US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Wednesday appeared to criticize certain spheres of progressive Judaism that place a significant emphasis on the Hebrew concept of “tikkun olam,” or repairing the world, along with other humanistic values, and argued that prioritizing such concepts over the study of Jewish texts and history has dangerous long-term repercussions for the future of the Jewish people.
“Defining Judaism solely in terms of doing things that are morally just or helpful to others may make one an outstanding human being but also adds nothing to one’s [Jewish] fluency,” Friedman said during a video address to Haaretz’s Judaism Conference.
“Let’s face it, Jews do not have a monopoly on acts of charity, kindness and social justice. We all know many non-Jews who are as fine and admirable people as one can be,” he added.
“Regardless of how we worship our Judaism, what makes that practice uniquely Jewish and likely to continue and grow is our ability to place ourselves on a 3,500-year continuum and unbroken chain beginning in ancient times, that remains not just relevant but even more critical today than ever before as we struggle to find meaning in a complicated world.”
Friedman argued that “Jewish illiteracy” is the “greatest threat of all” for Jews living outside of Israel.
“The Jewish state, while not without issues, is growing: Both religious and secular institutions are thriving, basic Jewish education is available to all and there is little risk of assimilation,” he said. “The same cannot be said for the Diaspora.”
“I worry about the continuity of Jewish life in the Diaspora, somewhat less so in Israel,” he continued, citing unsourced statistics that show the Jewish population expanding by 25 percent from 1945 to 2020 — “and almost all that growth has been in Israel” — compared to the rest of the population, which has grown during that period by 200-300%.
“I don’t need to tell you where this trend is leading,” Friedman warned.
He went on to argue that Jewish continuity is not dependant on unity of opinions on various issues but on being “fluent in Judaism,” through a deep understanding of “our past, our heritage and our legacy.”
“How many of us are fluent in Judaism?” the ambassador asked. “How many Jews especially in the Diaspora are studying these fascinating and critical issues? Clearly not enough.”