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Law and Economics Training for Religious Leaders:

My undergraduate classmate and University of Missouri antitrust scholar Danny Sokol suggests that rabbis who preach on public policy issues could benefit from training in law and economics:

Jews around the world have taken tikun olam [the religious duty to "repair" and improve the world] to heart and historically we have been at the forefront of social movements far disproportionate to our small numbers . . . I think about this in part because as someone teaching a law and economics course semester, I think back to one of the founders of the law and economics movement - Henry Manne [ed. note: Manne is a former Dean of George Mason Law School]. One of Manne's many great accomplishments was to introduce law and economics to a wider audience of law professors and practitioners. It seems to me, based on years of hearing sermons from various Rabbis, that the Rabbinate in general could use some law and economics training. Most sermons lack any semblance of understanding of economics, particularly those that address issues of tikun olam. I would love for Manne to come out of his Florida retirement to conduct law and economics workshops for clergy. Law and economics training could help Rabbis to understand how economic incentives work and how these incentives help to shape law and policy and vice versa...

In August, Notre Dame professor and Catholic legal theorist Rick Garnett made a related point in criticizing Pope Benedict XVI's apparent plan to issue an encyclical condemning tax evasion for denying revenue needed by "society as a whole" and contributing budget deficits, while ignoring the much greater comparable effects of excessive and wasteful government spending.

More generally, it seems to me that many religious leaders who pronounce on public policy tend to reflexively favor increasing the role of government with little consideration of ways in which the interventions they favor might have perverse results, or ways in which social problems can be alleviated by reducing the role of the state instead of increasing it. Left-wing clergy seek to increase the role of government in fighting poverty, discrimination, and the like, while right-wing ones tend to focus their political energies on promoting "morals" regulation. This may well be painting with too broad a brush, and I'm sure there are religious leaders who are exceptions to this generalization. Nonetheless, it seems to me true as a general pattern (though I welcome correction by anyone who has compiled systematic data).

Learning basic law and economics won't necessarily turn religious leaders into libertarians. But it might give them a greater appreciation for markets, and engender at least a modest skepticism towards government. There are, to be sure, many clergy who don't make a practice of preaching on public policy issues. Danny's argument (or at least mine) doesn't apply to them. But it surely does apply to the many who do.

By the way, I have no doubt that the public policy pronouncements of leaders of atheist organizations often display just as little knowledge of economics as those of clergy. However, few people (even among atheists) give credence to the public policy views of atheist spokesmen merely because of their status as leaders of atheist organizations. By contrast, many religious people do take seriously the public policy pronouncements of their clergy, especially when those pronouncements are linked to religious duties such as Tikkun Olam.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. A Pet Peeve--DC Rabbis Blathering About Politics:
  2. Law and Economics Training for Religious Leaders:
mgarbowski:
I suppose this would be a good time to plug the Acton Institute, which conducts research and provides literature, courses, seminars, etc to clergy (and others) on these issues. To quote a paragraph from their About Page:

The Acton Institute organizes seminars aimed at educating religious leaders of all denominations, business executives, entrepreneurs, university professors, and academic researchers in economics principles, and in the connection that can exist between virtue and economic thinking. We exhort religious leaders to embrace the principles of economics as analytic tools in the consideration of economic issues that arise in their ministry, on the one hand, and, on the other, we exhort business executives and entrepreneurs, to integrate their faith more fully into their professional lives, to give of themselves more unselfishly in their communities, and to strive after higher standards of ethical conduct in their work. Our conferences are held primarily in the United States, but we also conduct some conferences in Europe and Latin America. More information on these seminars can be obtained at from Acton programs.

Acton has a specifically Catholic perspective, but as noted, I believe their materials are broad enough to be appreciated by clergy from other religions.

Also, just for fun, I can't help but mention that the President of the Acton Institute, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, is brother to the actor who played Paulie Walnuts on the Sopranos.
9.23.2007 8:35am
notalawyer (mail):
Well said, Ilya. On the Christian right where I come from, some preachers, newly aware of social issues, can do little more than describe social problems and imply that "we" have caused them. I have hope for the future of social-welfare preaching among Christian conservatives, but for now some seem to be channeling Bono.
9.23.2007 8:35am
DSM:
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus over at First Things has been discussing this issue lately, with the bishops' would-be interventions on Iraq in mind, but his comments are more generally applicable.


On most questions of domestic and foreign policy, it only compounds the problem to declare that they are "moral questions" and are therefore encompassed within episcopal charism and competence. Such overreach only invites critics to claim, putting it bluntly, that the bishops don't know what they are talking about, or at least don't know any more than is known by the well-informed citizen.


He also notes that


And, of course, the sex abuse crisis that broke open in January 2002 took its toll on the bishops' credibility and self-confidence in issuing pronunciamentos on subjects beyond their self-evident competence. Catholics and others adopted a large and understandable measure of skepticism about what bishops had to say. If they had so gravely bungled the tasks that are unquestionably theirs —- to teach, sanctify, and govern —- why should people pay attention to what they say about matters beyond their ostensible competence?


ISTM these views are quite common among those of us in the pews, even if they're seldom made explicit.. which means the loudest voices are those who happen to agree with whatever silliness the clergy have latched on to today. There is definitely a group who give unjustified weight to the words of the ordained, even when no charism attaches, but I suspect they're few compared with those who would have thought the same even in the absence of ecclestiastical endorsement.
9.23.2007 8:47am
Owen Hutchins (mail):

In August, Notre Dame professor and Catholic legal theorist Rick Garnett made a related point in criticizing Pope Benedict XVI's apparent plan to issue an encyclical condemning tax evasion for denying revenue needed by "society as a whole" and contributing budget deficits, while ignoring the much greater comparable effects of excessive and wasteful government spending.



Seems to me that "excessive and wasteful spending" would be commenting on government policies, while tax evasion (why did he find it necessary to put it in quotes all the time?) is about obeying the law.
9.23.2007 8:57am
Ilya Somin:
Seems to me that "excessive and wasteful spending" would be commenting on government policies, while tax evasion (why did he find it necessary to put it in quotes all the time?) is about obeying the law.

Except that, as my post pointed out, the Pope was apparently planning to criticize tax evasion not merely as disobedience to law but for causing fiscal problems and denying the government resources it supposedly needs to benefit "society as a whole."
9.23.2007 9:02am
EMD:
Most rabbis whose sermons focus on tikkun olam could probably also benefit from real training in Judaism.
9.23.2007 10:00am
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

Except that, as my post pointed out, the Pope was apparently planning to criticize tax evasion not merely as disobedience to law but for causing fiscal problems and denying the government resources it supposedly needs to benefit "society as a whole."

That still does not explain why the Pope should not tell his flock to obey the law. To the extent that tax money is wasted by the government, that can be the topic of a separate encyclical, given that it is an entirely separate issue from the question of whether it is ok to cheat on your taxes. (Unless of course one follows the principle of certain pacifists in years past, who would refuse to pay the percentage of their taxes that corresponded to the percentage of the defense budget in total government spending.)
9.23.2007 10:30am
ZH:
Just to extend what EMD wrote, "Tikkun Olam" as the Reform and Conservative movements use it has absolutely no basis whatsoever in Judaism. Tikkun olam is used a couple of times in the Talmud as a legal term loosely meaning "to prevent strife" or "to prevent abuses (of the legal system)" and has absloutely nothing to do with the way it is used by certain rabbis now. I am sure that there are some libertarian Conservative and Reform rabbis out there with knowledge of economics and law, but they get drowned out by the large number of rabbis parroting their movements' official positions. In the Orthodox community a lack of extensive centralized leadership and therefore a lack of official positions on political issues, means that these voices are not drowned out (although they are few due to an aversion to the study of secualar topics, especially on any advanced level, in much of the Orthodox community). Israel Kirzner, to name one, is an ordained and practicing Orthodox rabbi (and a fairly prominent one too) who is knowledgeable about economics and law.
9.23.2007 11:03am
Constitutional Crisis (mail):
And maybe some of the law and econ folks could learn a lesson or two about compassion from those rabbis.
9.23.2007 11:11am
George Tenet Fangirl:
There are lots of groups out there decrying wasteful government spending. Not so many decrying tax evasion, especially on moral grounds. Perhaps Benedict was trying to add balance to the debate?
9.23.2007 11:12am
Ira (mail):
I you could import this into Israel for, not only rabbis, but lawyers and economists, you would be doing a great "mitzva".
9.23.2007 11:14am
SenatorX (mail):
Great point Ilya.

This pope worries me. He seems to consistently miss the mark and I don't know why that is.

I would even extend this to say all leaders should learn more economics and law. Perhaps even all students by having more (or any!) classes on these subjects in the lower education system.
9.23.2007 11:48am
frankcross (mail):
I'll meet your challenge on religious leaders (which I think is complicated -- you can't assume that they are consequentialist in orientation) and raise you. Those who make economic claims need empirical evidence (Manne could be tasked here); certainly including claims of "much greater comparable effects of excessive and wasteful government spending". That not only begs the question (what is excessive and wasteful) but wants some research on just what those much greater comparable effects are.
9.23.2007 12:14pm
therut:
I just wish the MSM would condem left wing theological liberalism as an overstepping of the line of their beloved "wall of separtion" of church and state. That I will not live to see. Instead they push that theological teaching on the rest of us without a word of reproach. Their double dealing and bias is apparent.
9.23.2007 12:29pm
AF:
While we're at it, someone should teach Jesus game theory. "Turn the other cheek" is a total loser.
9.23.2007 1:06pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Religious leaders certainly need more education in law and economics. So does everybody else. Everyday we hear calls from one group or another for changes in our various economic systems, yet the recommended remedies often show a complete ignorance of how a market economy operates.

A good start would be a simple explanation of what revenue and profit mean, and how they differ. Another lesson might show the distribution of stock ownership among mutual funds, pension plans, IRAs, indvidual accounts, etc. Think this is too basic and paternalistic? It's not.
9.23.2007 1:08pm
Oren (mail):

... criticizing Pope Benedict XVI's apparent plan to issue an encyclical condemning tax evasion for denying revenue needed by "society as a whole" and contributing budget deficits, while ignoring the much greater comparable effects of excessive and wasteful government spending.


I venture to say that most libertarians would categorically condemn tax evasion irrespective of the current state of government spending. The Pope was trying to emphasize that paying your taxes honestly was a matter of personal responsibility that cannot be deflected by criticizing the government as a whole.
9.23.2007 1:13pm
Eric Muller (www):
AF above made me laugh out loud.
9.23.2007 1:36pm
JosephSlater (mail):
I agree, AF wins the thread.
9.23.2007 1:51pm
loki13 (mail):
I second Eric- AF wins post of the day.

While there are some interesting attempts to reconcile law and economics to moral positions, it is (I think) obvious that unless there is some reference to a moral code (either religious or secular) outside of the 'pure' law and econ analysis, you get some disturbing results. Morality should not be reduced to a cost-benefit analysis (even taking into account externalities).

Taking the *Pope* to task for not fully incorporating your libertarian dislike of wasteful government spending (although I'm sure we all have a different definition of wasteful, as FrankCross pointed out) is beyond silly. L&E is simply another tool to bring to the analysis of an issue, but you can't drive the horse with the cart.
9.23.2007 1:53pm
Yankev (mail):

And maybe some of the law and econ folks could learn a lesson or two about compassion from those rabbis.

It is not compassionate to take money from people to worsen the plight of the poor even if you are acting under the delusion that you are alleviating their plight. Neither is it compassionate to encourage and subsidize behavior that is both immoral and economically self-defeating, even if you tell yourself that you are simply being non-judgmental.
9.23.2007 2:02pm
DaSarge (mail):
This post and the comments call to mind a trenchant observation by C.S. Lewis:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
9.23.2007 2:03pm
Milhouse (www):
The problem is that, as EMD and ZH note, this whole notion of "tikun olam" as a sort of "social justice" has no basis in any actual Jewish source. The phrase has two uses in Judaism. ZH refers to assorted technical regulations: most of these to do with courts acting as surrogates for absent or incompetent parties, with preventing legal abuses, or with general rule-setting to enable markets to function; none of them bear any resemblance to "social justice".

The other and more prominent use, and the one I'm sure these rabbis are thinking of, is one that appears in Alenu which is recited in the synagogue three times a day. Unfortunately, the phrase as it appears there is letaken olam bemalchut Shadai, "to establish the world under God's kingdom. What these rabbis are doing is taking the first two words and ignoring the next two, not to mention the context of the entire prayer, which is explicitly about a future in which the whole world recognises the truth of Judaism and accepts God's authority. It has nothing to do with environmentalism, unionism, welfare, or any of the other issues that are lumped together under the label "tikun olam".
9.23.2007 3:05pm
Mary (mail):

It is not compassionate to take money from people to worsen the plight of the poor even if you are acting under the delusion that you are alleviating their plight


It is definitely not compassionate to continue worsening the plight of the poor once it become empirically clear that you are doing so. (As well as being clear in advance to anyone with any sense.)
9.23.2007 3:19pm
devoman:
It seems that the Wikipedia entry on tikun olam disagrees with the opinions expressed by Milhouse and ZH. For example, it provides references to tikun olam in the Mishnah and Kabbalah.

I wonder if the negative reaction to tikun olam that I sense above is due to the interpretation of social justice that some people make (e.g. Michael Lerner).

While working toward social justice would certainly fit under the umbrella of tikun olam (and would certainly be consistent with Jewish thought and culture), my understanding of the term in much broader.

As an example, I come across a well that is not working. I repair the well and move on. That would be an act of tikun olam that has nothing to do with social justice. Or I simply pick up a piece of litter and dispose of it.

With that interpretation, it seems to me to be a very sensible philosophy and certainly consistent with Jewish thought and culture.
9.23.2007 3:43pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
Just to extend what EMD wrote, "Tikkun Olam" as the Reform and Conservative movements use it has absolutely no basis whatsoever in Judaism.

Yes, because Conservative &Reform Judaism --- the clear majority of American Jews and likely over a third of world Jewry --- are not "real" Judaism. Hillul HaShem. Haval. It was people like you who denounced the RamBaM and tried to have him excommunicated. Hillul HaShem.
9.23.2007 3:43pm
EMD:
CrazyTrain: Correct on the first point. I don't mind reasoned dissent but until a person can reason through a daf of basic gemara, I don't think he should be importing the liberal cause-of-the-day into halakha under the pretense of a phrase that, in context, has more to do with keeping track of mamzeirim than the environment or voting for Kerry.

Tikkun olam, as conceptualized under the reform and conservative traditions, is not necessarily a bad thing -- indeed, quite often it is very good (such as when they raise awareness for Darfur, for what that's worth). But calling something "Jewish" does not make it so.
9.23.2007 4:06pm
Milhouse (www):
devoman - the WP page gives three sources. The first two are the ones ZH and I gave. All the references in the Talmud, including the one WP quotes, are technical regulations for the orderly functioning of commerce and the courts. The second reference is to Alenu, which I quoted earlier.

The third alleged source is the kabbalah, but there is no actual quote given, and that's not an accident; the term for what that paragraph is talking about is not tikun haolam but birur hanitzotzot, "salvaging the sparks", which once again has nothing at all to do with any form of "social justice". One "salvages the sparks" by using physical objects for ritual purposes, e.g. slaughtering a cow and using its hide to write a Torah scroll.

Fixing a well is a wonderful thing, but it's not tikun haolam in either of the senses given, and nor is it birur hanitzotzot. Though a regulation designed to encourage people to fix wells they come across, perhaps by allowing the repairer to charge a small fee for the water for a limited time, would be the sort of thing included in the first sense of takanot mipnei tikun haolam.
9.23.2007 4:35pm
Doc Rampage (mail) (www):
A bit off the topic, but I really get annoyed at common repetition of things like this:
Left-wing clergy seek to increase the role of government in fighting poverty, discrimination, and the like, while right-wing ones tend to focus their political energies on promoting "morals" regulation.
Is there a clause in the libertarian handbook where it says "Thou shalt not criticize the Left without throwing in an irrelevant reference to how the Right wants to enforce their religious morals on everyone"? This is complete crap.

The Right has certainly resisted the loosening of laws against libertine behavior over the years, but with one major exception, abortion, there has been no effort to bring the laws back once they are gone. The Right, unlike the Left, does not believe in using the law to remake society in some perfect mold. Just because someone believes that divorce is wrong and sex outside of marriage is wrong and homosexual sodomy is wrong and adultery is wrong, that does not imply that this person wants those things to be illegal.

The abortion situation is not an exception to this rule. Those on the Right do not oppose abortion because they want to force people to have unwanted children but because they are horrified at the murder of these children. It has nothing to do with enforcing morality and everything to do with defending the defenseless.

I am by no means suggesting that the Right is a bunch of libertarians on moral issues, but the Left has a specific and vigorously-fought agenda of using the government to enforce every tiny bit of their own moral code: employers must take care of their employees like vassals, no one may say the N-word, no criticizing other people's sexual behavior, no wasting water when flushing the toilet, no smoking, no spanking your kids, etc., the Left has tried to use the government to enforce all of these moral principles.

Certainly, any group with power will sometimes use the government to enforce what they think is right, but for the Left, this is their specific agenda. When the Right does it, it is more a matter of accidental circumstances or social inertia. The idea that the Right has an agenda to use the government to enforce its own moral code is a preposterous libertarian mythology.
9.23.2007 4:51pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
And maybe some of the law and econ folks could learn a lesson or two about compassion from those rabbis.
And maybe those rabbis could then be taught that compassion and government are orthogonal concepts. When you give to charity, you're engaging in compassion. When you get government involved, you're engaged in social engineering, not compassion.

Crazytrain: I can't see what possible relevance the fact is that Conservatives and Reform are the majority would have. The vast majority of Conservatives and Reform probably eat bacon nowadays; does that make that "real Judaism"? (Is it different because the Conservative/Reform movements haven't adopted "eat treif food" as an official position of the movements? If they did, would that make pork "real Judaism"?) If you're going to argue that the Conservative/Reform conception of Tikkun Olam is real Judaism, shouldn't you do it with reference to some sort of actual halachic argument, rather than an appeal to mere popularity? Or do you think Judaism is just defined as "what Jews do" without any external referent at all?
9.23.2007 4:59pm
OJoe (mail):
Just to second (or third) what has been said above. 'Tikun Olam' as currently used to push various and sundry left-wing causes has no basis in the entire corpus of Jewish texts and law. It is a recent invention which would merit a sociological study as to its origin.

It is essentially a religion which is used as a substitute for Judaism since Judaism demands fealty to things such as Shabbat, Kosher, and the like. The 'Tikun Olam' religion on the other hand cares not a whim for virtually any Jewish laws, but is simply a nice hebrew phrase to try and make all sorts of socialist causes seem Jewish to the uneducated masses.

It is really amazing how few Jews are aware of this when it is basic knowledge to any decently educated Jewish scholar.
9.23.2007 5:02pm
Mac (mail):
I honestly don't know if this Pope has commented on illegal immigration in the US, (as in the Mexico situation), but numerous Priests and Bishops have and do fully support illigal immigration and defying the law in aiding and harboring illegal immigrants.

Ironically, our local Catholic paster just last Sunday opined on this subject in our local paper, fully supportive of illegal immigration, and barely a few days later the Phoenix police officer was shot and killed by one who was a criminal, had been deported and came back anyway. Now, another police officer is dead.

So, the question is, when do you obey the law and when do you disobey the law, according to the Catholic Church? Are the Pope and his priests in concert on which laws are to be obeyed and which are to be disobeyed or not?

Ah, the complexities of Religion getting involved in this arena.

And, I agree with the poster above, what about those of the Religion of Liberal Orthadoxy? Al Gore has no bonafides as a scientist whatsoever, but he is the Savior of the adherents of this religion and we must all follow him and them in order to save the world from destruction by our evil ways. We must repent and be saved.

Anyone who buys into the GW debate must, if they are at all rational, be just a little uncomfortable with the similarity to religion and religious thinking. However, they are not restrained by any moral dictates, and feel fully justified in using Government to force salvation on the non-Believers who are EVIL, I tell you, EVIL!

So much for the separation of Church and State.
9.23.2007 5:17pm
TTG (mail):
For those who support the Pope on criticizing "tax evasion", follow the link and read the story. It's not talking about criminal tax evasion so much as offshore accounts, tax havens and other legal instruments used by "the wealthy". And it's being issued in concert with a campaign by the Prodi government to 'crack down' on such instruments and increase tax revenue, meaning that the church is acting as a mouthpiece of the Italian government.

That's not surprising though. The roman church made its name under medieval feudalism as a sort of banker and 'labor management' firm for nobles. Priests earned their daily bread by convincing tenant peasants that their miserable lives were part of the divinely sanctioned order. For the church to glorify government's efforts to "benefit society as a whole" at the expense of the individual is par for the course.
9.23.2007 5:19pm
Mac (mail):
"Religious leaders certainly need more education in law and economics. So does everybody else. Everyday we hear calls from one group or another for changes in our various economic systems, yet the recommended remedies often show a complete ignorance of how a market economy operates. "

Elliot,

You are quite right.. Unfortunately, the leaders most likely to benefit from more education in law and economics are our political leaders who in talk and action repeatedly demonstrate an abysmal lack of knowledge and understanding of both.

It was Pelosi who suggested that the stock market should be taxed at 100% and the money given to "the poor" (espescially, if they will return the kindness by voting for her, of course. My words, not hers, re voting that is).

That you would not have a stock market if her idea was implemented and would completely destroy the economy, pension funds, 401 K's employment, all R &D, and as a result, probably bankrupt the US Government, is just a minor detail, I suppose to Ms. Pelosi. There are equally stupid Republicans, just not as many of them as there are Democrats.
Could we possibly institute a basic econ, world event, law and Constitution test and insist on a passing score of 90% before allowing anyone to run for public office? No, of course not, but it would be a great equalizer in politics as many, many wealthy folks would not be able to pass it and run no matter how much money they have.
9.23.2007 5:38pm
Mac (mail):
TTG,

"That's not surprising though. The roman church made its name under medieval feudalism as a sort of banker and 'labor management' firm for nobles. Priests earned their daily bread by convincing tenant peasants that their miserable lives were part of the divinely sanctioned order. For the church to glorify government's efforts to "benefit society as a whole" at the expense of the individual is par for the course"

Your souces, please? You are grossly disorting and are most ignorant of history.
9.23.2007 5:42pm
William Dalasio (mail):
TTG,

I had similar thoughts myself when reading this. Sorry, but I can't help but find the preaching of a tax exempt organization on my moral responsibility to pay as much as possible more than a little....misplaced.
9.23.2007 5:59pm
Ilya Somin:
I'll meet your challenge on religious leaders (which I think is complicated -- you can't assume that they are consequentialist in orientation) and raise you. Those who make economic claims need empirical evidence (Manne could be tasked here); certainly including claims of "much greater comparable effects of excessive and wasteful government spending". That not only begs the question (what is excessive and wasteful) but wants some research on just what those much greater comparable effects are.

If this had been a post devoted to examining the details of spending debates, I would certainly have done this. For now, I will point to this column by Harvard Economist Jeffrey Miron, which shows pretty convincingly that a very high proportion of US government spending cannot possibly be justified on any grounds, including liberal egalitarian ones.

As for religious leaders not being consequentialist, maybe some are indeed completely indifferent to consequences. However, most of those who argue for greater government intervention in society do in fact do so at least in large part on consequentialist grounds.
9.23.2007 6:13pm
Ilya Somin:
Except that, as my post pointed out, the Pope was apparently planning to criticize tax evasion not merely as disobedience to law but for causing fiscal problems and denying the government resources it supposedly needs to benefit "society as a whole."

That still does not explain why the Pope should not tell his flock to obey the law.


It is one thing to argue for general obedience to law. It is another to argue for obedience to a specific set of laws on consequentialist grounds that have nothing to do with law-abidingness in general. Moreover, if a government has grown far beyond its justifiable role in society, its not obvious that obeying tax law is an unbreachable moral obligation.
9.23.2007 6:19pm
Ilya Somin:
Is there a clause in the libertarian handbook where it says "Thou shalt not criticize the Left without throwing in an irrelevant reference to how the Right wants to enforce their religious morals on everyone"? This is complete crap.

The Right has certainly resisted the loosening of laws against libertine behavior over the years, but with one major exception, abortion, there has been no effort to bring the laws back once they are gone. The Right, unlike the Left, does not believe in using the law to remake society in some perfect mold. Just because someone believes that divorce is wrong and sex outside of marriage is wrong and homosexual sodomy is wrong and adultery is wrong, that does not imply that this person wants those things to be illegal.


I don't think there is such a big distinction between supporting existing regulations and advocating for new ones. Both can cause the same types of harms. Moreover, many on the right have in fact argued for "bringing back" old morals regulations. For example, many support restoring stronger laws against pornography, restoring old-style divorce laws, restoring full drug prohibition in states that permit medical marijuana and the like, and restoring bans on assisted suicide in states that allow that. I'm sure there are other issues I could add to this list if I took more time to consider the question, but right now I can't....
9.23.2007 6:31pm
Frater Plotter:
The Right, unlike the Left, does not believe in using the law to remake society in some perfect mold.


There are substantial portions of the Right who want precisely that. Ever heard R. J. Rushdoony preach? His message is specifically one of theonomy, of remaking modern society in the image of (his interpretation of) Mosaic law.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._J._Rushdoony

Rushdoony's intellectual descendants include the Chalcedon Foundation and the Rutherford Institute, both of which are substantial (albeit minority) influences on the Republican Party.
9.23.2007 6:33pm
frankcross (mail):
Ilya, I'm entirely on board that a lot of government spending is wasteful. However, that itself doesn't support the "much greater effects" claim. Most of the research shows little effect of government spending on the economy, for example, while it shows a significant effect of other law and economics measures (such as protection against expropriation, enforcement of contracts, trade).
9.23.2007 6:38pm
Ilya Somin:
While we're at it, someone should teach Jesus game theory. "Turn the other cheek" is a total loser.

In all seriousness, "turn the other cheek" IS a loser, and is a good way to encourage aggression. That is one of the reasons why later Christian thinkers implicitly repudiated "turn the other cheek" and instead developed just war theory.
9.23.2007 6:55pm
byomtov (mail):
if a government has grown far beyond its justifiable role in society, its not obvious that obeying tax law is an unbreachable moral obligation.

So Oren is not correct to say that

most libertarians would categorically condemn tax evasion irrespective of the current state of government spending.

This is all the more inaccurate since libertarians have a narrow view of "government's justifiable role in society." In your opinion, Ilya, has the US government gone beyond its justifiable role? Is this a matter for each individual to decide for himself?
9.23.2007 7:04pm
Brian Day (mail):
Catholic blogger Mark Shea has a saying: Deduct 50 IQ point when the MSN discusses religion. Deduct 75 IQ points when it discusses Catholicism.

Remember, this discussion started over a papal encyclical that hasn't even been published. Wait and see what the document actually says before commenting on it.

SenatorX wrote:
This pope worries me. He seems to consistently miss the mark and I don't know why that is.
Missing what marks? I think his performance has been masterful so far, albeit a little slow for my taste.
9.23.2007 7:22pm
byomtov (mail):
It was Pelosi who suggested that the stock market should be taxed at 100% and the money given to "the poor"

Could you point us to your source for this?
9.23.2007 7:34pm
TTG (mail):
Mac,

"Your souces (sic), please? You are grossly disorting (sic) and are most ignorant of history."

The interpretation is my own, though the basic history is not in much dispute. The Church's reading of history is that they 'brought civilization back to Western Europe' after the fall of Rome and were rewarded with fiefdoms by the lords of the times. That 'civilization' served the lords by giving legitimacy to their system (no accident that kings were crowned by the Pope) and providing an ideology and propaganda that lowered the costs of controlling their peasant vassals. (As loathe as I may be to quote him, who do you think Marx was referring to when he referred to the "Opium of the people"?) Likewise, the Church appropriated the Templars' system of banking from the crusades, while many of the lords of western Europe sought investiture of their own kin as bishops, to maintain their wealth in church lands.
9.23.2007 7:36pm
Nobody special (mail):
"Just war" theory didn't replace "turn the other cheek," it formalized the notion--held since the beginning of Christianity--that people and nations had a right to defend themselves under certain circumstances.

Certain pacifists distort Christian teaching to imply that that the Church was originally pacifist and was lured to the dark side--mizing my religious metaphors--by power. This is an incorrect understanding of Church teaching.

Christians "turn the other cheek" to agressors by not retaliating for every possible provocation and insult. But they are not required to be pacifists. They may defend themselves if the agressor does not accept the invitation to peace. In fact, the Catecism explicitly requires Christians to defend the weak and powerless.

Actually, a limited amount of "forgiveness" followed by a tit-for-tat strategy is often an effective strategy in repeated games. No, I don't have a reference. Yes, I am actually an economist.
9.23.2007 7:36pm
Mac (mail):
TTG,

"I had similar thoughts myself when reading this. Sorry, but I can't help but find the preaching of a tax exempt organization on my moral responsibility to pay as much as possible more than a little....misplaced."

William,

I don't think that was the point of TTG's post, which appeared to be little more than a biased slam against the Catholic Church.
Not only that, I think he got his sterotyping mixed up as it has always been the Jews who are the bankers and controlling the world. If he is going to cast aspersions on a group, you would think he could get the stereotype correct.

That said, I couldn't agree with you more. I am beginning to think there should be no tax exempt organizations at all. The NAACP et al are nothing more than shills for the Democrat Party. A non-profit hospital does not mean that it doesn't make a profit, it just doesn't pay taxes and so on. I think many of these groups, not just the ones mentioned above, would start singing a different tune if they had to pay taxes. I don't think they should have to pay more taxes, but pay taxes at the same rate as like organizations.

And, while I will take umbrage at what is nothing more than a bigoted remark, don't even get me started on the Catholic Church. If TTG had any real knowledge, he would not have to resort to dreging up some supposed evil the Church committed hundreds of years ago. The Church is notorious for paying it's employees next to nothing while it is preaching social and economic justice. I personally know of one parish who told it employees that if they continued their efforts to unionize, they would all be looking for new jobs. They ceased and desisted. The Church has good qualities as do many religious organizations, but she has her faults, too. Until we get the human out of all organizations, religious and secular, they will be imperfect.
9.23.2007 7:41pm
devoman:
Milhouse (et al), here's another reference for you on the Kabbalah reference to tikun olam. The subject is the 16th century Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria.

The point is not that tikun olam (meaning "repair the world" ) is a part of Jewish law. Rather, it is part of Jewish tradition and custom.

I'm curious why so many here seem to have such a severe reaction to accepting that "repairing the world" has been a part of Jewish culture for centuries. Is it that the recent linkage of "repair the world" with "social justice" by some of the liberal persuasion makes the original concept inaccessible to you?
9.23.2007 8:29pm
Ilya Somin:
Ilya, I'm entirely on board that a lot of government spending is wasteful. However, that itself doesn't support the "much greater effects" claim. Most of the research shows little effect of government spending on the economy, for example, while it shows a significant effect of other law and economics measures (such as protection against expropriation, enforcement of contracts, trade).

Frank,

Unless there is over $300 million/year in tax evasion, even the relatively conservative estimate of wasteful govt spending that I linked in my earlier response to you far outweighs the impact of tax evasion on 1) depriving society of funds needed "for the benefit of society as a whole" and 2) affecting budget deficits, which were the 2 issues raised in the Pope's statement. The broader impact of govt spending on longterm growth is a different issue that I did not address in the post.
9.23.2007 8:37pm
Ilya Somin:
So Oren is not correct to say that

most libertarians would categorically condemn tax evasion irrespective of the current state of government spending.

This is all the more inaccurate since libertarians have a narrow view of "government's justifiable role in society." In your opinion, Ilya, has the US government gone beyond its justifiable role? Is this a matter for each individual to decide for himself?


Yes, I think Oren was wrong about it. For libertarians, and for quite a few other people as well, government does not have an unlimited right to tax for whatever purposes it wants. As for the US government, it has indeed gone far beyond its justifiable role, in my judgment. As to whether it's "a matter for each individual to decide for himself," I would take a middle ground position: individuals owe SOME deference to the judgement of elected representatives on these issues, but not absolute deference.
9.23.2007 8:40pm
Doc Rampage (mail) (www):
Ilya, the difference between supporting the existing laws and advocating for new ones is not in the harm done, which I agree is pretty much the same, but in what it tells you about the attitudes of those involved. One can be against removing the laws against sodomy, for example, because one views this change in the law as a negative step for society and because one views the change as a governmental statement that sodomy is not wrong after all. Just because one opposes such a change, that does not mean that one in principle believes that the government has a responsibility to regulate sodomy. By contrast, when you advocate for a brand new law (as the Left does continuously) you reveal that you believe that the government has just such a responsibility.

As to your examples of the Right wanting to bring back certain laws, I'll believe it when I see a major presidential candidate run on that platform. Also, several of your examples are problematic. In bringing back stronger laws against pornography, most on the Right would be happy if they could just allow their children to browse the internet without being able to download porn. This isn't about enforcing morality on others but about being able to control the environment of their own children. I think you are exaggerating about divorce laws because the only initiatives I've seen in that direction have been privately based, but even if they did, there is more than morality to this; there is also the harm done to the children. Medical marijuana and assisted suicide are your only good examples, but those are both issues that are not yet settled nationally, so they both fall into the category of not wanting the law to change.
9.23.2007 8:44pm
frankcross (mail):
Well, there may be more than that in tax evasion, I don't know. But I assume the Pope was not just speaking to the United States. Other nations have had far more severe problems of tax evasion. I don't think you can make your criticism by talking only about the US experience.
9.23.2007 8:45pm
Doc Rampage (mail) (www):
Frater, you say:
There are substantial portions of the Right who want precisely that. Ever heard R. J. Rushdoony preach? His message is specifically one of theonomy, of remaking modern society in the image of (his interpretation of) Mosaic law...Rushdoony's intellectual descendants include the Chalcedon Foundation and the Rutherford Institute, both of which are substantial (albeit minority) influences on the Republican Party.
I've never heard of Rushdoony, the Chalcedon Foundation or the Rutherford Instutite, which leads me to doubt your claims about these guys having any influence on the Republican party.

However, I have heard of the Christian Reconstruction movement which that link claims he founded, but only because hysterical anti-Christian nuts are constantly pointing it out. One has to doubt the true influence of a group that no one ever heard of until it became a favorite whipping boy of an opposing group that wanted to use it to tar millions of people who never even heard of it before as fellow travelers.

Furthermore, after I had heard of it several time, all from opponents, I did some research and found out that the opponents are actually lying about it. Not only does it have no influence, it doesn't even teach the awful things that its opponents claim. The goal of the group is not to use the government to force everyone to act like a Christian. Rather, they make a religious claim that the ultimate fate of the world is to be voluntarily converted to Christianity, at which point the county voluntarily becomes a theocracy. According to their beliefs, there is no need for enforcing laws to make people act like Christians, because people will change and will want to act like Christians.

I presume that most libertarians would like the everyone in the world to voluntarily become a libertarian. The Christian Reconstructionists are no different except that they have a belief that this is an inevitable state of affairs. What's so evil about that?

But even this very mild belief is not shared by the vast majority of Christians, so the fearmongering about this group is just ridiculous.
9.23.2007 9:05pm
Mac (mail):
I recall reading somewhere, (sorry I can't recall the source} that there has been historically a certaiin percentage of one's income that is acceptable to be taxed and at a certain point, a percentage that becomes unbearable. At that point, people feel justified in evading or avoiding taxes.
I do recall that there was a group from Germany who imigrated to the US, I believe in the late 1700 or 1800's and they came here as they were sick and tired of the high tax burden imposed on them in Germany. I believe it is well documented that when Gov. raises taxes on a good to an unacceptable level, a blackmarket developes in response i.e. bootlegged cigarettes going into Canada due to the extreme tax imposed on that item. A tax that is perceived as "unreasonable" encourages people to go through the trouble to avoid it. I think, at a certain point, the Government can actually find itself with less revenue because of this. This, of course, is separate from the negative effect that high taxes has on the economy, which is well documented as well, and the subsequent lowering of revenue to the treasury.
9.23.2007 9:05pm
Mac (mail):
"I'm curious why so many here seem to have such a severe reaction to accepting that "repairing the world" has been a part of Jewish culture for centuries. Is it that the recent linkage of "repair the world" with "social justice" by some of the liberal persuasion makes the original concept inaccessible to you?"
Devoman,

Perversion may be a more appropriate word. Just as the popular saying of the Left is that Jesus is a Liberal. I don't recall that Jesus ever said that if Tom takes from Harry and gives it to Dick it makes Tom a very good person. He said, YOU give to Dick. He never mentioned a middleman..
For the record, I think, what I understand of the concept of "repair the world" is beautiful and not far off from what Jesus actually said. But then, he was a Jew so this should not be surprising.
9.23.2007 9:15pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Certain pacifists distort Christian teaching to imply that that the Church was originally pacifist and was lured to the dark side--mizing my religious metaphors--by power. This is an incorrect understanding of Church teaching."

Perhaps that was Church teaching. But what did Jesus say about turning the other cheek? Was he out of step with the Church? I don't see any qualification in the statement that we should turn the other cheek. Could it be that his handlers didn't like what he really said and had to spin it the right way?
9.23.2007 9:16pm
Mac (mail):
Byomtov,

Oops, mea maxima culpa, it was satire, written by a couple of New Yourk Times guys that got reproduced as fact. Satire over Pelosi wanting to repeal over 33 billion in "tax breaks" and other things.

Damn! I should have known better, not because I think she is smarter than that, but I usually try to check a story before I repeat it. Sorry. My apologies and I will give myself 20 lashes with a wet noodle and wipe the egg of my face.

Please, forgive.
9.23.2007 9:24pm
Thief (mail) (www):
I think the basic problem is that religious people (especially of the Judeo/Christian kind) look at socialism and think, "hey, doesn't that match up with what God teaches?" Then they go and and advocate for socialist and statist solutions to just about everything. The only problem is that socialism does not work at any level above the small, voluntary community. We're supposed to care for the poor, on an individual face-to-face level, because it is the right and the just thing to do, not because the state is forcing us to. You cannot create virtue through the coercive power of the state, only its brittle facade. (Could this be why Jesus said His Kingdom was not of this world?)

I pick on socialism because, well, it deserves to be picked on, but it's nowhere near the only human "ism" that people have tried to shoehorn God into. To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, a person should not believe in an ism. He should believe in his God and himself.


While we're at it, someone should teach Jesus game theory. "Turn the other cheek" is a total loser.


It should also be noted that Jesus commanded "love your neighbor as yourself," not "get a government bureaucrat to love your neighbor for you with taxpayer money."

I still lol'd, though.
9.23.2007 9:27pm
Mac (mail):
Byomtov,

Then again, it was Snopes who said that was false. Yahoo Answers has this to say.

Grogan
Nancy Pelosi wants to put a Windfall tax on all stock market profits (including Retirement fund, 401K's?
and Mutual Funds, When asked how these new tax dollars would be spent, she replied ; ; "We need to raise the standard of living of our poor, unemployed and minorities. For example, we have an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in our country who need our help along with millions of unemployed minorities. Stock market windfall profits taxes could go a long ways to guarantee these people the standard of living they would like to have as "Americans"."

Is this Fair?

Maybe, I wasn't so far off after all. I am confused, though and would not repeat it again without a verifiable source.
9.23.2007 9:38pm
Mac (mail):
While we're at it, someone should teach Jesus game theory. "Turn the other cheek" is a total loser.


It should also be noted that Jesus commanded "love your neighbor as yourself," not "get a government bureaucrat to love your neighbor for you with taxpayer money."

I still lol'd, though.

Thief,

I laughed out loud, too. He does deserve the post of the day award!
9.23.2007 9:40pm
ZH:
devoman,

Rabbi Isaac Luria (known in the Orthodox Jewish world as the Arizal) never wrote a single work stating his ideas. Most of what we have are various writings of his students, Rabbi Chaim Vital being the most prominent. Yet, even they do not ever mention a concept of "Tikkun Olam" relating to social justice. If you had actually read your reference you would have noticed that even the author of that article explains the original concept of tikkun olam from the Arizal quite similar to the concept explained by Milhouse (@ 3:35) of "birur hanitzotzot". And if you read closely, the author of the article states

For the Ari and his associates, Tikkun Olam is effectuated by the mitzvot, and by specific intentions accompanying them. Today, however, the word is often used to denote acts of righteousness and lovingkindness.

In essence your source admits that the concept of tikkun olam as social justice is a recent one, and that the intentions of the Arizal were in in terms of affecting the spiritual plane through doing specific mitzvot with specific "kavanot" (thoughts relating to intentions). And to my knowledge, none of the writings of any of the students of the Arizal explicitly use the term "Tikkun Olam" at all, and use various other terms to explain the intended concept, the most common being "birur hanitzotzot".
9.23.2007 10:10pm
Mac (mail):

In essence your source admits that the concept of tikkun olam as social justice is a recent one, and that the intentions of the Arizal were in in terms of affecting the spiritual plane through doing specific mitzvot with specific "kavanot" (thoughts relating to intentions).


ZH,

Aw shucks. bu it is such a nice concept. How dare you burst our collective bubble with facts?
9.23.2007 10:26pm
Elliot Reed:
So a law &economics scholar thinks other people should learn more about law &economics. I bet the critical legal theorists think other people should know more about critical legal theory too.

Perhaps Prof. Somin should learn more about Catholic moral teaching before saying it needs the insights of his particular school of thought. (Hint: Catholic moral teaching is not big on the Kaldor-Hicks criterion)
9.23.2007 10:29pm
Mac (mail):
Iiya wrote,

Moreover, many on the right have in fact argued for "bringing back" old morals regulations. For example, many support restoring stronger laws against pornography, restoring old-style divorce laws, restoring full drug prohibition in states that permit medical marijuana and the like, and restoring bans on assisted suicide in states that allow that."

Iiya,

First, I want to thank you very much for making me think hard. I think this is a wonderful post and, perhaps by the absence of ideologues, I think many others feel the same way.

I have thought all day, as I have gone about my business, about this comment you made earlier. It rankled me at the time, but I could not quite put my finger on why. I now know.

The problem with it, at least in part, is that the Government does not seem to be content with just allowing some people to do what they want. Specifically, you mentioned medical mariujana and doctor assisted suicide. It seems that, for the Government, it is a very short step from allowing people to engage in certain behavior that I mentioned above, for example, and forcing other people to engage in that behavior.

Given the Government's behavior on the morning after pill and the very serious threat to withhold Federal funds from hospitals that refuse to perform abortions, how long would it be before Doctors and other health care people are forced to perform assisted suicides and forced to dispense so called medical marijuana (already a joke in Calif. where anyone with $200.00 bucks can get a prescription and sell to whomever they want, including school kids). This Government does not seem to respect an individual's right to refuse on the basis of morals, thus, the "Right" as you call it, may have very good reason to be alarmed.

To whit, pharmacists are, at least in AZ., by law not able to refuse to administer the morning after pill. This may not be a big issue for huge chains, but certainly may for small mom and pops pharmacies in small towns. It does not matter that someone can walk accross the street and buy the same drug, it can not be refused. There is talk that the Government wants to force Catholic hospitals and Catholic physicians to perform abortions or lose Federal funds and, in the case of Doctors, be fired. Not only Catholic hospitals, but anyone who opposes abortion, which would account for a very good number of physicians, would come under this edict.
I have to strongly object to forcing people to engage in actions diametrically opposed to their morals. Nazi Germany comes to mind. I think the Government is seriously crossing the line between Church and State. I think Conservatives rightly fear new edicts from the Fed's as they may have to engage in the behaviort themselves, no matter how repugnant they find it. Freedom should cut both ways, but in the world of the Left, it doesnt'. If it does in the world of the Libertarian, then the problems associated with it i.e.. forcing people to act against their conscience, should be addressed. And, I agree with the poster above who said pornography is one thing, subjecting my kids to it is another. It is being forced on us whether we want it or not. I have a problem with that as well.
9.23.2007 11:03pm
Mark Nazimova (mail):

I'm curious why so many here seem to have such a severe reaction to accepting that "repairing the world" has been a part of Jewish culture for centuries. Is it that the recent linkage of "repair the world" with "social justice" by some of the liberal persuasion makes the original concept inaccessible to you?


There's a good article about the history of the term "tikkun olam" and its several meanings over the centuries, and a discussion of its significance to contemporary politically and religiously liberal Jews, here.
9.23.2007 11:12pm
Cornellian (mail):
On most questions of domestic and foreign policy, it only compounds the problem to declare that they are "moral questions" and are therefore encompassed within episcopal charism and competence. Such overreach only invites critics to claim, putting it bluntly, that the bishops don't know what they are talking about, or at least don't know any more than is known by the well-informed citizen.

An ongoing problem for virtually every religion and every denomination of every religion. Few can contain their enthusiasm for statist solutions to economic problems.
9.23.2007 11:18pm
Mac (mail):
Cornellian,

"An ongoing problem for virtually every religion and every denomination of every religion. Few can contain their enthusiasm for statist solutions to economic problems."




And what do you say about the religion of environmentalism, global warming, socialism (a demonstable failure which even the French are rejecting) et al? And the politicians, not to mention our Universities are so erudite on this subject? I think not. I think these are problems with humankind, regardless of the source. There was the Age of Enlightenment. There is now the Age of Stupidity and is is certainly not confined to Religion.
9.23.2007 11:35pm
neurodoc:
The problem is that, as EMD and ZH note, this whole notion of "tikun olam" as a sort of "social justice" has no basis in any actual Jewish source.

C'mon now, if what you guys are saying were correct, would there be a magazine (Tikun) edited by a rabbi (Michael Lerner) espousing all those make-the-world-a-better-place "progressive" ideas, with the help of the esteemed Cornel West? Would the Reform movement invest so much of itself in their Religious Action Center under direction of a rabbi (David Saperstein, Esq.), who waves this tikun olam banner when testifying before Congress on the "Jewish" position on all sorts of social and political issues? And so much is presented to the Jewish community with the tikun olam label these days. Nah, you guys must be wrong.
9.24.2007 1:12am
neurodoc:
And this idea of teaching the clergy who would preach on public policy issues some law and economics, I think it is a non-starter. How many would want it, realizing as many would, that if better informed, they might then have to be somewhat worldly rather than so unworldly when exhorting their congregations to do the "right" (Left?) thing. Few, I expect.
9.24.2007 1:19am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Sorry, but I can't help but find the preaching of a tax exempt organization on my moral responsibility to pay as much as possible more than a little....misplaced.

Remember that the Pope is also a head of state. A very small state, but still a state. Naturally he will think paying taxes is a good idea.
9.24.2007 1:34am
K Parker (mail):
Frater Plotter,
There are substantial portions of the Right who want precisely that. Ever heard R. J. Rushdoony preach? [emphasis added]
Move over, AF! Frater just moved into first place. Rushdoony and his buddies being substantial???? I haven't laughed this hard in weeks.
9.24.2007 2:24am
Cornellian (mail):
And what do you say about the religion of environmentalism, global warming, socialism (a demonstable failure which even the French are rejecting) et al? And the politicians, not to mention our Universities are so erudite on this subject? I think not. I think these are problems with humankind, regardless of the source. There was the Age of Enlightenment. There is now the Age of Stupidity and is is certainly not confined to Religion.

Presumably socialists favor statist solutions to many things, or they wouldn't be socialists. I feel free to criticise those proposals without getting a response along the lines that they're mandated by God, therefore any criticism can only mean I am prejudiced against that religion.

I'm not sure why "environtmentalism" constitutes a religion. I'm not even sure what you mean by that term. If it means nothing more than a concern for the natural environment, that's a bit thin to qualify as a religion. Ditto global warming, which is an issue, not a religion.
9.24.2007 3:37am
dilys (mail):
"Turn the other cheek" is a total loser is clever in this context. However, I've always thought of the idea as a signalling mechanism indicating that Life is so replete with goodness, possessions and insults so inconsequential in the roster of importance, that I can't be bothered to hoard and retaliate.
9.24.2007 4:34am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
You can't turn the other cheek if you're dead. There'd be no point in counseling somebody who just got a spear in the belly to turn the other cheek.
The reason you should turn the other cheek is that it is a response to an insult--struck on the cheek--and to indicate to the insulter that you are not going to be provoked.
Or it could be a way of saying, "Is that all you got, fool?"
But it cannot have anything to do with an actual assault.
Nor does it refer to what happens when you witness an assault on another. Which, considering all of Jesus' concern for the oppressed, He would have addressed if He had been talking about actual assault.

IMO, the free market accepts that things work best when people are free to make economic decisions in their own best interest. Problem is, many clergy think of that as "greed" or something close to it and are uncomfortable with it. See what euphemisms Protestant clergy use when talking about career improvements. "I got a call," is supposed to imply that you were going about your business when some--larger--church unilaterally reached out and grabbed your oblivious butt, and to obfuscate the likelihood that you've been scratching for that job for months. And they get a salary which is reasonable, but they get housing allowance on top, which can total pretty high in wealthier congregations. But if you ask their salary, the HA doesn't get mentioned. Yet, if someone else were to make a decision based on their own economic benefit and the society were to function as a system of interlocking self-interest, clergy get very nervous.
9.24.2007 10:44am
JosephSlater (mail):
That whole "it's harder for a rich man to enter heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle" thing might not be consistent with certain law &econ views either.

More seriously, I think we could all agree that people who speak publically on political issues should be informed about the implications of what they are speaking on. Good intentions are not enough.

But neither is law and econ. Knowing economic prinicples is good, but this subject is not the be-all and end-all method for analysis some of it's proponents (especially in the legal academy) sometimes pretend it is, nor does even the most sophisticated economics give Objectively Right Answers to public policy questions. For example, law &econ is notoriously poor at explaining why systemic employment discrimination existed (and, in significant ways, still exists).

So, when expounding on public policy, learn econ. But also learn history, moral theory, political science, etc. And get some experience in the real world.
9.24.2007 11:29am
JosephSlater (mail):
Since we're going to have a language expert guest-blooging soon, I want to say for the record that I DO know the differents between "its" and "it's" and the confusion in my post above was merely a typo.
9.24.2007 11:34am
Oren (mail):

Yes, I think Oren was wrong about it.

You're already off to a bad start.


For libertarians, and for quite a few other people as well, government does not have an unlimited right to tax for whatever purposes it wants. As for the US government, it has indeed gone far beyond its justifiable role, in my judgment. As to whether it's "a matter for each individual to decide for himself," I would take a middle ground position: individuals owe SOME deference to the judgement of elected representatives on these issues, but not absolute deference.


I had no idea the population of Volokh were such anarchists! You condone cheating on taxes because of a personal judgment that the government has gone way beyond its justifiable role? Perhaps I should make a personal judgment that the traffic laws go far beyond justifiable government interference in the road - surely then you should condone my choice to break the speed limit and drive on the wrong side of the road. It goes without saying that drug dealers are protected, after all, the war on drugs is surely unjustified.

Essentially you are giving everyone license to violate laws they don't like, provided they can come up with an argument that the law in question somehow violates some libertarian ideal. To me, you are cutting off the philosophical branch you are sitting on - - there is no concept of ordered liberty without the basic respect for the rule of law.
9.24.2007 12:34pm
Oren (mail):

For example, law &econ is notoriously poor at explaining why systemic employment discrimination existed (and, in significant ways, still exists).


Not really - it's a simple game theoretic proposition that if a group of people can enrich itself (as a whole) by agreeing to only deal within themselves. Defection can likewise be handled by the group dynamic, making it very costly and dangerous to defect.

If you extend the logic to cut across generational lines, I think it's quite clear how it works.
9.24.2007 12:37pm
Brian Hollar (mail) (www):
Great post and great idea!

Teaching economics to religious leaders is something I would love to see become commonplace. Many seminaries have adopted various aspects of psychology into counseling programs and classes. I wonder if a basic economics course could be made a requirement for obtaining a Masters of Divinity? I think this would help improve the caliber and effectiveness of many ministries.

Incidentally, this is what got me into economics in the first place. I taught a basic economics class to seminary students in India in 2003. I enjoyed it so much and found the need so great, I started asking myself why I wasn't doing this full-time? I couldn't come up with an adequate answer the question and so I now find myself in my 3rd year of a PhD program in economics at GMU.
9.24.2007 1:07pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Oren:

Fair enough. Still, there is a significant chunk of writing in the law &econ field along the lines of, "since it's not economically efficient to reject out of hand an entire pool from which talented employees come, successful employers generally won't do that." Introducing contrary facts to some in this field is met with either a puzzling silence, or incredibly awkward and unconvincing attempts to save the pure theory by trying to blame historical employment discrimination almost exclusively on government policies (or in some cases, making unions apparently primarily responsible).

And anyway, you have to know the history and politics to understand why some groups were able to impose their discriminatory choices on others.
9.24.2007 1:50pm
Yankev (mail):

Or do you think Judaism is just defined as "what Jews do" without any external referent at all?

David, this is the reductio ad adsurdem of the theory of Solomon Shcechetr's theory of Catholic Israel. (I started getting involved in Judaism through the Conservative Movement, which was great until I learned more about that movement's inherent contradictions.) Unfortunately, the state of Klal Yisroel deteriorated more rapidly than Schechter could have foreseen -- as pointed out, in a world where most American Jews have no knowledge and less commitment to basic Jewish practice and belief, Schechter's whole theory breaks down.

In my experience, the less a Jew knows about and practices Torah and mitzvos, the more likely he is to confuse Tikkun Olam with Tzedaka, and to think that Tzedaka requires you to use the power of government to take money from others and apply to your own obligation to perform Tzedaka.
9.24.2007 2:00pm
harry (mail):
One big problem with this is I paid into social security for my entire life by force what makes you think I should work after I retire to get what I already paid for! If I had that money to invest I would be 20 times richer on retirement than giving to the government. As it is social security will be my spending money but I paid into it and damn well better get some of it back.
9.24.2007 2:31pm
Oren (mail):

. . .in a world where most American Jews have no knowledge and less commitment to basic Jewish practice and belief, Schechter's whole theory breaks down.


Where did you get the gall to judge the beliefs and practices of others? Judaism is fundamentally non-dogmatic and, as such, it cannot be said that anyone is deficient in their belief. If you read a little bit of Jewish history, you would see that the core beliefs of Judaism have changed quite a bit over the past millenium through the process of examination and debate - Jews have been forever encouraged to argue about what their faith means, even unto the most central aspects.
9.24.2007 5:12pm
Yankev (mail):

Judaism is fundamentally non-dogmatic and, as such, it cannot be said that anyone is deficient in their belief. If you read a little bit of Jewish history, you would see that the core beliefs of Judaism have changed quite a bit over the past millenium through the process of examination and debate

It seems to me that your first sentence and your second contradict one another.

Yes, discussion and debate is encouraged. Departure from mitzvot is not, nor is the denial of certain basic beliefs. Sadly, many Jews today never had the opportunity of learn these things. Nothing in the last millennia has changed the prohibitions on intermarriage, the requirements for a valid conversion, the requirements for gitten and kiddushin, or the requirement of kashrus. Entire movements today claim that the Torah is a myth, that the sages were misogynists, that gitten are unnecessary or that the Rabbinate ignore the plight of agunot out of hardheartedness or to mainatin their own power that Kashrus is an antiquated health measure, and that sexual practices condemned by the Torah in the strongest terms are moral but that pointing out that the Torah says otherwise is immoral and bigoted.

I don't think that I "judged" anyone, and I agree that it would be gall to do so. I don't recall using the word "deficient" that you attribute to me. But I did point out that in an age of widespread assimilation and adoption of non-Jewish attitudes, Schechter's concept of defining Judaism by what Jews is shown to be an unworkable substitute for a system of halacha, and I stand by that statement.
9.24.2007 8:32pm
Mac (mail):
Cornelian,

You need to go into the literature of the environmentaliast movement and you do not have to go very far from mainstream to learn that trees have a souls and a right to live and not be killed, the forest has power and so on. I can only take so much of it, so I avoid it if I can.

I just invite you to compare Al Gore and the AGW debate to religion. Think of Al Gore as Savior. We have a great evil. It is caused by evil human behavior. It will bring about the destruction of the world unless we convert and change our evil ways.

Doubters are evil and seek to destroy the world, even if those doubters are very reputable scientists. There can be no debate (The Debate Is Over) as this is the one, true religion. Look at the faces of those who surround Al. They worship him. And, we even have the element of absolute hypocrisy and greed on the part of the Leader. He uses 20 x's the electricity of the average person, rides on private planes and owns the company that sells very dubious carbon credits to off set your evil ways. Pass the plate and sing Hallelujah!
9.24.2007 11:03pm
Oren (mail):

Yes, discussion and debate is encouraged. Departure from mitzvot is not, nor is the denial of certain basic beliefs.

...

I don't think that I "judged" anyone, and I agree that it would be gall to do so. I don't recall using the word "deficient" that you attribute to me. But I did point out that in an age of widespread assimilation and adoption of non-Jewish attitudes, Schechter's concept of defining Judaism by what Jews is shown to be an unworkable substitute for a system of halacha, and I stand by that statement.


At the very moment you declare certain basic beliefs and attitudes that are "non-Jewish" you implicitly judge everyone that holds those beliefs as somehow less Jewish than you are. Assimilating was the best thing the Jews ever did for themselves - in a few hundred years we went from a marginal oppressed group to having a serious seat at the table.


Entire movements today claim that the Torah is a myth, that the sages were misogynists, that gitten are unnecessary or that the Rabbinate ignore the plight of agunot out of hardheartedness or to mainatin their own power that Kashrus is an antiquated health measure, and that sexual practices condemned by the Torah in the strongest terms are moral but that pointing out that the Torah says otherwise is immoral and bigoted.


And those movements and everyone in there are as Jewish as your holier-than-thou ass. We maintain the right to define and redefine Judaism as we see fit - that is the fundamental right of every Jew, one we will not give up.
9.24.2007 11:39pm
Mac (mail):

And those movements and everyone in there are as Jewish as your holier-than-thou ass. We maintain the right to define and redefine Judaism as we see fit - that is the fundamental right of every Jew, one we will not give up.

Orem,

Are there not more than a few Rabbis who would disagree with you? I have had discussions with a few who did not seem to hold your view. But, I am not Jewish, so I could well be wrong.
However, if one accepts that it can be anything you want it to be, why are you mad at Yankev? If it can't be what he says, then what you say must be false.
9.24.2007 11:59pm
Yankev (mail):

And those movements and everyone in there are as Jewish as your holier-than-thou ass.

You seem to enjoy putting words in my mouth. Yes, eveyone in those movements is as Jewish as I (assuming that they were born to a Jewish mother or converted in accordance with the law given to Moses at Sinai), and I never said otherwise.

That does not make the movements themselves Jewish, and it is not "holier than thou" to point out that an idea is at fundamental odds with Jewish belief. Otherwise you oist that any movement among Jews is by definition a Jewish belief. Plenty of Jews worshipped or worship Baal, Zeus, Jesus, Buddha, Marx, or Marcuse. Pardon me as an intolerant holier than thou for considering each of those to be at fundamental odds with Jewish belief.


We maintain the right to define and redefine Judaism as we see fit - that is the fundamental right of every Jew, one we will not give up.

It is the right of every Jew only insofar as every human being is granted the power of free will. If every Jew has the "fundamental right" to redefine Judaism, how do you explain the incident of Korach? What about the man that G-d ordered to be executed for gathering sticks on Shabbos (and though you seem to enjoy setting up st4raw men, please don't accuse me of condoning violence or abuse of people who violate Shabbos -- for the record, I find that inexcusable) -- didn't he have the right to redefine Judaism for himself? What about those who worshipped Baal Peor? What about the Hellenizers?

It doesn't work, any more than it would work to say that every American or group of Americans has the right to redefine the constitution for themselves. The result would be anarchy.
9.25.2007 12:23am
Yankev (mail):
Mac,

However, if one accepts that it can be anything you want it to be, why are you mad at Yankev? If it can't be what he says, then what you say must be false.

Mac, cute paradox. I find that when someone gets mad at someone for not thinking Judaism is a game where anything goes and everyone can make up the rules as he goes along, it's often for one of two reasons: either an unpleasant incident in the past where he was treated disrespectfully by someone for not meeting that person's expectations about observance (which, btw is considered a serious transgression on the part of the person who treated him that way), or he was misinformed by someone (often a rabbi from a non-Orthodox movement) who told him in ignorance that "those" Jews don't consider him a "real" Jew. I have no idea whether either one ever happened to Oren.

There is a huge difference between saying that an idea is not Jewish and saying that the person who holds the idea forefeits his status as a Jew.
9.25.2007 12:29am
Oren (mail):
The point is that, in Judaism, one cannot simply quote precedent and consider the issue settled. Instead, it is taught that one must endeavor to convince the other side that your position is right. This is not the same as "anything goes" but rather a way to encourage consensus instead of decree. It is a high honor in Judaism to be the one that convinces others of the rightness of one's position.

In this respect, I am mad at Yankev for setting forth a list of beliefs and practices he finds unacceptably "non-Jewish". He has no right to set forth such a list and absolutely no right to talk down towards those of us that take a less doctrinaire version of the religion.
9.25.2007 1:01am
Mac (mail):
Yankev,

Not a cute paradox, I hope, but pure logic. My daughter is taking Logic now, and it has taken me back to my logic classes of Augustine and Aquinas and, if memmory serves me correctly, Aristotle. (Do not place any bets on my memmory of that long ago, however.)

By definition, he can not be angry with you for your interpretation of Judaism if his definition of Judaism is, it is anything you want it to be. To quote Dr. Spock, "it is illogical".

Not unless, he really means, "Anything you want it to be as long as I agree with it". And, that is not likely to be codified into a tenant of Jewish faith no matter how important Oren thinks he is. I do not believe you have a Pope and only someone whose religion has an end all be all figure such as the Pope can hold that power. (I am not being sarcastic, by the way re my comments about the Pope. Disregarding matters of faith, the institution of the Pope in a religion has many utilitarian values. I wish Islam had such a one, for instance. At least you could deal with one voice instead of multitudes. But that thought brings me back to Oren's comments. What he sees in Islam is the fruition of "anything you want it to be", is it not? Sincere and serious question, by the way. Not smart ass.)

I don't think people get mad at Judaism alone for the reason you stated. It seems pretty universal to me. However, your response was good. Oren, it seems to me, is not thinking and is walking down a slippery slope.

I guess he will be mad and rude to me as well, now.

And that brings me to the anger with disagreement. Why does Oren feel the need to be so offensive and angry with you? Even if angry, why so offensive? Would he not defent the First Amendment to the death? I just don't understand the offensive comments and lack of civil discourse. I expected better of Oren and am disappointed.
9.25.2007 1:02am
Mac (mail):
Oops! Defend.
9.25.2007 1:13am
Oren (mail):

Pardon me as an intolerant holier than thou for considering each of those to be at fundamental odds with Jewish belief.


I'll pardon you for thinking that you can nail down what constitutes "Jewish belief". That is just not for you to decide.


If every Jew has the "fundamental right" to redefine Judaism, how do you explain the incident of Korach?


Most Biblical scholars believe that the book of Numbers was written during the time of Nehemiah and, specifically, in opposition to his policies of integration with the Persians. The story was included to invoke divine authority on behalf of the Priesthood and against Nehemiah and Ezra. Judaism has long since moved past the authority of the Priestly class.


It doesn't work, any more than it would work to say that every American or group of Americans has the right to redefine the constitution for themselves. The result would be anarchy.


Judaism is not dispositive. It was never meant to be. Jews are intended to disagree on the important interpretive matters of their day without disintegrating the entire religion.


There is a huge difference between saying that an idea is not Jewish and saying that the person who holds the idea forefeits his status as a Jew.


As I said before, you are not empowered to declare any ideas Jewish or non-Jewish.
9.25.2007 1:16am
Mac (mail):

As I said before, you are not empowered to declare any ideas Jewish or non-Jewish.

Oren,
Seriously and sincerely, It seems that is exactly what you are doing.

Or, if it is anything you want it to be, except that with which you disagree, then, of what earthly use is it (your Judaism, that is)?
9.25.2007 1:34am
Oren (mail):

And that brings me to the anger with disagreement. Why does Oren feel the need to be so offensive and angry with you? Even if angry, why so offensive? Would he not defend the First Amendment to the death? I just don't understand the offensive comments and lack of civil discourse. I expected better of Oren and am disappointed.


You are right that I could have been more civil but I am a bit peeved at the general attitude among Orthodox Jewry that the rest of us "are doing it wrong" as if there was some universal standard by which you can judge our actions and beliefs against.

For instance, my Conservative synagogue takes a lot of flak for openly accepting gay members of the community without judgment. We arrived at this position through careful thought and debate of Jewish principles - our leaders were careful to make sure that there was a consensus view on the matter before taking any steps. Despite the withering criticism from around us, virtually nobody left the fold.

This, for me, is the model of how Judaism really works. It's not "anything goes" but rather a slow process of debate, argument and consensus building. Anyone is free to disagree with our conclusion as a matter of Jewish law (and you are more than welcome to debate it) but it is a different matter altogether to declare that one view or another is the only acceptable Jewish position.
9.25.2007 1:36am
Oren (mail):


As I said before, you are not empowered to declare any ideas Jewish or non-Jewish.

Oren,
Seriously and sincerely, It seems that is exactly what you are doing.

Or, if it is anything you want it to be, except that with which you disagree, then, of what earthly use is it (your Judaism, that is)?


There is a distinction between making an interpretation and declaring that some matters are outside the bounds of interpretive thought. We cannot have a meaningful debate on the issues if the other side will not even admit that the matter is open to debate and interpretation. That debate about what Judaism means, I argue, is the core of Judaism.

In some sense, however, you are right - I am defining what I believe is Judaism to be a non-doctrinaire religion whose beliefs are shaped, but not bound, by the past.

My Judaism is quite useful because it fosters the notion of community and consensus and encourages the intellectual debate of important matters. It is quite satisfying to have the policy be made by the community itself instead of imposed from above.
9.25.2007 1:46am
Mac (mail):
Oren,

In some sense, however, you are right - I am defining what I believe is Judaism to be a non-doctrinaire religion whose beliefs are shaped, but not bound, by the past.

Thank you, Oren. You are an honest man. I appreciate that.

However, your following statement, I still have problems with, which is,"My Judaism is quite useful because it fosters the notion of community and consensus and encourages the intellectual debate of important matters. It is quite satisfying to have the policy be made by the community itself instead of imposed from above."

Oren
Today, in our local newspaper, there is a columnist who stated the Constitution conveyed no rights, but "tools". He stated that the Declaration of Independance was not a part of the Constitution and therefore it does not count. He went on to rail against the second amendment and said it was passe as we don't carrry muzzle loaders, now. He is not the bightest bulb in the chandelier, I will admit. He went on to site the Constitution saying religious belief has nothing to do with public office. The problem is that last year, he decided that the ratio of Mormans to Arizonans in the State Legislature was too great and that we should have a religious test for those who run for office and no more than 5% of office holders should be Morman as that is thier percentage of the population. After all, the Constitution is a tool and not a right. What you are saying is not so differant , Oren, but at some point, I think, we either say these are Universal Truths (such as, "Thou shalt not kill") or we say, "Oh, hell,l if it feels good, do it."
Oren, you are still, I think, on a slippery slope. It is or it is not. I do not think we have figured out how to have our cake and eat it, to. But then, what do I know? I am only a seeker of truth in an age of

But, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being civil and kind in this debate. And, this is not a Jewish debate, as I hope you realize, bu† an all religious debate.

Bottom line. Oren, my beloved Jewish sister-inlaw is making my neice and nephew Jewish, even though they are practicing Catholics, making my great niece and nephew Jewish in the eyss of those who hate Jews. This is not an argument I can avoid. I have a stake here and I will be quite happy to tear the eyes's out of anyone wantingt to harm them.
9.25.2007 2:53am
Mac (mail):
Oh, hell, forgive the errors in my post above,. It is too damn late to correct them all. Thank you.
9.25.2007 2:58am
David M. Nieporent (www):
That debate about what Judaism means, I argue, is the core of Judaism.
Really? I'd argue that Torah is the core of Judaism.

(One can always debate how to interpret any particular provision of Torah, but one can't "interpret" X to mean "not X." If one does, one isn't doing Judaism -- and sorry if that offends you, but tough.)

At the very moment you declare certain basic beliefs and attitudes that are "non-Jewish" you implicitly judge everyone that holds those beliefs as somehow less Jewish than you are. Assimilating was the best thing the Jews ever did for themselves - in a few hundred years we went from a marginal oppressed group to having a serious seat at the table.
The first statement is wrong, since one of the "basic beliefs" is that beliefs are not what define being Jewish. The second statement misses the point; if all one wanted was to escape oppression and to be given a "seat at the table," conversion would have sufficed for that goal.
9.25.2007 8:07am
JohnR(VA) (mail):
A very good thread.

The vast majority of U.S. Catholic bishops are Irish offspring of working class families. They were raised within strong union and pro-Democratic households. As Father Neuhaus has amply demonstrated, they also are some of the dumbest people on the planet. When it comes to politics, they are very comfortable mimicing the Democratic Party line. Doing so saves them from thinking, which they find very difficult.

The Harvard economist did not address the $700 billion spent annually on federal anti-poverty programs, which number in the hundreds. Few if any of these programs achieve useful results, except that they serve constituencies that vote Democratic--the name of the game.

The Comptroller General a couple of years ago had the audacity to suggest that every domestic program be evaluated to determine if it was meeting its stated goals. No one took him up on the suggestion.
9.25.2007 9:19am
Oren (mail):

Really? I'd argue that Torah is the core of Judaism.


You are selling your religion way short.


One can always debate how to interpret any particular provision of Torah, but one can't "interpret" X to mean "not X." If one does, one isn't doing Judaism -- and sorry if that offends you, but tough.


The question is never interpreting a particular passage but rather coming to a conclusion on an issue in the totality of the circumstances. For instance, here's a trivial one. Leviticus 21:7 clearly prohibits the marring of a Cohen to a divorcee:


[The Cohenim, sons of Aaron] shall not take a woman that is a harlot, or profaned; neither shall they take a woman put away from her husband; for he is holy unto his God.


The Conservative Union, however, has interpreted away that clear prohibition, reasoning that


Should the current rate of intermarriage be reversed, a future Law Committee may well decide to review this issue. At this time, however, we face a crisis of such proportion that we dare not, in good conscience, stand between the marriage of two Jews whose union as forbidden by virtue of his being a Kohen and she a divorcee. Our steadfast refusal to solemnize their marriage, or even to agree to do this only after seeking to dissuade them, may well lead the couple to be married either in a civil ceremony or in a ceremony without full chuppah and kiddushin. ...


So there you have it. X doesn't mean not-X, it's just that "the Torah says X" is not dispositive of the issue.
9.25.2007 12:33pm
Oren (mail):

Today, in our local newspaper, there is a columnist who stated the Constitution conveyed no rights, but "tools". He stated that the Declaration of Independance was not a part of the Constitution and therefore it does not count.


Well, for one, his view doesn't count unless he can generate a consensus supporting that view. For another, the Constitution can admit only one binding interpretation at any given time (e.g, either flag burning is protected or not) or else we are back to anarchy.

Religious law is just different - it does us no harm as a society (quite a bit of good, I'd argue) if the Church here ordains gay ministers while the Church there refuses.

I'd elaborate, but I gotta run.
9.25.2007 12:41pm
Yankev (mail):
Oren,

You have made a number of assumptions about me that may be a bit inaccurate. You are correct about the CJ's permitting Cohanim to marry divorcees. Would you be surprised to know that Arnold Goodman, who authored that opinon for the Rabbinical Assembly, was my rabbi when I was in law school?

I have read the RA's opinion on gay relationships. I found it about as persuasive as its opinion on driving on shabbos and about ordination of women. In my opinion, those responsa of the RA misrepresent binding authorative precedent, ignore inconvenient facts, and assume other facts not in evidence. That is a matter of logic and persuasion, which, as you point out, held in high esteem.

Persuasion is not accomplished by abuse, or by accusing someone of holding opinions he does not hold, or by telling him that he is lying about his beliefs.

You suggested I read some Jewish history. Are there any books or authors that you recommend?


As I said before, you are not empowered to declare any ideas Jewish or non-Jewish.

You are absolutely right. I don't. But I am also not empowered to disagree with the Shulchan Aruch and the gedolei ha'dor as to what Jewish law does and does not permit, or which beliefs are and are not compatible with Judaism, no matter how many resolutions the RA enacts to the contrary. I do not presume to know better than the scholars who devote large parts of their days and nights to the in-depth study of Jewish law from original sources (including responsa of previous leading scholars) and who learned how to do so by long years of study with teachers who learned the same way in an unbroken chain of teacher and student going all the way back to Moshe Rabbeinu.

And at the end of the day, it is the fact that I and many others hold that belief that triggers such an angry response. It is not David N who is selling Judaism short; it is selling Judaism short to remove Torah from its core.
9.25.2007 1:01pm
neurodoc:
I wonder if the negative reaction to tikun olam that I sense above is due to the interpretation of social justice that some people make (e.g. Michael Lerner).
Absolutely! My abreaction is to both what they maintain tikun olam in effect mandates and to many of them personally. Their notions of "social justice" are for the most part decidedly Leftist, and encompass things I see as contrary to "social justice," e.g., acceding to the wishes of recalcitrant Palestinian groups. Anybody who would urge the re-election of Cynthia McKinney to Congress, as Lerner earnestly did, is definitely not my cup of tea. Indeed, I think arguably he is an enemy of the very thing he purports to favor, that is tikun olam, inasmuch as the world might be better off without him and his kind. (OK, that was a little hyperbolic, but I do see him/them as a pox.)

While working toward social justice would certainly fit under the umbrella of tikun olam (and would certainly be consistent with Jewish thought and culture), my understanding of the term in much broader.

As an example, I come across a well that is not working. I repair the well and move on. That would be an act of tikun olam that has nothing to do with social justice. Or I simply pick up a piece of litter and dispose of it.
I am not the arbiter of what does and does not count as tikun olam, but I'm dubious about your broader understanding of the concept. Would fixing a toilet in your own house or picking up litter from your back yard constitute tikun olam? I expect you had in mind some acts of selflessness, for example without compensation fixing a non-working well so that those in need of well water might benefit, or picking up litter from a public space so the space would then be a more pleasant place for everyone.
9.25.2007 6:24pm
neurodoc:
JohnR(VA)A very good thread.
I second that. While I haven't read every post yet, it appears to all be generally intelligent discourse on matters of consequence. Clearly, not everyone is of one mind here, but the participants are reasonably respectful of one another, we haven't had the distraction of loud shouting or pounding the table, and there has been no serious snark or ad hominem. We have even had humor that was genuinely funny, appropriate and made the speaker's point effectively. (I refer, of course, to AF on "turning the other cheek" as a variation on what I take to be the prisoner's dilemma.)

Now, when will the Lefties show up to tell me in not so friendly terms that my head must be anatomically displaced because I do not think highly of Rabbi "Tikun Olam" Michael Lerner and his posse, which includes Princeton's prize catch Cornell West?
9.25.2007 7:12pm