The Contextualization of Tikkun Olam in American Reform Judaism

Erin M. McClanahan, Georgia State University


American Reform Judaism currently associates the Kabalistic term, tikkun olam, with one of its core principles, social justice. This association is relatively new, dating roughly to the 1950s. The appropriation of a Kabbalistic term by American Reform Judaism is unusual given the historical animosity of American Reform Judaism toward the Kabbalah. The purpose of this thesis to explain this appropriation by contextualizing the use of tikkun olam within American Reform Judaism. The method through which this will be accomplished is the analysis of official documents, journal articles and theological discussions found within the American Reform movement. The thesis concludes that American Reform Judaism chose to appropriate tikkun olam and associate it with social justice in order to locate social justice in a historically Jewish context. This reworking of the concept of social justice to place it within a specifically Jewish frame work reflects the theological shift which occurs in reaction to the Holocaust, fears over Jewish assimilation and other social factors taking place during the 1940s and 1950s.