In Defense of Rabbi Sacks

I have been outspoken about my appreciation of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. He was recently mercilessly pummeled in the Jewish press by an individual who has neither said nor written anything I or my colleagues could agree with for a decade. No need to speculate on his motivation. The greater part of his attack accuses Rabbi Sacks of having gained nothing for himself or British Jewry by assuming the position of Chief Rabbi (CR). His towering intellect would have been appreciated anyway, even without the title, he says. Moreover, he places the blame for the appalling anti-Semitism on British campuses squarely on the CR, who should have cured the problem.

The irony cannot be wasted on too many people. Who more than this critic, who crowned himself “America’s Rabbi” on his own website, should understand the importance of possessing title and position to get the public to take you seriously? (I am not sure which America he is rabbi of. He is no more my rabbi than Stephen Wise, who is both Reform and dead.) The critic, who is all about hype and visibility, could not understand the ties that the CR has carefully cultivated with government, academic, and religious figures, and how he has used those relationships to quietly put out fires that threatened Jewish interests throughout the years. Those relationships provide more dividends to the Jewish people than high-profile hobnobbing with shallow pop stars.

Most importantly, among the values that the critic has forgotten over the years is that, of all that we can accomplish in life, few things match making people stand in awe and respect of the Ribbono Shel Olam. The extent of the CR’s Kiddush Hashem is breathtaking and unparalleled. He is on the list of the ten most respected voices (all voices, not Jewish ones) in England. The BBC gives three people broadcast time once a year to speak to all of the Commonwealth. The other two are the Queen, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Rabbi Sacks is given twice the time that they are. Given any topic on the minds of his countrymen, he will find a Torah insight to enlighten and invigorate the public discussion –without a hint of preaching.

One can think of many frum Jews who have had enormous impact on those around them, or who captured the attention and admiration of the world at special moments in time, like Prof. Aumann. I cannot think of another frum Jew who for years on end has broadcast the depth and profundity of Torah to tens of millions of people without respite! With whom would we associate the reaction of the non-Jewish world that the Torah (Devarim 4:6) writes about – “Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation” – more than Jonathan Sacks?

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8 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    We all have to resist the temptation to knock public figures just to make a name for ourselves.

  2. cohen y says:

    Can you explain R Sacks attendance at the 2008 Lambeth conference to defend the pro-gay Anglican hierarchy from the lower ranking dissenting clergy?

  3. mb says:

    Cohen Y asked
    “Can you explain R Sacks attendance at the 2008 Lambeth conference to defend the pro-gay Anglican hierarchy from the lower ranking dissenting clergy?”

    I’m fairly certain that the CR was not invited to defend anybody.
    But it was a watershed moment in Jewish/Christian relations.
    He gave a superb speech that also subtly hit upon your concerns.
    If you google Address by the Chief Rabbi to The Lambeth Conference you should be able to find it.

  4. Raymond says:

    I have not read enough of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ books to make fully informed, intelligent remarks about him. However, based on what I have read by him, I find him to be enormously articulate, intelligent, educated, sophisticated…perhaps my only criticism of him, is that his works seem to be addressed to Jew and gentile alike, and not just to us Jews. Some people would not even consider that to be a liability; I only mention it because when I read books on Judaism, I like it to get deeper and be at a more advanced level of Judaism, such as Rabbi Aharon Feldman’s Juggler and the King.

    Now compare all this to the media-savvy Rabbi indirectly referred to by Rabbi Adlerstein. I guess I should not mention the particular Rabbi’s name, but please let me say this. Several months ago, I heard the Rabbi in question speak on a panel at a local Orthodox shul, whose other guests included a female Rabbi (and thus she was not even Orthodox) and a female journalist. Without intending to take anything away from the two women, one would think that the Rabbi, any Rabbi calling himself Orthodox, would shine far brighter than his panelist colleagues. Yet the very opposite was the case. The female Rabbi sounded by far the most traditionally Orthodox with tremendous middot, the female journalist sounded highly in intelligent. I actually felt embarrassed for him on his behalf.

    Once upon a time, he was well worth taking seriously. Many years ago, he wrote a huge two volume work about his stay in a prominent university in Great Britain, that makes for superb, thought-stimulating reading. But I think he has interacted so closely with the Hollywood crowd for so long…

    So, when he criticizes the great Rabbi Jonathan Sacks… that great and truly accomplished Chief Rabbi of Great Britain…

  5. Ori says:

    Cohen V: Can you explain R Sacks attendance at the 2008 Lambeth conference to defend the pro-gay Anglican hierarchy from the lower ranking dissenting clergy?

    Ori: At the risk of sounding snarky, the same way I’d explain inviting the pope to arbitrate whether or not it is permitted to eat kitniyot (legumes) on Passover. Whatever Rabbi Sacks did in the 2008 Lambeth conference, I doubt his opinion was sought on how the Anglican Communion, of which he is not a member, should adopt one set of rules or another. The two just happened to happen in the same time and place.

  6. One Christian's perspective says:

    “And we, Jews and Christians, who have worked so hard and so effectively at reconciliation, and reached it, we must now take the lead in showing the world there is another way.: the way of the covenant of fate – honouring humanity as God’s image, protecting the environment as God’s creation, respecting diversity as God’s will, keeping the covenant as God’s word.

    Friends, too long we have dwelt in the valley of tears.
    Let us walk together towards the mountain of the Lord,
    Hand in hand,
    bound by a covenant of fate that has the power to turn strangers into friends.
    In an age of fear, let us be agents of hope.
    Together let us be a blessing to the world.” – Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks at the Lambeth conference – his closing words.

    Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has earned the respect of many people groups for his wisdom and awesome ability of looking at difficult subject matters by reflecting on seemingly dissimilar elements in a way that sheds light. Both Jews and Christians have a name for this type of teaching that is profound in wisdom, simple in appeal but able to soften hard hearts. As Ori stated and I agree, “I doubt his opinion was sought on how the Anglican Communion, of which he is not a member, should adopt one set of rules or another.” Yet, they know him and asked him to come and to speak. Why ? Perhaps, because he is a “neutral party” who can set the stage with words that may foster dialogue without hatred and allow calm hearts to see the image of G-d in the diversity of others.

  7. dr. bill says:

    cohen y
    December 31, 2010 at 9:16 am
    Can you explain R Sacks attendance at the 2008 Lambeth conference to defend the pro-gay Anglican hierarchy from the lower ranking dissenting clergy?

    If you listen to his address at the Lambeth conference and have read Confrontation by the Rav ztl, you will hear an articulate formulation of the Rav’s position on how we ought inter-relate to those of another religion. Despite his quoting the Rav as his source, I actually prefer his formulation. Particularly given the poorly reasoned criticism by america’s rabbinic entry into reality television and talk radio, Rabbi Sack’s need to attend should be more than obvious.

  8. DF says:

    Every now and then I shake my head disapprovingly at something Rabbi Sacks has written. And on occasion I dislike some of his liberal politics. But that does not mitigte the enormous respect I have for him and his writings. Everyone can learn from him. And we should all recognize that his position is very much a necessary one, and consequently he must on occasion do things or participate in events that from our living room chairs its very easy for us to criticize.[Not to say we have no right to criticize, but we should at least recognize the constraints of his position.] I have no idea who the self-proclaimed ‘America’s rabbi” is that this piece concerns, but I know Rabbi sacks, and he is without doubt one of the leading rabbis of the generation.

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