Founded in 1986 by veteran New Left activist Michael Lerner and his then-wife Nan Fink, Tikkun magazine, as described by the Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture, is “a Jewish critique of politics, culture and society from a leftist perspective.” Concerned that the secularism of the Left had generally failed to satisfy people’s spiritual yearnings, Lerner and Fink created Tikkun to amplify the “voice of Jewish liberals and progressives” while also “speaking to the psychological, ethical and spiritual dimension of human needs.” Originally a bimonthly, Tikkun began publishing quarterly in 2011, at which time its circulation was approximately 18,000—down from about 40,000 in 1990. Lerner has served as the periodical’s editor-in-chief ever since its inception.
Ms. Fink left Tikkun soon after she and Lerner divorced in 1991, and the magazine moved its headquarters from Oakland, California to New York City in 1992. Five years later, Tikkun relocated again—this time to San Francisco—where an anonymous donor offered to give the publication its own office space, rent-free. Also in 1997, Lerner’s fellow Sixties activist Danny Goldberg—a major music-industry executive with ties to the ACLU and Air America Radio—became co-publisher of Tikkun with his father, Victor. In 2002, Trish and George Vradenburg—Lerner’s sister and brother-in-law—joined the Goldbergs as co-publishers. Mr. Vradenburg is a self-identified Republican who claims to “often disagre[e] with the editorial position of this magazine.”
From its earliest days, Tikkun magazine developed an outreach network called the Tikkun Community, consisting of people of various faiths seeking “social justice and political freedom in the context of new structures of work, caring communities, and democratic social and economic arrangements.” Affiliated with the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition, the Tikkun Community in 2005 was formally restructured as the Network of Spiritual Progressives, an “interfaith educational and social action organization” established by Michael Lerner, Cornel West, and Sister Joan Chittister.
Tikkun magazine promotes a New Ageish brand of religion “that is deeply spiritual and nondogmatic, that builds empathic communities and inspires people to activism to create a caring, democratic, egalitarian, and environmentally sane society.” It features articles written not only by believers, but also by “spiritual but not religious” people, and even by atheists and agnostics “who appreciate much of what, beliefs aside, religion or spirituality does for people’s lives.”
Rooted in “spiritual progressive consciousness,” Tikkun derives its name from the Hebrew word for “healing, repair and transformation,” which the magazine’s editorial board conflates with left-wing political ideology. In line with its name, the publication is dedicated to a “utopian vision” of “healing and transforming the world” by “build[ing] bridges between religious and secular progressives.” This process, says Tikkun, demands “a forceful critique of all forms of exploitation, oppression, and domination” that are allegedly inherent to capitalist economies.
In its pursuit of “social transformation” and “political and economic democratization,” Tikkun aims to “save our planet from environmental destruction and from the perversion of human relations generated by the globalization of selfishness and materialism popularly known as capitalist globalization.” Human industrial activity, Tikkun elaborates, has “set in motion the sixth mass extinction of species in earth’s history” and spawned “a degree of climate change that risks our civilization.” To address these catastrophes-in-progress, Tikkun exhorts environmentalists to “explicitly challenge the ethos of materialism and selfishness generated by global capitalism, which leads people to consume recklessly and without regard to the consequences for the planet.”
Throughout its history, Tikkun has sought to distinguish itself as an alternative to conservative Jewish intellectual magazines like Commentary. It is particularly adverse to “Jewish neoconservative[s]” who “pressure elected officials into endorsing whatever policies they believe the Israeli government should be supporting.”
Though professing to be “pro-Israel,” Tikkun has often served as a forum for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic writings. For instance, it has published the work of the noted anti-Semite and Holocaust denier Israel Shamir. And a Tikkun article by the Marxian socialist Joel Kovel, who has called Israel “an abomination” and declared that he well understands “the desire to smash Zionism,” depicted Israel as a “racist” entity and an “apartheid state” that “generates crimes against humanity” and thus “cannot have that legitimacy which gives it the right to exist.” “In a word,” wrote Kovel, “the Zionist state should be radically transformed, and if need be, brought down.”
Other noteworthy writers who have contributed to Tikkun include Paul Buhle, Noam Chomsky, Michael Eric Dyson, Carol Gilligan, Mark LeVine, Benny Morris, Edward Said, Jim Wallis, Michael Walzer, Cornel West, and Stephen Zunes.
Vis à vis the Mideast conflict, Tikkun has helped popularize the narratives that: (a) Jews slaughtered, drove out, or otherwise dispossessed innocent Palestinian Arabs of their homes when Israel was founded in 1948, and afterward; (b) Israel continues to routinely violate the human rights of Palestinians while maintaining an unjust military occupation over lands adjacent to its own borders; (c) Israel’s refusal to compromise with the Palestinians is a primary obstacle to Middle East peace; and (d) the continuing onslaught of Arab terrorism against Israel is largely a response to Israeli transgressions. Ultimately, Tikkun supports a “two-state solution” whereby Israel would scale back its borders to pre-1967 lines.
The Israel/Palestine section of Tikkun‘s website contends that Israel routinely “rejects Jewish morality and the Torah’s injunction to ‘love the stranger’ in its treatment of the Palestinians.” “Committed to full and complete reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinian people within the context of social justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel,” Tikkun draws a moral equivalence between “the traumas [that] both Jews and Palestinians have suffered.” In 2008 the magazine published a special issue commemorating “the 60th anniversary of the [creation of the] state of Israel and of the Nakba”—the latter term being the Arabic word for “Catastrophe,” which is how much of the Arab world depicts the occasion of Israel’s birth.
In the aftermath of Israel’s military response to a sustained barrage of Arab violence between 2005 and 2008, Tikkun launched an ad campaign holding the Jewish state partially to blame for the resultant “slaughter.” Moreover, the magazine condemned Israel for taking military measures that were “utterly disproportionate to the initial provocation by Hezbollah.”
Over the years, Tikkun has published numerous articles in support of the Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions movement against Israel. In May 2010, the magazine hosted a panel discussion on whether that movement might, in the long run, help end “the Occupation.” Among the participants were representatives of Jewish Voice for Peace and J Street. That same year, Tikkun announced that its 25th annual Ethics Award would go to Richard Goldstone, author of a controversial United Nations fact-finding report that unfairly criticized Israel for the self-defensive measures it had taken against Palestinian terrorism.
Tikkun disseminates its social and political views via its quarterly print magazine which is published by Duke University Press; its online website, Tikkun.org, which contains Internet versions of the print articles as well as many web-only offerings; and its Tikkun Daily blog.