Statement from Agudath Israel of America

In consultation with rabbinic leadership, Agudath Israel of America issued the following statement:

Public remarks attributed in the media to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the outgoing Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth of Britain, as well as his comments in a recent pamphlet he published, are dismaying, deeply misguided, and harmful to both Jewish unity and Jewish integrity.

The rabbi bemoans “the world of inward-turning, segregationist Orthodoxy.” He portrays the multitude of Jews who came together to celebrate the Siyum HaShas nearly a year ago – an event that captured the hearts, minds and souls of countless Jews, and the reverent wonder of much of the non-Jewish world – as representative of such an “extreme.”

Rabbi Sacks sees Jews who choose to “embrace Judaism and reject the world” as parts of a phenomenon he calls “worse than dangerous” and “an abdication of the role of Jews and Judaism in the world.”

Rabbi Sacks’ sentiments are not only inaccurate but un-Jewish and uncouth.

Portraying the “ultra-Orthodox” world as detached from awareness of, and interaction with, the larger world betrays an astounding ignorance of reality. Not only are charedim in the workplace and the “outside world,” but the charedi universe has played a leading role, if not the leading role, in outreach to the rest of the Jewish community with a wealth of chesed, limud haTorah and kiruv projects. Many charedi-sponsored initiatives touch the non-Jewish world as well. Charedi communities have developed healthy, sophisticated relationships with their governmental representatives and public institutions. Rabbi Sacks appears not to know the world he arrogates to judge.

Yes, the charedi world places great emphasis on shutting out pernicious elements of the surrounding culture. But surely Rabbi Sacks recognizes that such elements have proliferated and intensified in our day. Does he not agree that exposure to the excesses of modern society can be harmful to the Jewish spirit? And does he not recognize that shielding oneself and one’s family from such negative influences is precisely what Judaism asks of Jews?

Most important, Rabbi Sacks seems not to comprehend that the very insularity and intensive focus on Torah that characterize the charedi world are no mere sociological trends. They are, rather, the means to accomplish the ultimate mandate for all Jews: the preservation of our mesorah, and its transmission, in as pure and clear a way as possible, to the next generation and beyond.

The urgency of that mandate intensified in the aftermath of Churban Europe, when the restoration of a Torah-centered Jewish world seemed a distant dream. And it was the charedi community, beyond all, that rose to the challenge, establishing Torah-loyal families, building yeshivos and Bais Yaakov schools, establishing the primacy of limud haTorah throughout the Jewish world – recreating from the ashes with faith and dedication and, b’chasdei Hashem, incredible success.

And so, by deriding the charedi way of life, by characterizing it as some sort of petty and pointless – even dangerous – rejection of the larger world, Rabbi Sacks does a considerable disservice to not only the charedi community but to the Jewish mission of our day. He seems now to have turned his back on the ideals he has ably championed for many years, the promotion of authentic Jewish knowledge and the fostering of true Jewish unity.

We call on him to apologize for the derision and condescension that, intentionally or not, were embodied in his recent remarks and writing.

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