked people in the world you could have, but because of the patriarchs’ overwhelming sense of magnanimity, their generosity, their spirit of ahavat ha-briyot (love of humanity), they cared about everyone around them.  As the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov, we have a responsibility to follow in their path and show our concern and compassion for those around us who are downtrodden.

Orthodox Jewry has long had a complicated relationship with social justice, along with a broader question of engagement with the world beyond Orthodox Jewry. Why is this so? The question comes down to two components: The attitudes of the Torah and the attitudes of its adherents. In the former category are questions of the Torah’s view(s) on political and ethical issues, namely: what does the Torah say about social activism? In the latter are questions about the socio-cultural sensibilities of the Orthodox community, namely: how does this boundaried group of people balance the values of their host culture with their religious values? For reasons relating to both of these questions, too often it can seem like the Torah remains outside the confines of social justice. It can feel to many that the more engaged one becomes in the insular-ish world of the Torah, the less engaged they are in the fight for representation, equality, and diversity that comprise the world of social justice.

Jeremy walks a tightrope in his position as an outspoken moral voice within an Orthodox institution. He is a deeply thoughtful leader continuously posing these moral questions and has considered his community’s positioning carefully. This is how he frames the dilemma:

Avraham Avinu said to the Bnei Heit (Hittites): Ger veToshav Anokhi Immakhem — A stranger and resident I am amongst you.

Rav Soloveitchik famously commented about this: “Abraham lived among various people of divergent faiths. When he negotiated with the sons of Heth (of the Hittites) for a burial plot for his wife Sarah, he defined his status: ‘I am a stranger [immigrant] and a resident among you’ (Gen 23:4). He was basically declaring that the sectarian faith he was propounding did not preclude his commitment to further the welfare of the general society.” (Reflections of the Rav II, pp.74-75)

A resident and a stranger, at home and yet nevertheless apart. He continues:

Perhaps the greatest challenge any ben or bas-Torah in our community faces is attempting to navigate the balance of Ger veToshav — when are we part of the broader society and when are we apart. And when we speak of this dilemma, I am not speaking about issues of halakhah. Halakhah by its nature is mostly clear and immutable. It may change in its application to a different reality, and perhaps even shift slowly, almost imperceptibly, over very long periods of time. There may be a shift from one approach to another within the halakhic tradition based upon changing circumstances, but fundamentally halakhah is immutable and, at least in broad strokes, clear.

Instead, what I speak of here are what we would term “Torah values;” what might best be described as the broader picture that the details of halakhah paint. If the various halakhot consist of all of the trees in the forest, then “Torah values” would be what one sees when stepping back and gazing at the bigger picture; it is not merely a collection of individual trees, but a magnificent, verdant forest — the intertwining of the branches of various trees, as well as the magnificent rays of light that shine through the gaps.

The forest of “Torah values,” as he puts it, is “magnificent, verdant,” and is also the space of much controversy over the millenia. From the prophets to the abolitionists, from the “Great Kosher Meat War of 1902” to the 2020 election, Jews have been divided on these Torah values. No matter your feelings on the topic, Jeremy’s moral voice invites us all to think more deeply and compassionately about this world.

Jeremy received his ordination from RIETs and holds a PhD in Judaic studies from New York University. A scholar, teacher, and rebbe, he is an adjunct professor in the Bible department of Yeshiva University, as well as a rosh yeshiva at RIETS, Yeshiva University’s seminary for religious study. His intellectual and spiritual interests are varied, and his articulate and impassioned voice in favor of a deeper, more moraled thinking have gained him many students from near and far. To get more of a sense of who Jeremy is, listen to his memorable sichot Mussar, famous in Yeshiva University for his consistently clear-headed morality. Rabbi Jeremy Wieder joins us to talk about the Torah, social justice, and what gets lost in between.

Listen to “Rabbi Jeremy Wieder: Is There a Torah Approach to our Social Responsibility? [Social Justice 1/3]” on Spreaker.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google. View transcript.

Dr. Rivka Schwartz Press: How Should We Educate about Social Justice?

Does Orthodox Judaism have a privilege problem?  This is the question that Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz has outspokenly been raising for the last fifteen years. Now, people are listening.

In her 2010 contribution to Yeshiva University’s Orthodox Forum, she wrote on the topic of “Privilege, Perspective, and Modern Orthodox Youth,” in a lucidly thought-through consideration of the history of the Orthodox position in contemporary America. In this article, Rivka takes as a starting point the widespread sense that Orthodox Jewry has ‘earned’ its place in this country, in their socio-economic and cultural positioning. In her words, reflecting on this position:

…being successful creates a powerful psychological dynamic that further distances those who have from those who do not, and which makes that empathy all the more difficult to achieve. We desire, indeed we need, to see our success as the product of our own efforts and achievements, rather than our good fortune. It is this phenomenon that Jim Hightower was pointing to when he mocked then-President George H.W. Bush as “someone who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” Jews have, as a community, enjoyed great success in the economic, social, cultural, and political realms. A full accounting of the reasons for the success of Jews as a group would include a powerful immigrant work ethic, an intense emphasis on education as a means of advancement, and a fierce commitment to “making it.”

Rivka thinks we need to appreciate how complicated the story is made by external forces. Relying on several books on the history of higher education in the United States, (such as Ira Katznelson’s When Affirmative Action Was White, and A Consumer’s Republic by Lizabeth Cohen), Rivka argues that “we have been the beneficiaries of certain broader patterns in American life,” patterns that in some circumstances were exclusionary to other racial and social groups. From the New Deal legislation like Social Security, early forms of which excluded non-White Americans, to the G.I. Bill, and the complicated history of standardized testing and college admissions, a coterie of widespread policy decisions unduly benefited white-passing Americans (such as European-originating Jews) and hurt Black Americans. This is not a distant history; As the intensely loaded current conversations over Ivy League admissions standards attests, the impact of many of these policies are still being felt today.

How does this history impact the education of an Orthodox student? Moreover, why should it? With a PhD from Princeton University and decades of experience teaching and talking with Modern Orthodox students, Dr. Press Schwartz is well-equipped when discussing the local importance and relevance to far-reaching historical phenomena. She thinks that the perspective we take upon our own successes on American shores are both deeply rooted in our self-concept as a people, with our particular history, and important for the way we look at the world today.

In her words:

Why does this matter? Why do I care if my students recognize that they are where they are by the accident of a birth, good luck, and a lot of advantages, and that but for the grace of God, they might have ended up in a very different place? That recognition is the necessary precondition for empathy. If you believe you have what you have because you earned it, then anyone who doesn’t have it hasn’t earned it, doesn’t deserve it, and has no claim on your hard-earned dollars to get it. If you have benefited from accidents of history, geography, skin pigmentation, and sheer dumb luck in getting where you have gotten in life, you will be more grateful for what you understand to be your good fortune, and will view differently those who have not gotten where you have gotten. Instead of seeing them as held back by their own lack of ability or hard work, you will recognize that they have not had the advantages that you were able to capitalize on, a recognition that might impose some sense of obligation, but at the least would impose humility.

Rivka is quick to point out that this by no means is the only ‘Jewish’ perspective, but her belief is that it is a necessary perspective:

So I will not pretend that this position is the only authentic Jewish one, or a necessary outgrowth of halakhic and Torah values. But I do think that it is necessary. High school students feel keenly the need for justice and fairness in the world. In the view of many of them, the idea that the most worthy get the most and rise to the top seems eminently fair, which explains Ayn Rand’s enduring popularity among that age group. If we can complicate their notions of worthiness, merit, and earning, we can have them think again about what those who succeed might owe the society that created the conditions for their success, and how they might view, and therefore what they might think it right to do for, those who have less than they.

History and humility go hand in hand. The more we think critically about our own history in this country, the more we will be able to look at groups different from our own and learn to listen without judgement. To educate about social justice in Orthodox schools, history and humility have to come together.

But even if we achieve that marriage of history and humility, there are still a number of issues that must be contended with when considering teaching social justice in Orthodox schools. Is social justice work a value? Is it a Jewish value? If you agree that it is a value worth inculcating in youth, where does the sensitivity and orientation of this social responsibility come from? These questions relate to the very purpose and parameters of social justice work. Echoing a far broader question about the nature and aims of school-based education, in one exchange on Twitter, 18Forty founder David Bashevkin and Dr. Press Schwartz disagree about this question: Should social justice be taught at home or in schools? What is a vision we might have?

The recently passed Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was one of the greatest voices on these questions of our time. In his magisterial To Heal a Fractured World, he wove a Jewish ethic of social responsibility out of timeless sources, placing the human and the divine in intimate conversation. In A Letter in the Scroll, one of the most powerful documents of Jewish identity of our age, Rabbi Sacks says this:

Two ideas have sounded like siren calls through the ages, leading men to shed the blood of other men. The first is that God is on the side of the strong, the many, the established power. That is why God chose a people who were weak, and few, and homeless. The second is that there is somewhere a truth so universal that it is to be  imposed on all mankind. Behind all religious persecutions is the idea that it is acceptable to harm other people’s bodies to save their souls. In forcing them to accept certain beliefs, the persecutor is acting for their good, serving God through violence to the image of God. Both ideas lend rationale to why God chose a particular people as His own: he chose the powerless to teach that He is not to be found in power, and a people who neither shared the faith of others nor imposed their faith on others to teach that there is not one way to His presence, but many.

Historically, Israel has paid a high price for its religious vocation. Time and again Jews became the test case of a civilization. Were they tolerated? Were they protected under law? Were they granted basic human rights? Refusing to assimilate, insisting on their right to be different, Jews experienced the full force of hatred of the “stranger.” Those who persecuted Jews showed that they could not tolerate difference, and a civilization that does not tolerate difference fails a basic moral requirement of humanity. A world that cannot live with strangers is a world not yet redeemed.

This is a view of chosenness that privileges our powerlessness over our power, and our tolerance and openness to the stranger above our fears of difference. Rabbi Sacks was one voice arguing for this conversation. Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz is another. Rivka joins us to talk about education, social justice, and how the two might meet. This a layered, complex topic, and Rivka is the perfect guest to walk us through the many layers of this question. Having grown up in a more right-wing community, now occupying positions of leadership in several modern institutions, Rivka has the perspective of the insider-outsider, able to look critically and appreciatively at each community with an open mind. Listen now to our conversation with Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz.

Listen to “Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz: How Should We Educate About Social Justice? [Social Justice 2/3]” on Spreaker.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google. View transcript.

Eli Rubin: How do Mysticism and Social Action Intersect?

What place does mysticism have in a conversation about social justice? For many people – and many times – mysticism was identified with the most antiquated, change-averse parts of religion, and social modernizers or reformers in Europe were often concomitantly dedicated to reforming the socio-economic lives of Jewry, as well as the religious views of Jews. While these reformers were not often friends of Orthodox Judaism, this perspective – which pits mysticism against progressive social action – is widespread. When we think of the mystic, we often think of a cloistered hermit or an encaved Rashbi, thinking and practicing theology far from the concerns of civilization.

But social action is not only for rationalists, and mysticism is not so easily sealed off from the concerns of society. As Professor Allison Coudert discussed in her conversation with 18Forty, mysticism has long fueled the hopes and dreams of a better society, a better future, hopes and dreams that became the Scientific Revolution. And as we reflected with Rav Moshe Weinberger on 18Forty, the mystical concern and the communal concern have often gone hand-in-hand.

Many of the religious, albeit non-Orthodox, advocates for social activism were mystically inclined. In the Conservative world, Rabbi Avraham Joshua Heschel – who famously marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma – made a deep impact on the religious views of social action in his portrayal of the Biblical prophet as a social reformer. Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, an early shliach of the Lubavitcher Rebbe who ultimately became an egalitarian rebbe of the colorful Jewish Renewal movement, also married a commitment to mysticism with a commitment to environmentalism and social action. For these thinkers, the Arizal’s theory of this world as impregnated with exiled holy sparks that demand uplifting crystallizes into an expansive vision for spiritual work. As the holy sparks of this world need uplifting, Tikkun Olam means fighting for justice for all, uplifting all sparks. Tikkun Olam, now laden with sociocultural baggage, is a complicated term for American Jews and its use has far-ranging meanings for people. The poet Wendell Berry commented that the way through the world is far harder than the way above the world – this is a mysticism that transcends this world by engaging deeply and honestly with it.

To be sure, this is a complex story, and most of the most ardent fighters for economic, civic, and racial justice in the twentieth century have been non-Orthodox. Yet, it still has far-reaching implications for Orthodox Jewry and its sociocultural positioning. (To read more about this important question, we recommend the following: Lora Rabin Dagi wrote her undergraduate thesis, at Harvard, on the topic of “Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue: Orthodox Jewry and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1970.” Her fascinating treatment of this complicated time period provides a window into many of the antecedents to the engagement in social justice we see today. In his Kavvanah Blog, Alan Brill provides some of his favorite parts of this lengthy dissertation, which we included below. To get the full dissertation, click here.)

Where were the Orthodox rabbis and thought leaders? Where were the Orthodox mystics, in all this? In a recent book, Social Vision: The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Transformative Paradigm for the World, Authors Philip Exler, with Eli Rubin and Michael Wexler, argue that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was one Orthodox mystic engaged in such activities. Appreciators of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn tend to focus on his deeply inspiring love for all, his stunning intellectual breadth, and his stewardship of a group from embattled Hasidic court to international outreach movement, but this book considers an underappreciated part of the Rebbe’s work: his social vision.

The reforms for which the Lubavitcher Rebbe advocated are remarkably broad-ranging, covering issues from criminal justice to education to poverty and food programs. Eli Rubin is at the forefront of this growing awareness about the Rebbe’s social activism, and the mysticism that undergirds it. A thinker in his own right, with deeply informed writing and lectures on the topics of mysticism, history, and philosophy, Eli is equally comfortable in the idioms of academia and chassidus, and writes as an insider-outsider, from within and without the world of Chabad.

To get a better sense of the Rebbe’s social vision, consider an anecdote that Eli quotes in an article reflecting on this paradoxical sense of history of the Rebbe:

In a New York Times profile dating from 1972, Israel Shenker records the Rebbe’s response when it was suggested that his orthodoxy marked him as a conservative:

“I don’t believe that Reform Judaism is liberal and Orthodox is conservative. My explanation of conservative is someone who is so petrified he cannot accept something new. For me, Judaism, or halacha [Jewish religious law], or Torah encompasses all the universe, and it encompasses every new invention, every new theory, every new piece of knowledge or thought or action. Everything that happens in 1972 has a place in the Torah, and it must be interpreted, it must be explained, it must be evaluated from the point of view of Torah even if it happened for the first time in March of 1972.”

The Rebbe’s rejection of the conservative label is stark, and his elaboration of its connotation is scathing: “My explanation of conservative is someone who is so petrified he cannot accept something new.”

This is a vision of social justice that transcends right or left, democrat or republican. This is a social vision as universal as it is specific, as the Rebbe’s targeted campaigns reflect. This perspective might be apolitical – or perhaps trans-political – inviting people from all political orientations to dedicate themselves more deeply to work for a better world.

Eli Rubin joins us to talk about social justice, mysticism, and where the two meet. Eli is a research writer and editor at Chabad.org, focusing on the social and intellectual history of Chabad Chassidism. He has studied at the Rabbinic College of America, has collaborated with a wide array of thinkers and writers, and is a lucid articulator of complicated mystical ideas. To get a better sense for who Eli is, read some of his fascinating academic writing, watch a lecture of his, check out his Twitter feed,  and of course check out the new book he co-authored. Tune in now for Eli’s thought-provoking reflections.

Listen to “Eli Rubin: How do Mysticism and Social Action Interact? [Social Justice 3/3]” on Spreaker.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google. View transcript.

FOR MORE ON THIS TOPIC, CONSIDER READING:

To Heal a Fractured World

Schocken, 2007
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

An instant classic, Rabbi Sacks’s To Heal a Fractured World is an erudite, personal, and deeply spiritual argument for religion to work towards a better world. This book is a journey through the Torah, Jewish law, Jewish thought, and general philosophy, all on the road to deeper responsibility towards each other. Both eminently contemporary and timeless, this work is loved by students and teachers of all ages and walks of life for a reason, and is a must-read of the contemporary Jewish canon for any interested in living a richer, more constructive life.

+ Buy on Amazon

An instant classic, Rabbi Sacks’s To Heal a Fractured World is an erudite, personal, and deeply spiritual argument for religion to work towards a better world. This book is a journey through the Torah, Jewish law, Jewish thought, and general philosophy, all on the road to deeper responsibility towards each other. Both eminently contemporary and timeless, this work is loved by students and teachers of all ages and walks of life for a reason, and is a must-read of the contemporary Jewish canon for any interested in living a richer, more constructive life.

+ Buy on Amazon

Social Vision: The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Transformative Paradigm for the World

Herder & Herder, 2019
Phillip Wexler (with Eli Rubin and Michael Wexler)

Who was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn? In the popular imagination, he is remembered for his impact on Jewish outreach and religious life, for very good reason. This groundbreaking book is the first to delve into the Rebbe’s social activism. In exploring the Rebbe’s role as an advocate for public education, criminal justice reform, women’s empowerment, and alternative energy, this lucid book provides a perspective of how deep religiosity and deeply engaged social justice work can (and should) go hand in hand. Intriguingly, this book is also a well-thought investigation into how the Rebbe’s social views aligned with the rest of his socio-mystical weltanschauung, and learning about his broad web of views is both powerful and interesting.

+ Buy on Amazon

Who was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn? In the popular imagination, he is remembered for his impact on Jewish outreach and religious life, for very good reason. This groundbreaking book is the first to delve into the Rebbe’s social activism. In exploring the Rebbe’s role as an advocate for public education, criminal justice reform, women’s empowerment, and alternative energy, this lucid book provides a perspective of how deep religiosity and deeply engaged social justice work can (and should) go hand in hand. Intriguingly, this book is also a well-thought investigation into how the Rebbe’s social views aligned with the rest of his socio-mystical weltanschauung, and learning about his broad web of views is both powerful and interesting.

+ Buy on Amazon

Jewish Ethics in a Post-Madoff World: A Case for Optimism

Palgrave Macmillan, 2011
Moses Pava

A book written in an age of financial impropriety, Jewish Ethics in a Post-Madoff World takes the gaps between religion and its adherents as the starting point for reflection on Jewish ethics and community. While not dealing with the traditional understanding of social justice, Jewish Ethics works through many of the same questions animating the conversation around social justice in the Jewish community, such as the question of Orthodoxy’s socio-economic limitations, how we frame ethics in 21st century religious communities, and the possibility of communal change. This book is intended for “those readers who are willing to examine unflinchingly, and with an open mind, the precise contours of today’s ethical failures, even when such failures raise deep questions about the status of one’s community and one’s own taken-for-granted values.” Take this book seriously, and join us in thinking about these challenging communal questions.

+ Buy on Amazon

A book written in an age of financial impropriety, Jewish Ethics in a Post-Madoff World takes the gaps between religion and its adherents as the starting point for reflection on Jewish ethics and community. While not dealing with the traditional understanding of social justice, Jewish Ethics works through many of the same questions animating the conversation around social justice in the Jewish community, such as the question of Orthodoxy’s socio-economic limitations, how we frame ethics in 21st century religious communities, and the possibility of communal change. This book is intended for “those readers who are willing to examine unflinchingly, and with an open mind, the precise contours of today’s ethical failures, even when such failures raise deep questions about the status of one’s community and one’s own taken-for-granted values.” Take this book seriously, and join us in thinking about these challenging communal questions.

+ Buy on Amazon

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