Nan Fink Gefen and Rabbi Michael Lerner look over an early issue of Tikkun in the 1980s. (Photo/File)
Nan Fink Gefen and Rabbi Michael Lerner look over an early issue of Tikkun in the 1980s. (Photo/File)

Tikkun magazine to close after nearly 40 years

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Updated April 11

Tikkun, the groundbreaking magazine published in Berkeley that served as a forum for liberal Jewish ideas, is folding after nearly four decades.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, its founding editor, announced the closure Wednesday in an email to subscribers, citing his health.

“These are difficult times for anyone seeking a world of love and justice,” Lerner wrote. “Yet I continue to believe that within the next hundred years, those who survive the many hurtful human forces and the massive destruction of the environment will be living in a more loving and just world. May those in your life — your children, grandchildren, friends, coworkers, people you meet along the way — learn from you to reject the cynical belief that money and power is what gives people lives of joy and meaning.”

Lerner, 81, told J. on Thursday that Tikkun’s funding had dried up and that he had been unable to find a successor.

“The only reason that we could keep going for as long as we did was the generosity of many, many people, but at this point, the people who had been able to support us had run out of money,” he said. ”I had personally kept on putting money into the magazine in order to keep it going, and that was no longer possible for me.” His wife and co-editor, Rabbi Cat Zavis, told J. that Lerner has been in declining health for several years.

When Lerner founded Tikkun in 1986 with publisher Nan Fink Gefen, the “liberal voices were being increasingly marginalized in the Jewish world, and there was no intellectually serious magazine at the time that could provide such a voice,” he said in a 2016 interview with J.

Under his leadership, Tikkun emerged as a liberal alternative to the conservative Jewish magazine Commentary. Lerner hoped that Tikkun would let progressive Jews know “that there was a place for them in the Jewish world, and they didn’t have to abandon their Judaism to be committed to liberal and progressive values,” he said in 2016.

At its height, Tikkun had more than 40,000 subscribers. Over time, it morphed from an exclusively Jewish publication into an “interfaith voice of spiritual progressives,” according to its website. It published articles by Christian, Muslim and Buddhist thinkers, in addition to Jewish ones. The 30th anniversary issue, published in 2016, included pieces by Joyce Carol Oates, Cornel West and Chaim Potok.

The Religion News Association recognized Tikkun as magazine of the year in 2014 and 2015. Its last print issue, which was devoted to the topic of “re-envisioning socialism,” was published in spring 2020. The magazine continued to publish pieces online, along with annual highlights issues.

After the Israel-Hamas war broke out on Oct. 7, the magazine released a statement condemning Hamas and the Israeli occupation and calling for a cease-fire. “The world’s failure to challenge Israel’s ongoing occupation, apartheid, and unbridled violence by settlers and soldiers in the West Bank provides the context for what is happening now,” the statement said.

Tikkun shook up the Jewish establishment in a number of ways. It was one of the first Jewish publications to advocate for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, noted J. CEO Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, who worked as Tikkun’s managing editor and in other senior positions from 1997 to 2006.

“Tikkun broke ground as a magazine that aimed to tie Jewish spirituality to progressive politics,” Kaiser said. “It became a locus for spiritual leaders of many faiths to learn from and with Jewish tradition.”

Covers of the Winter/Spring 2018 and Spring 2017 issues of Tikkun. (Photos/Courtesy)
Covers of the winter/spring 2018 and spring 2017 issues of Tikkun. (Photos/Courtesy)

Ari Bloomekatz, a former Tikkun managing editor, called the magazine a “landmark and transformational publication,” but one that faced several hurdles. One is that it became so closely associated with Lerner that “without really reimagining and restructuring the magazine, it’s tough to think about how it could continue without him.”

Another, Bloomekatz said, is that Tikkun was unable to situate itself firmly within the constellation of new and revitalized media across the progressive Jewish landscape, including outlets such as Jewish Currents, the Unsettled podcast and Ayin Press.

“There are other publications that are doing great work that include some similar themes and content in their coverage, and while none of them are explicitly like Tikkun, I’m not sure anybody has to be exactly like Tikkun moving forward,” he told J. “I think what would be special is if some of the really positive and transformational ideas that were involved with Tikkun lived on in other ways and could be found and identified in other publications and media efforts, and I think that they are.”

Bloomekatz said the number of subscribers grew dramatically while he served as Tikkun’s managing editor in 2016 and 2017. One of the editions he was most proud of was the spring 2017 issue, “Israel’s Occupation at 50: Still Immoral, Still Self-Destructive,” which included pieces by a long list of prominent Israeli, Palestinian and American Jewish writers.

“One of the tough things for magazines is how do you continue to grow and adapt and make sure that you’re reaching new readers and new audiences,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to keep pushing for 40 years.”

Bloomekatz, who is executive editor of the social justice publication In These Times, described Lerner as a “major figure in American politics and American Judaism — and also a big and complicated personality.”

Lerner’s long tenure at Tikkun was not without controversy. In 1997, he admitted writing letters to the magazine under pseudonyms. He defended the practice by saying he was simply taking things people had told him in conversation and putting them in writing. “If you want to encourage critical debate, you sometimes have to allow for anonymity,” he told J. at the time. Thereafter, Lerner included a disclaimer on the letters page of the magazine.

He also traded barbs with former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, who in a 2006 Jerusalem Post op-ed described Tikkun as “quickly becoming the most virulently anti-Israel screed ever published under Jewish auspices.”

On Thursday, Lerner said he tried to advance a more compassionate progressivism in his magazine. “Many people on the left were saying, ‘We’re so rational. Why aren’t we winning?’ And I would say it’s because we act as though people who are not yet with us are idiots,“ he said. “We needed a new left that had brilliant analyses but also had a loving and caring attitude towards people who were not yet on our side.”

A final issue of Tikkun honoring Lerner is forthcoming, and the archives will remain available for now at tikkun.org/archives. The publication’s educational arm, Network of Spiritual Progressives, will continue to offer classes through Beyt Tikkun: A Synagogue Without Walls, which Lerner founded in 1996 and Zavis has led since July 2023.

This article was updated with comment from Rabbi Michael Lerner.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.