Ask just about any Christian — whether Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical or Eastern Orthodox — “What is your purpose as a Christian? What is your message to the world as a Christian?”
You will receive some variation on this response: “To spread the good news of Jesus Christ and bring as many people as possible to salvation through faith in him.”
Ask any Muslim — Sunni or Shiite — the same questions, just changing “Christian” to “Muslim.” And you will receive this response: “To bring the world to the one true religion, Islam.”
Ask a Mormon the same questions, substituting “Mormon” or “Latter-day Saint” for “Christian” and you will be told: “To convert as many people as possible to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” That’s why tens of thousands of young Mormons are sent around the world to make Mormon converts.
Then ask any Jew the same questions.
Of course, unlike these other religious groups, Jews do not seek to convert the world to their religion (though we should certainly make the case for Judaism and announce that we welcome converts).
Here are likely responses:
Response 1: “What do you mean?”
This would be the response of many Jews from the secular to Orthodox. The reason is that the idea of bringing a Jewish message to the world is just not part of their vocabulary.
Response 2: “Our first task is to talk to fellow Jews. So many Jews are alienated from Judaism and the Jewish people, we have to concentrate all our messaging on them.”
Response 3: the Orthodox response: “Our task is to keep the mitzvot that God has commanded us to observe. Then we will be a light unto the nations.”
This is the general Orthodox response. There are, of course, individual Orthodox Jews who believe Jews are obligated to reach out to the non-Jewish world with a Jewish message. But they are rare. The only institutional Orthodox exception is Chabad, which preaches the “Seven Noahide Laws” to non-Jews.
Response 4: the Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and secular response: “Our task is tikkun olam, to repair the world by working for social justice.”
Regarding the Jewish responses, the first point worth noting is that, unlike Catholics, Protestants, Mormons and Muslims, there is nothing approaching a unified Jewish response to questions about the task of a Jew or the nature of the Jewish message to the world.
The second, and even more important point, is that none of the Jewish responses actually answers the questions. The first two obviously don’t.
The third response, the Orthodox, acknowledges that Jews have a purpose, but no obligation to talk to the world.
But if that is the case, for what purpose did God choose the Jews? Chosen to do what?
Again, the Orthodox answer is “to keep the commandments.” That suffices, we are reassured, because when Jews do that, Jews will be a light unto the nations.
But how can you be a light if almost no one can see you? The most observant Jews are also the most cloistered Jews. How many non-Jews see the Jews of Orthodox enclaves such as Monsey or New Square in New York, Bnei Brak in Israel, or anywhere else the most observant Jews live? The answer is close to zero. Moreover, I am not certain that when non-Jews see Charedi or ultra-Orthodox Jews, they leave with a message.
So, with few exceptions, Orthodoxy has opted out of providing a Jewish message to the world.
Finally, we come to Response 4, the tikkun olam response given by most Conservative, Reform and Jewishly-identifying secular Jews.
Now, there is no question that Judaism wishes the Jew to help repair the world. But what religion doesn’t want to repair the world? Do committed Christians not want to repair the world? Just look at all the charities and hospitals created by Protestants and Catholics. For that matter, what decent secular ideology doesn’t want to repair the world? Do the great majority of liberals and conservatives not want to repair the world?
Obviously, then, since Jews from the left to the right want to repair the world, when Jews speak of the Jewish message as tikkun olam, they must be referring to something more specific than simply wanting to repair the world.
And they are. They are referring specifically to progressive politics. Tikkun olam for these Jews means extending taxing the rich, increasing the size of the government, creating new and enlarging existing welfare programs, fighting carbon emissions, supporting same-sex marriage, greatly increasing the minimum wage, providing free college tuition, criticizing Israel and supporting every other left-wing policy.
But if the Jews’ message to the world is identical to the left’s message to the word, there is no Jewish message to the world. Nor, for that matter, would there be any compelling reason to be Jewish.
All one would have to do to in order to fulfill what Judaism stands for is become active in left-wing causes. Which is precisely what most young Jews have concluded, and have therefore become leftists without Judaism.
In Part Two, I will suggest what ought to be the Jews’ messages to the world.
Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles from 9 a.m. to noon on KRLA (AM 870). His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).