Repairing the World: is Tikkun Olam Jewish?

Tikkun Olam might literally mean “fixing the world,” but it’s commonly understood as “Jewish Social Justice.” But what’s so Jewish about the idea of fixing the world and when did people decide it was broken? Join us as we figure out how Tikkun Olam transitioned into one of the most Jewish buzzwords of all and what healing the world looks like in practice. Utilize the accompanying educational resources to engage your students.

These videos were created in partnership with the Z3 Project, an initiative of the Oshman Family JCC.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. What is the literal translation of Tikkun Olam?
    • Fixing the world
    • Social justice
    • Progressive world
    • Helping others
  2. True or false, Tikkun Olam originates from the Tanakh (Bible):
    • True
    • False
  3. In which prayer did “Tikkun Olam” make its first appearance?
    • Amida
    • Ashrei
    • Aleinu
    • Kaddish
  4. Which Jewish stream turned the term Tikkun Olam into “Jewish social action”?
    • Orthodox
    • Conservative
    • Haredi
    • Reform 
  5. Approximately, how many not-for-profit charitable organizations exist in Israel?
    • Over 5,000
    • Over 17,000
    • Over 50,000
    • Over 42,000
  1. Each video in this series makes the claim that it is the most important Jewish priority. Based on the video and your own thoughts, make a compelling case for why Tikkun Olam should be the most important priority within the Jewish world.
  2. Within more progressive Anglo-Jewish circles, “Tikkun olam” has become such a commonly used term that it is the basis of a joke, in which a Jewish American visiting Israel asks his guide. “How do you say Tikkun Olam in Hebrew”? What argument is this joke trying to make? Is there truth behind this joke?
  3. Tikkun Olam didn’t come to be associated with social justice or social action until the 1960’s and doesn’t appear in the Five Books of Moses. Since the contemporary meaning of Tikkun Olam is relatively new, does that take away from its importance or add to its importance and relevance?
  4. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was close friends with Martin Luther King Jr and a big supporter of the American civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Rabbi Heschel famously said “when I marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, I felt my legs were praying”. Do you think this quote from Rabbi Heschel demonstrates Tikkun Olam, ritual Judaism or a combination of the two?
  5. After a devastating hurricane in Haiti that killed 300,000 people in 2010, Israel offered humanitarian aid and was the first country to set up an operative field hospital there. “As long as we don’t have someone authoritative to take our wounded we won’t leave,” [Brig.-Gen. Shalom] Ben-Aryeh [commander of the Israeli field hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti] said. The IDF hospital, he said, has treated more than 450 patients, delivered seven babies and performed dozens of surgeries. They are “not only physicians but also ambassadors of goodwill,” [Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid] Eidelman said, “and have demonstrated their true humanity.” What does this story and the 42,000 not for profit charitable organizations that exist in Israel teach us about the importance of Tikkun Olam within Israeli society?
  1. Ask your students to create a Tikkun Olam initiative within their educational setting through the following steps:
    • Brainstorm practical projects or ideas of how to make a positive impact within the educational setting (school, youth group, community center, camp, Hillel etc)
    • Choose one of the ideas to implement
    • Plan out the idea, make the arrangements and do it
    • Debrief how the idea has impacted others and your students
  2. Watch the film Sustainable Nation and discuss how it relates to the theme of Tikkun Olam.
  3. Give your students our Kahoot on Tikkun Olam!
  1. The thought of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, can be overwhelming. If you had to choose one issue that is important to you that you wanted to fix or improve, which one would it be and why?
  2. Some critics within the Jewish world argue that the progressive approach to Tikkun Olam is assimilationist and that if it replaces Jewish observance and Torah study, then it is devoid of Judaism. Many progressive Jews respond that that the very purpose of the Torah and Judaism is to make this world a better place and partner with God to create a better world, arguing that Tikkun Olam is the mission of the Jewish people and a central tenet of Judaism. Where do you stand on this debate? Explain your answer.
  3. Can you think of someone you’re inspired by that has made a tremendous impact on the world? What did they do and how did they inspire you?
  4. Rav Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Mandatory Palestine, believed that “Tikkun” was taking place through the idealistic young women and men who were building a new society in the Land of Israel. In his book “Orot Hakodesh”, he wrote that “any idea that is cut off from tikkun ha-olam and the ordering of society, and that floats in the spiritual air alone…is founded upon a lie that has no legs.” What does a “fully repaired” world look like to you?
  5. What’s a practical way in which you can incorporate the value of Tikkun Olam into your own life?
  1. Z3 Conference, “Athletes, Allyship and Actions to Repair the World”
  2. My Jewish Learning, “Tikkun Olam: Repairing the World
  3. Rabbi Y.A. Korff, “The fallacy, myth and delusion of Tikkun Olam
  4. Chabad, “What is Tikkun Olam?”
  5. Reform Judaism, “Tikkun Olam
  6. Andrés Spokoiny, “Tikkun Olam: A Defense and a Critique
  7. Rabbi Sacks, “Rabbi Sacks on Tikkun Olam

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