Vision for Society
Written by: Allan Nadler
The messianic hope is one of the core beliefs of classical Judaism. It originated with the visions of the Hebrew prophets, most notably Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, in the aftermath of the dispersions and destructions of Israel and Judea, from the 8th through the 6th centuries B.C.E. The Hebrew prophets envisaged, in poetic and exalted terms, a world that "at the end of days would be peacefully united in the common worship of the world's only Creator and Judge."
This universal hope, which in the Jewish tradition is synonymous with the messianic era, is however predicated upon the return of the lost exiles of the twelve tribes of Israel to the Holy Land (Israel), the re-establishment of the ancient kingdom of David, the re-building of Solomon's Temple, and the restoration of its ancient rites and rituals. This messianic utopianism thus combines both national and universal elements by envisaging a world united by belief in the God of Abraham, who dwells in Zion, or Jerusalem. In addition to any number of prophetic passages that articulate this vision, one of the most popular daily Jewish prayers, known as Aleynu, perhaps captures it most simply and directly:
Therefore do we wait for You, O Lord our God, soon to behold Your mighty glory, when You will remove the abominations from the earth, and idols shall be exterminated; when the world shall be regenerated by the kingdom of the Almighty, and all the children of flesh invoke Your name; when all the wicked of the earth shall be turned unto You. Then shall all the inhabitants of the world perceive and confess that unto Thee every knee must bend, and every tongue be sworn. Before You, O Lord our God, shall they kneel and fall down, and unto Thy glorious name give honor. So will they accept the yoke of Your kingdom, and You shall be King over them all speedily forever and ever. For Thine is the kingdom, and to all eternity You will reign in glory, as it is written in Thy Torah: 'The Lord shall reign forever and ever.' And it is also said: 'And the Lord shall be King over all the earth; on that day the Lord shall be One and His name shall be One.'
In addition to Judaism's messianic vision, many modern Jewish theologians who advocate a contemporary universal vision of social justice often refer to the medieval mystical doctrine of tikkun olam, or the reparation of the world. Although originally understood by Jewish mystics as connoting a cosmic process culminating in the messianic age, and engendered by the theurgic, mystically-directed practice of prayer and the performance of the mitzvot, or biblical commandments, in modern Jewish thought the term usually carries its more literal and immediate meaning of correcting society's ills.
Thus, many contemporary synagogues and Jewish community centers sponsor tikkun olam programs ranging from soup kitchens, food drives, homeless shelters, and programs for the elderly, disabled, impoverished, and chemically dependant, to raising awareness of and funds for the victims of major tragedies, such as earthquakes, floods, famine, and especially genocide.
1. What is the mission of Judaism? What is the role of ethnic identity within this mission?
2. What is the Aleynu? What does it reveal about Judaism's vision for society?
3. Why are works of social justice important to Judaism's vision for society?