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How Do Jews Approach Issues of Social Justice?

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Social justice is a unifying mandate of Reform Judaism, central to who we are and what we do as a community at Temple Sinai in contributing to Tikkun Olam, repair of the world

There are four ways in which we engage in social justice. While each category of focus has a different scope and purpose, together, these four approaches contribute to the repair of society, locally, nationally, in Israel and around the world. To learn more about any of the topic below, get involved, or bring an issue to our attention, please contact the Chair of the Social Action Committee.

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The field of Jewish social justice is a response to the brokenness of our world and a way to bring deep Jewish wisdom to that work. For our Jewish community to fully live our justice values, we cannot hold ourselves at arm’s length from those who are in need now. Our work for justice must flow from being in relationship with people who are vulnerable, from listening to the stories that they share, and from standing up for their needs. At Avodah, a Jewish leadership development organization for young adults, we seek to connect a passion for social justice with Jewish values. Through our Jewish Service Corps program, we provide members with the opportunity to spend a year working at a nonprofit while living and learning with a group of peers. Our programs are grounded in Jewish teachings, preparing our participants to approach every situation with open hearts and minds, and to form relationships with clients, peers, and supervisors that are based on a belief that recognize the dignity and potential of all people

“Avodahniks” are then able to process their experiences with their bayit-mates (housemates) over Shabbat meals and daily interactions. Our Justice Fellowship brings together cohorts of young adults to learn about social justice through a Jewish lens as a community.

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Even more striking is the following mishnah: “Captives should not be ransomed for more than their value because oftikkun olam. Captives should not be helped to escape because of tikkun olam.” (Babylonian Talmud) In this context, the principle oftikkun olam sounds quite harsh, even illiberal. Do not pay excessive ransom for captives – do not even help them toescape – lest one encourage the captors by the promise of greater rewards or lest they take preventive measures againstprisoners by utilizing heavy chains.To be sure, the Talmud well understands the dilemma posed by the mitzvah to redeem captives

Its answers are hardlyclear-cut. What, for example, constitutes ransom that exceeds the worth of the captives? Anyone studying Israel’scontemporary policies toward the ransom demands of terrorists well understands this dilemma. Its language states that the mission of the Jews is toperform tikkun olam by elimination of idolatry. Repairing the world by ridding it of pagan religions – which, ironically,are currently enjoying some measure of revival in multi-cultural America – hardly connotes the liberal pluralism sogreatly cherished by contemporary American Jews. ( Ismar Elbogen)

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In fact, it is essential that Jews work to establish systems and conditions consistent with the basic Jewish values of justice, compassion, kindness, the sacredness of every life, the imitation of God’s attributes, love of neighbors, consideration of the stranger, compassion for animals, and the highest of business ethics.

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Ismar Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy, Philadelphia and New York: Jewish Publication Society and Jewish Theological Seminary, 1993, pp.71-72.

Abra-ham Millgram, Jewish Worship, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1972, p.241.

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