Debating Tikkun Olam
In “Abusing Tikkun Olam,” (March 23) Joel Alperson writes that “Jewishly speaking, tikkun olam without God is impossible.” Quite the contrary. In its original usage in the Mishnah, tikkun olam was the rabbinic principle that allowed God’s decrees in the Torah to be set aside whenever they got in the way of maintaining a stable social order. According to both Maimonides and the influential 14th-century talmudist Rabbi Nissim of Gerona, a Jewish king may, if the exigency of the hour demands it, execute criminals without proper evidence for the sake of tikkun olam. Thus, if the concept of tikkun olam is best heralded in support of any policy position, it is clearly the right-wing position that some of the niceties of American criminal law can legitimately be suspended in the War on Terror.