Social Activists and Union Leaders©

Jewish Activism

"When it comes to helping someone in need, do not rely on prayer alone. Let the person in need pray, not you, your task is to help."

Elie Wiesel, Somewhere a Master (1981)

Abraham protested God's seeming indifference to the destruction of innocents in Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses protested the Pharaoh's treatment of Jews, unleashed Ten Plagues on Egypt, and led the Jews to the Promised Land. Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other of the prophets protested the backsliding of kings and fellow Jews, railed at their failures to properly honor Yahweh, and demanded that Jews dedicate themselves to righteousness and justice.

In focusing on deeds rather than beliefs, Judaism makes demands. Not only are there duties (mitzvoth), but also an obligation to pursue justice and charity (tzedakah), and to work to heal the broken world (tikkun olam). There is the presumption that by design or accident, the World was made imperfect and Jews were "chosen," or have otherwise inherited a duty to be proactive in correcting those imperfections and inequities.

If some Christians believe faith trumps action and deeds don't count, and some secularists prefer leisure in their spare time, Jewish activists, instead, will be at a rally or a protest. And while only a minority of Jews are outspoken public activists, a substantial percentage of outspoken public activists are Jewish. Perhaps apocryphal, Ernest Van den Haag is quoted in The Jewish Mystique as saying, "out of one hundred Jews, five may be radicals, but out of ten radicals, five are likely to be Jewish...."

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