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Daily Briefing: Jonathan Sacks, Great Jewish Minds (November 13,2020)


“A man of huge intellectual stature but with the warmest human spirit,” — former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair

Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Britain., at National Poverty Hearing 2006 at Central Hall Westminster. (Wikipedia)

Table of Contents:

Jonathan Sacks, the U.K.’s Inclusive Former Chief Rabbi, Dies at 72: Ari L. Goldman, NY Times, Nov. 9, 2020

Remembering Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: Pini Dunner, Algemeiner, Nov. 11, 2020

Prof. Alex Green Interviews Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: The Jewish Journal, Sept. 2017

‘Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times’: Jonathan Sacks, Mosaic, Aug. 27, 2020


Jonathan Sacks, the U.K.’s Inclusive Former Chief Rabbi, Dies at 72
Ari L. Goldman
NY Times, Nov. 9, 2020

Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom who emerged as an important and widely heard voice on the role of religion in the modern world, died on Saturday in London. He was 72.

The cause was cancer, according to Dan Sacker, a spokesman. Rabbi Sacks, who wrote extensively and made frequent media appearances, withdrew from public life in mid-October after he announced that he was being treated for the disease.

While his religious home was Orthodox Judaism, Rabbi Sacks was one of the most inclusive voices within Judaism. In a 2013 study of his work, “Universalizing Particularity,” the editors wrote: “Sacks possesses a rare ability to hold in delicate balance the universal demands of the modern, multicultural world with the particularism associated with Judaism.”

His universalism sometimes got him in hot water with more fundamentalist elements of the Jewish community. When he was chief rabbi, Rabbi Sacks published “The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations” (2002), a book whose central message was that religious communities had parity in their attempts to find God.

“God has spoken to mankind in many languages: through Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians, Islam to Muslims,” he wrote. “No one creed has a monopoly on spiritual truth; no one civilization encompasses all the spiritual, ethical and artistic expressions of mankind.”

He added: “God is greater than religion. He is only partially comprehended by any faith.”

Some in the Orthodox community accused him of heresy. Judaism, they said, is the ultimate truth. Rabbi Sacks later walked back some of his statements, subtly revising them in a later edition.

He served as the chief rabbi from 1991 to 2013. His official title was Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, a title that made him the head of a large network of Orthodox congregations but not of congregations at the ends of the Jewish religious spectrum, the liberal and ultra-Orthodox.

Still, the title has always been one of the most prominent Jewish positions in Europe, and he used that pulpit effectively, both during and after his time as chief rabbi, to speak out against anti-Semitism and in favor of the State of Israel. …To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Remembering Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Pini Dunner
Algemeiner, Nov. 11, 2020

This week, we all grieve the loss of a very great man, scholar, and teacher, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Zeicher Tzadik Livracha.

Many have spoken and will speak about Rabbi Sacks’ great scholarship as well as his inspirational leadership; I was especially moved by the hespeidim recorded at the funeral and by the very special tribute given by Rabbi Sacks’ daughter Gila. As a non-family member, I would like to pick up where she left off, and to talk about Rabbi Sacks — the man — and Rabbi Sacks — the mensch. And I’m going to do it via the medium that he was a master at — storytelling.

Twenty-nine years ago, in 1991, Rabbi Sacks started out as the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom and spent his first Yom Kippur at St. Johns Wood Synagogue in Northwest London. At that time, I was a novice, young, aspiring rabbi (with, I have to admit, a lot more hair). That year, I was hired to run the kids’ program at St. Johns Wood Synagogue for the High Holiday, and so I heard Rabbi Sacks give his first Kol Nidre drosho as chief rabbi.

“My friends,” he said, “you’ve all heard of lightbulb jokes. You know what I mean, how many of this kind of person or that kind of person does it take to change a lightbulb. And you have all definitely heard this lightbulb joke — how many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb? Come on, you can all recite the answer along with me — one, but the lightbulb has got to want to change!”

Everyone laughed. His message that night was that on Yom Kippur you can change, but you have to want to change. But that very first line of his Kol Nidre sermon was actually a description of Rabbi Sacks himself. He started as a traditional, but not particularly Orthodox, Jewish boy in North London; after witnessing the Six-Day War in 1967 and meeting the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Sacks wanted to change. And he did change.

Throughout his rabbinic career, Rabbi Sacks faced public challenges on many occasions that undermined his ability to navigate the complexities of his job. Any lesser man would have given up and thrown in the towel. But that wasn’t Rabbi Sacks — he was made of stronger stuff. He drew from an inner strength, discovered what changes he needed to make to correct the situation, and he went ahead and made those changes. He rebuilt bridges that had been burnt, and went through the hard slog of making sure that all those changes were done and dusted.

That, my friends, is not because he was a great philosopher, or a great Talmudic scholar, or a great public speaker, or a great writer — all of which he undoubtedly was. No. It was because he knew that when change needed to happen, only he could make it happen — and that kind of human strength, that kind of superlative character, is the product of someone who knows that a therapist can never change a lightbulb if the lightbulb does not want to change itself. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Prof. Alex Green Interviews Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
The Jewish Journal, Sept. 2017

An international religious leader, philosopher, award-winning author and respected moral voice, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks served as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the (British) Commonwealth for 22 years, from 1991 to 2013. Since 2013, he has held a number of professorships at several academic institutions, including Yeshiva University, and Kings College London. He currently serves as a Distinguished Professor at New York University. Sacks is the author of more than 30 books, including his most recent, ‘Not in God’s Name,’ which was awarded a 2015 National Jewish Book Award. Sacks is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Jerusalem   Prize in 1995 for his contribution to diaspora Jewish life. He was knighted by Her Majesty The Queen in 2005, and made a Life Peer, taking his seat in the House of Lords in 2009.

AG: In your newly acclaimed book, ‘Not in God’s Name,’ you suggest that the justifications of violence from religious texts are a misreading and abuse of our holy scriptures. You argue that “the use of religion for political ends is not righteousness, but idolatry.” In America, Israel and around the world, we have seen religion used for purposes of exclusion and often violence. How can Judaism, Christianity and Islam be a force for good in a liberal and diverse society, or does openness and tolerance require banishing religion from the public sphere?

JS: My view is that all three faiths have both hard texts and histories of violence towards members of their own faith whether dissident or schismatic. Faiths are learning organizations and they do this through successive interpretations of their own texts. I have tried to show in the book how they did so, how Judaism rewrote its texts after the catastrophe of the first century and Christianity did so in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries after the catastrophe of the wars of religion. Clearly Islam will have to do so in the twenty first century. The thing that really makes religions wake up to the danger and harm to their own faith is when there is conflict within the faith itself. When you are killing your enemies, you can say this is God’s work. But when you are killing your own, it becomes much harder. I think that is the basic and major challenge facing all the faiths in the twenty-first century. Most people at most times have been surrounded by people who are like them. Today we are in a world of inescapable interconnectedness with people who are very unlike us and it seems to me that is God’s challenge to us in the twenty-first century. If Jews, Christians, and Muslims can put their historic animosities behind them, it can be seen in the full retrospect of history to answer the challenge of today.

AG: You have been Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom from 1991-2013 and have recently been teaching at New York University as the Ingeborg and Ira Rennert Global Distinguished Professor of Judaic Thought. Having spent more time in America recently after having finished your tenure as Chief Rabbi, what do you like about America and American Jewish life?

JS: American Jewish life has two things that are really remarkable. First, it has critical mass. It can do things on a scale that we can’t do anywhere else in the diaspora. There is nothing quite like AIPAC, there is nothing quite like the General Assembly, there is nothing like the number of Jewish students at universities like NYU, University of Pennsylvania, or SUNY. You go to one university in the States and there are more Jewish students than all the universities in the UK! That critical mass makes a huge difference. Second, it’s very decentralized, which creates creativeness. Sometimes it looks a little chaotic to a guy from Britain, but it’s creative chaos. I thought chaos theory was a description of the Jewish people! … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

‘Morality:  Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times’
Jonathan Sacks
Mosaic, Aug. 27, 2020

This essay is an edited excerpt from Jonathan Sacks’s forthcoming book. ‘Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times’ will be published by Basic Books on September 1, 2020.

Almost all civilizations have developed ways of consecrating marriage and the family. Historically, the strength of Jewish families was the source of the resilience of Jewish communities that allowed them to survive the enforced exiles and expulsions, the ghettos and pogroms, of a thousand years of European history. Family in Judaism is a supreme value. It’s how we celebrate our festivals and Sabbaths. A Jewish child always has a starring role at the seder table on Passover night, where we are inducted into our people’s history, and where our parents fulfill their first duty: namely, to teach children to ask questions. Strong families create adaptive communities.

More generally, marriage is fundamental to the moral enterprise because it is a supreme example of the transformation of two “I’s” into a collective “We.” It is the consecration of a commitment to care for an Other. It is the formalization of love, not as a passing passion but as a moral bond. To see what is at stake we need to understand the difference between two things that look and sound alike but actually are not: namely, contracts and covenants.

In a contract, two or more individuals, each pursuing his own interest, come together to make an exchange for mutual benefit. So there are commercial contracts that create the market, and the social contract that creates the state. A covenant is something different. In a covenant, two or more individuals, each respecting the dignity and integrity of the other, come together in a bond of love and trust, to share their interests, sometimes even to share their lives, by pledging their faithfulness to one another, to do together what neither can achieve alone. … [To read the full excerpt, click the following LINK – Ed.]


Tributes Pour in as Jewish World Mourns Passing of Former UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Algemeiner, Nov. 7, 2020 — The Jewish world was in mourning on Saturday evening as it learned of the passing of Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks — the former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom and one of the most celebrated public intellectuals of the last 20 years.

Podcast: Jonathan Sacks on Creative Minorities:  Tikvah, Oct. 27, 2017 — From the breakdown of family and faith to rising political partisanship, the resurgence of anti-Semitism, and an emboldened secular dogmatism defining the parameters of the public square, the cultural practices that have for generations nourished the modern West have grown wan and frail. Can they be energized? And what role can the Jewish people play in renewing the vitality on Western civilization?

Markets and Morals:  Jonathan Sacks, Tikvah, June 7, 2016 — Friedrich Hayek, noted as one of the twentieth century’s greatest defenders of the free market, also made a case for religious traditions. In theory, the energetic, dynamic, disruptive market would seem to be at odds with the restraint, humility, and anti-materialism of revealed religion.

How We Can Navigate The Pandemic With Courage And Hope | Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks:  YouTube, Mar. 31, 2020 — Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks offers thoughts on how we can navigate the coronavirus pandemic with courage, hope and empathy. With uncommon wisdom and clarity, he speaks on the leadership, fear, death, hope and how we could use this moment to build a more just world.

The Future of Judaism with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:  University of California Television (UCTV), YouTube, Feb. 21, 2013 — For Jews and for Judaism the twentieth century brought unprecedented suffering and incredible achievements – but as a new century gets going, their role in the future is up for grabs.  Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth, refutes the arguments for isolationism and the self-sufficiency of “people that dwell alone” that have proven so tempting  through history, instead making the case that Jews and Judaism must renew their sense of hope and purpose to engage positively with the developing global culture.

This week’s Communiqué Isranet is:

 Communiqué: Biden, plus pro-israélien qu’Obama, mais moins que Trump?

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