Tikkun, a new Jewish magazine of politics and culture, has launched a stinging attack from the left on Commentary and its editor, neoconservative Norman Podhoretz.
Backed by private investors in Oakland, Calif., Tikkun -- which in Hebrew means to mend or transform the world -- has been advertised as a "liberal alternative to Commentary." In his opening editorial statement, Editor Michael Lerner, a clinical psychologist active in Israeli left-wing politics, writes: "With boring predictability, Norman Podhoretz leads the monthly charge of Jewish intellectuals clamoring for respectability by endorsing every move the Reagan administration can dream up."
By telephone from Jerusalem, Lerner criticized Commentary as "intellectually shabby. They see Reds everywhere."
"I haven't even seen [Tikkun] yet," Podhoretz said. "To tell you the truth, I'm not concerned. When they produce a magazine of intrinsic value, then they'll have the right to talk big. But writing a manifesto and putting out a single issue doesn't mean you've earned a readership yet."
Commentary, which has been edited by Podhoretz for 26 of the 45 years it has existed, was once a major forum for left-wing thought, but in the past decade it has moved to the right. Podhoretz, and many of the magazine's contributors, now form the core of the neoconservative movement.
Lerner, however, says that Commentary does not represent the political sentiments of most Jews. One of his mailings declares that "Tikkun speaks for the liberal and progressive majorities in the Jewish world." A few other magazines, including Moment and Midstream, are positioned editorially to the left of Commentary, but in recent years no Jewish-oriented publication has wielded the same degree of influence.
One member of Tikkun's editorial board, literary critic Robert Alter, has already quit in protest over the criticism of Commentary. Alter, a contributing editor to Commentary, wrote an essay for the premiere issue of Tikkun. "But never again," he said.
"A magazine can't just be a reactive thing. I think an explicitly anti-Commentary stance is wrong." Alter also objected to Lerner's contention in the opening editorial that there is an inextricable link between Jewish tradition and liberal and radical politics. "That made me uncomfortable," he said.
Other board members, including New Republic Editor Martin Peretz and Jewish activist Elie Wiesel, are displeased with the marketing of Tikkun, the first issue of which was mailed last week. Wiesel, who is a friend of Podhoretz, also objected to the anti-Commentary stance, but has not resigned from the Tikkun board.
Peretz said he was "shocked" that his name was mentioned in an advertisement for Tikkun in The New York Times, while in an ad that ran in The Nation it wasn't. "That's intellectually dishonest," he said. Under Peretz, The New Republic has taken on a more conservative tone and frequently criticizes the leftist politics of The Nation.
Lerner emphasized that Tikkun would "try to react to issues, not just Commentary." He also said the difference in advertisements was "a technical error. We just didn't have room for all the names in the Nation ad. I was upset, and that will be fixed. We're proud to have Marty on the board, and the readers of The Nation should know that."
Lerner, 43, grew up in Newark and studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary in the early '60s. At Berkeley he was an active member of the antiwar and Free Speech movements; during that period he published articles that sharply criticized Israeli policy.
"Those were the times," Lerner said. "That was 1969, 17 years ago. I'd spent several months working on a kibbutz, and I was disillusioned. Only later did I realize that behind a lot of criticism of Israel was an internalized anti-Semitism."
Tikkun will be published quarterly for a year and then bimonthly, according to publisher Nan Fink. Lerner declined to name the principal financial backers for the magazine. "But we have enough to go at least several years," he said. He said 40,000 copies of the first issue were sent to "lots of people in the Jewish world and to liberals."
Lerner said Tikkun, like Commentary, will feature "not only Jewish writers and Jewish issues." The first issue includes a symposium on "What Kind of Tikkun Does the World Need?" and articles by social critic Christopher Lasch on "What's Wrong With the Right," author Anne Roiphe on "The Politics of Anger" and sociologist Hal Jacobs on "The Lessons of the Vietnam War."
Roiphe's piece attacks frequent Commentary contributor Lucy Davidowicz for calling South African Bishop Desmond Tutu an anti-Semite and asking Jews not to endorse his attempts to end apartheid. Writes Roiphe: "This time [Davidowicz] and her political allies are friends of the oppressor and in this way undo the shame of being victimized, the humiliation of being considered undesirable. Now they are the judges and someone else is the pariah. This is the sad result of Jewish rage that has boiled for forty years without finding an object, a release, a catharsis."
But certainly the most significant piece is Lerner's opening statement, which speaks for the feminist movement, an emphasis on community values and a return to Jewish religious values and practices. He writes: "It is sad to see Jews celebrating 'making it' as though this were the goal and destiny of Jewish history."
"Making It" is the title of Podhoretz's memoir about his youth as a critic and editor.
Tikkun has also irked opponents who are not friends of Commentary. Said New Republic literary editor Leon Weiseltier after reading the first issue, "Lerner thinks being anti-Commentary suffices as a view of the world. It's just not enough. His magazine is a swamp of absolute, unreconstructed 1960s rhetoric. I mean, Arthur Waskow writing on nuclear strategy? A guy who in 1971 [for the first volume of the Jewish Catalogue] wrote that the way Jews could bring the messiah was to plant trees in North Vietnam!
"It's a disservice to liberalism to publish something so intellectually shabby and confused as this."
"I'm interested in a marketplace of ideas," Lerner said.