Sorry Glen, social justice and religion go hand-in-hand

Sorry Glen, social justice and religion go hand-in-hand

As I read last week’s JTA story about television talk show host Glen Beck denouncing “social justice” as something that has no place in religion, I could feel a hole burning in my wallet.
Tucked away there was a small card from the Union for Reform Judaism. Printed on the card, in Hebrew and in English, is this social action blessing:
“Praised are you, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who hallows us with Your mitzvot and commands us to pursue justice.”
That’s right, Beck has outed me. I’m a religious Jew, and I believe in social justice. We read this prayer before the start of social action committee meetings at our temple.
And every night, while the world sleeps, we social justice-believing Jews are hard at work dreaming up new ways to spread our insidious message of social justice for all.
It’s a vast international conspiracy and ole Glen has dug it out. It’s not as juicy as “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” but, hey, what do you want from talk show TV?
But what Beck doesn’t touch with a 10-foot pole is that our conspiracy has already succeeded. You see, Beck is in the minority; whether you’re a Jew or a Christian, liberal or conservative, religious or secular, chances are you believe in some form of social justice.
Here’s the rub: we don’t agree, even among Jews or among coreligionists of other faiths, what social justice actually is. Indeed, what might be social justice to a religious Muslim might be downright repugnant to a liberal Jew, and vice versa. And Reform and Orthodox Jews can have very different ideas of social justice as well. And liberal and fundamentalist Christians and …
Well, you get the idea. Even though we social justice conspirators have disseminated our message, it got garbled in the transmission. Everyone is reading it their own way.
If you are anti-abortion, believing it to be murder, you believe in social justice. If you think it’s wrong to bring a child into the world without the means to care for it, then that is social justice, too.
If you believe Americans have a right to health care and to be free from fear of hunger, that is social justice. If you think Americans have a God-given right to keep what they earn by the sweat of their brows without big brother taxing it, you guessed it, that’s social justice, too.
If you believe you have a right to pray in schools, that’s social justice. If you believe Jewish kids have a right to attend a public school without hearing The Lord’s Prayer over the intercom — yep, social justice.
The problem is, social justice is a great goal, but the roads leading to it are many and very much open to debate.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it. Messy as the social justice concept is, it’s rather inherent in any religion that believes in the goodness of man.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for another conspirators meeting.

(Lee Chottiner, executive editor of The Jewish Chronicle, can be reached at

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