Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z”l

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62 Responses

  1. YS says:

    Rav Adlerstein,

    Would it be possible for you to clarify what you meant when you wrote that you’ve struggled with Rav Elchonon’s explanation?

    Did you mean that Rav Elchonon identifies (somewhat) with that imaginary man and you don’t, based on your experiences? Or that Rav Elchonon was critical of that imaginary person and you are more understanding of him.


    • Both, really. Rav Elchonon zt”l argues that the existence of Hashem is entirely self-evident, that everyone can see it, and the only reason they don’t is because people delude themselves. If there is no G-d c”v, then they can live lives free of any restriction. Their subconscious desire for freedom to do what they wish obscures the obvious reality of His existence. I have a hard time accepting both premises. The world we live in is no longer that of the Rishonim, in which the ontological argument and the argument from design were more than compelling. There are counter-arguments today that leave room for people to struggle. (Mind you, I am not suggesting that those counter-arguments are true. They don’t have to be to create doubt. They simply have to be “out there” and available on the cultural shelf of options. They were not there at all in the times of the Rishonim.) The second premise is also difficult for me to accept. I’ve just met so many people who would love to believe – but nonetheless struggle with real intellectual issues. It is hard to square what they speak of with some inner need to throw off the ole ha-mitzvos, especially when they are fully medakdek b’kula ke-bachamurah.

      • Schmerel says:

        The world we live in is no longer that of the Rishonim, in which the ontological argument and the argument from design were more than compelling.

        This is a very questionable statement. There is always an apparent illusion of the truth of the anti-Frum world. What makes it stronger today than in ancient times? The Torah talks about a Novi Sheker giving real signs. Chazal say that heresy is compelling (in relation to heretical arguments that nobody would make today )

        If you want to say that scientific proof is more convincing, the Kuzari was also repeatedly challenged with “how can you not believe the world always existed (steady state universe) it is a scientifically proven fact with experiment after experiment demonstrating it’s truth ?” In his answer he explicitly acknowledges the existence of valid evidence against Torah M’Sinia but (like everyone today) rejects the conclusion. In hindsight everyone knows that steady state universe and other ancient heresies are untrue. At the time they held sway no one had that knowledge.

        Throughout Jewish history those who have left the frum world almost always fell into one of two groups

        (1) if they were in a situation that offered no realistic aspiration of assimilating into the upper middle class they believed the anti -establishment groups who made false utopian promises of how wonderful the world will be if their ideas prevail


        (2)if they did have an aspiration of assimilating into the upper middle they insisted that as truth seekers they have to believe whatever happens to be believed and preached by The New York Times types of where they were.

        For example the masses of people who converted to Christianity during the Golden Age of Spain were even more convinced of the truth of Christianity than those who believe in “modern scientific research shows…” today. No respected Rav today went OTD because he can’t just can’t believe in Torah M’Sinai .

        Conversely during the Golden Age of Spain there are records of respected rabbis converting to Christianity and insisting they are doing it out of conviction and belief in Christianly alone. And they were so respected that even after their conversion their former students who remained frum said they are beyond ulterior motives. (Or at least apparent ones…they were in fact getting money and honor for converting but they didn’t come across as people who would convert for such motives).

        With all the OTD movements over the millennia, there was never a major OTD Buddhist movement. For a simple reason. There was never a large frum community living in a free society of upper middle class Buddhists. So the “truth seekers” never had a motive to explore, let alone, adopt Buddhism.

      • The world we live in is no longer that of the Rishonim, in which the ontological argument and the argument from design were more than compelling.

        This is a very questionable statement. There is always an apparent illusion of the truth of the anti-Frum world. What makes it stronger today than in ancient times? The Torah talks about a Novi Sheker giving real signs. Chazal say that heresy is compelling (in relation to heretical arguments that nobody would make today )

        YA- Apples and oranges. We’re not talking about heresy – about arguments for the non-existence of G-d c”v, or the lack of any Divine role in the appearance of the universe. We’re talking about the strength of what some people like to refer to as proofs of His existence, of the divinity of Torah, etc. Those proofs/arguments have been weakened by the development of plausible alternatives. (They may be entirely wrong! But they dilute the strength of the arguments for the positions that we take as Torah Jews. Was it Huxley who said that atheism was possible before Darwin (think of David Hume), but Darwin gave it a reasonable platform to stand on.

        If you want to say that scientific proof is more convincing, the Kuzari was also repeatedly challenged with “how can you not believe the world always existed (steady state universe) it is a scientifically proven fact with experiment after experiment demonstrating it’s truth ?”

        YA – Not so likely. Scientific method as we know it largely originated with Francis Bacon in the 17th century. In the time of the writing of Kuzari, it was inductive reasoning that pointed to truth

        Throughout Jewish history those who have left the frum world almost always fell into one of two groups
        (1) if they were in a situation that offered no realistic aspiration of assimilating into the upper middle class they believed the anti -establishment groups who made false utopian promises of how wonderful the world will be if their ideas prevail
        (2) if they did have an aspiration of assimilating into the upper middle they insisted that as truth seekers they have to believe whatever happens to be believed and preached by The New York Times types of where they were

        YA- Trying to digest this. I wonder which columns in Old York/Amsterdam Times were enjoyed by Baruch Spinoza – perhaps the father of modern religious skepticism

        For example the masses of people who converted to Christianity during the Golden Age of Spain were even more convinced of the truth of Christianity than those who believe in “modern scientific research shows…” today.

        YA – I think that this claim is a terrible injustice to those who were not omeid in the nisayon. They converted out of fear or out of convenience, but few bought into the claims of Christianity.

        No respected Rav today went OTD because he can’t just can’t believe in Torah M’Sinai .

        YA – Wishful thinking. Far more than you want to hear about. Many don’t tell their families, let alone the rest of the world. Remember the Mishpacha column a few years back about an active dayan in Brooklyn who regards himself as an atheist. Yeah, you’ll insist that it must be other reasons than inability to accept Torah MiSinai. You’ve been trained (as I was) to regard any falling off the Derech as a result of psychological dysfunction. Maybe you’re right. How could we really know? But it does not compute with what many of us hear from people who come to us and explain what they are struggling with – or why they gave up the struggle. I suggest you try to get R. Shnayer Leiman’s take on the anonymous phone calls he got for years from middle aged roshei Kollel complaining that they had lost their Emunah and didn’t know what to do.

      • nt says:

        I spent some time looking into this topic, and I believe R’ Elchonon is a daas yachid. The basic question driving his position is that how can even a bar mitzvah bochur be obligated in Emunah, if he is incapable of understanding the intellectual proofs the Rishonim give for G-d’s existence? R’ Elchonon’s answer is that belief is so obvious that even a child could appreciate it.

        However, if you actually read the works of Rav Saadya Gaon, the Chovos Halevavos, etc. the answer that they give is that the purpose of Ma’amad Har Sinai was to demonstrate Hashem’s existence and oneness directly to Klal Yisrael so that it could be passed down through history. So that the bar mitzvah bochur is obligated to believe due to the historical tradition, not through pure reason. (See sefer Devarim.)

        The reason for the intellectual proofs is not to prove G-d’s existence ex nihilo but to deepen one’s understanding of Hashem to the extent possible. But not everyone is capable/trained in complex and abstract thought, for which reason Hashem revealed Himself to us directly, as a nation, on Har Sinai.

      • Shades of Gray says:

        “Remember the Mishpacha column a few years back about an active dayan in Brooklyn who regards himself as an atheist. ”

        It was actually Ami Magazine. See  CC post, “People With Questions Are Not Sick” from April, 2011.

        Ami publishes some things others do not eg,  “Modern Orthodoxy at a Crossroads”, published a few months later, which R. Adlerstein once mentioned that an earlier draft of that article, submitted to some other RW publication, was turned down.

      • Schmerel says:

        I don’t want to derail the hesped on Rabbi Sacks (see below)so l will briefly respond to three points of Rabbi Adlerstein and not post further on this thread

        (1)According to all accounts of Baruch Spinoza he was heavily influenced by René Descartes (though he personally opposed Descartes conclusions) and other philosophers of his time. He did not come up with his ideas on his own.

        (2)No one who joined the mass conversion to Christianity during the Golden Age of Spain was forced to do so. The inquisition was many years later.

        (3)When the Kuzari was written they also believed in the impeccable infallibility of their scientific conclusions. It is only in hindsight that it can be so rejected. The majority of atheistic scientist believed in steady state universe hundreds of years after Francis Bacon too.

        I would like to say something else however. I have a very different hashkafa than Rabbis Sacks and barely would have heard of him if not the following story. A few years ago I was mentoring a very troubled teenager who had already been convinced by the blog world that the Torah was not given on Har Sinai R’l. As a big fan of people like Richard Dawkins he chanced upon Rabbis Sacks. That was a major catalyst in his eventual return on the path of Teshuva. His parents (and I) will be eternally indebted to Rabbi Sacks for it.

      • Raymond says:

        I don’t think I am smart or knowledgeable enough to keep up with every facet of this conversation, but I going to comment anyway because what stood out for me here is the comment made about great Rabbis privately expressing how they have lost faith in G-d. Wow, that is amazing to me. I recall many years ago, when I happened to be walking alone with a very prominent local Orthodox Rabbi who brings a lot of Jews back to Judaism, if he ever doubted G-d’s Existence, and if so, about how often. To my surprise, he said that about 50% of the time, he doubts G-d’s Existence. His willingness to answer my question in such an open and honest manner only made me respect that Rabbi even more. It also gives me some comfort knowing that there may be nothing wrong with me questioning G-d’s Existence, and that maybe whatever belief I have about G-d, is not nearly as far removed from the Orthodox Jewish world as I have usually supposed it to be. In turn, maybe that means that I am not a total outsider to that world.

        I think that part of the difficulty here is that the Jewish G-d by definition is completely beyond anything that our minds can understand or that our senses can perceive. How can one believe in something so completely beyond our everyday reality? I guess the answer to that is the same one that G-d gave to Moses at the burning bush. G-d told Moses that no human being can see Him and live, and then showed Moses His back, so to speak, meaning that we can only perceive G-d indirectly based on what effect He has had on the world, especially world history. Perhaps the strongest evidence of all that G-d Exists, is the fact that after endless centuries of persecution, that we Jews continue to not only exist, but to thrive.

      • Yaakov A Sternberg says:

        @Yitzchok Adlerstein, You wrote:

        I suggest you try to get R. Shnayer Leiman’s take on the anonymous phone calls he got for years from middle aged roshei Kollel complaining that they had lost their Emunah and didn’t know what to do.

        I would be most interested in R. Shnayer Leiman’s take on this. Do you have any links to anywhere where he has discussed this?

    • Raymond says:

      This reminds me of that expression about how “there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole.” Such an expression can be interpreted in very different ways, depending on where one is coming from. To a believer, it shows how when push comes to shove, all of us really do implicitly recognize that G-d exists, but to an atheist, it shows how belief in G-d is based on little more than wishful thinking. I suppose there is that third option as well, that doesn’t fit either of those categories, the one that says, “Where can G-d be found? Wherever we let him in.”

      • Michael says:

        to an atheist, it shows how belief in G-d is based on little more than wishful thinking

        To a atheist its not really true to begin with

  2. joel rich says:

    “R. Sacks was much smarter than me. He read all that the skeptics and the atheist came up with. (He was not afraid to debate them publicly.) He considered all the counterarguments to belief. And he dismissed them from a position of power and erudition. I can rely on his search until I am able to clarify my own path.”
    This is pretty much what R’ A lichtenstein said here:The Source of Faith is Faith Itself
    Harav Aharon Lichtenstein- https://www.etzion.org.il/en/source-faith-faith-itself

    I’d also point out that the cost of being a public intellectual seems to be being written off as a talmud chacham (maybe in fact a trade-off when one spends time outside the narrowly defined 4 amot of halacha?) It’s not a path the community encourages. The only candidate I’m aware of is R’ Meyer Soloveichik.


  3. Raymond says:

    Several months ago, in a kind of spontaneous, almost throwaway spirit, I mentioned on here how I have been particularly drawn, among contemporary authors, to the works of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz as well as those of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I kind of thought that just about everybody who may have not lived their entire lives as fully committed Torah Jews, but are still drawn to that way of life, felt the same way. And so it was to my surprise and disappointment that no tribute was ever paid on here to Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. It made me wrongly consider the possibility that other people did not admire him as much as I did.

    And so I am so very grateful that the above tribute to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has now been given. I have to admit feeling almost silly trying to convey my own admiration for him because, after all, who am I to evaluate such an astonishingly great man as Rabbi Sacks? Yet perhaps the very fact that I am just sort of ordinary, yet felt so positively impacted by him, speaks worlds about who he was, and what effect he had on all of us.

    Everybody who knows me, knows how much I love books, and how I continue to aspire to not be an ignoramus. There are so many great books out there, and yet right at the very top of the heap among living authors, has for many years been for me the works of Rabbi Sacks. He claimed to have written half of his books with non-Jews in mind and the other half for us Jews. Sometimes, though, there are gray areas in this regard. He at one time aspired to be a biology professor, so it is probably no accident that one of his most compelling, thought-provoking books of all, was the one on the interaction of science and religion, called the Great Partnership. There is so much of substance in that book that really one should carefully and slowly read it several times if one wishes to fully absorb its contents. I recall reading his courageous book about islamic terrorism, called Not in G-d’s Name. I was drawn to the book because of its official subject matter, and yet came away from it with insights so profound about the first book of our Torah, that it is really the book that started me on my road to developing such a fondness for his works.

    I have by now lost count of how many of his books that I have read, but what I can say with certainty is that at least for me, it is his Torah commentaries that are the pinnacle of his achievement. I was an English major who has studied (admittedly superficially) most of Shakespeare’s plays, and yet I have to say that I find Rabbi Sack’s impeccable way with words to surpass even that of Shakespeare. Rabbi Sacks so finely tuned every word he said, that his prose sounded like sweet poetry to me, like a fine Mozart symphony in which every note, every word, had its proper place. Having read Plato when I was just a young teenager, Rabbi Sacks’ very philosophical mind was one that resonated very strongly with me. Plus, his approach to the Torah and Jewish teachings in general, also very much impressed me. Unlike the vast majority of Torah books out there, when I read the works of Rabbi Sacks, I don’t feel like I have to suspend my inner skeptic about all that our religion teaches about our world. Rabbi Sacks had quite a masterful way of weaving together the secular and sacred, yet did so in such a non-combative, gentle, welcoming manner. To this day, I have absolutely no idea what his politics are, nor do I frankly care, because he so transcended anything that petty.

    The final thing I want to say about Rabbi Sacks i say with considerable hesitation, for it involves me going out on quite a limb here. People may think whatever they want to think of me for saying this, but when I read Rabbi Sacks’ Torah commentaries, I feel as if the real truth of the Torah, its true inner meaning, has finally been revealed, as if Rabbi Sacks had special access to Heaven, acquiring from there all of the answers, and then transmitted those truths to us in the finest, most melodious way that the English language can offer. His Torah commentaries opened up entire spiritual worlds to me that I would have never realized without him. It was as if Rabbi Jonathan Sacks knew the Mind of G-d.

    The loss that his death brings to our world is incalculable, and as I write these words, tears are streaming down my face. I never knew that writing a few comments on here could have such an impact on me, but it is what it is. Blessed be the True Judge.

    • Reb Yid says:


      You and I do not agree on much, but we do agree on the significance of R’ Steinsaltz. I, too, was very disappointed that not a word was mentioned about his passing and made a comment on here at the time about that omission (although not sure if it got published). He did more to make the Talmud accessible than any other contemporary human being. I remember when his Talmud came out when I was in high school, and my administrators and teachers were beyond elated–everyone switched to his version.

      His personal story, as you note, is also very notable.

      • Raymond says:

        Wow a minor miracle of sorts has now occurred, as there is something we can agree on after all! Perhaps that is an indication that religion is a far more worthwhile pursuit than politics. But yes, I have had the impression that Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz was one of the greatest Torah leaders of modern times, and yet no tribute was paid to him on here, making me think that he was not nearly as important to the Jewish world as I had supposed him to be.

        While I recognize that he is best known for his work on the Talmud, for me he has been somebody who so masterfully made the obscure world of Jewish mysticism, accessible to the average person. I also very much enjoyed his Torah commentary, which I highly recommend.

      • mb says:

        Reb Yid,
        Rabbi Sacks did a magnificent eulogy for R.Steinsaltz. Search, you’ll find it

  4. Bob Miller says:

    He tried to create a lucid framework of ideas that could motivate well-meaning people of all religions to work together whenever possible for the common good. That’s an ambitious job to tackle, with no certainty of success, but he did influence many. We can ask who will step in to take his mission forward, but we should also ask who will be the audience. Are we in it?

    His translations of our prayers read well and daven well. OK, English can’t convey all the inner meaning of the original Hebrew, but it shouldn’t be more of a barrier than necessary. Written style matters.

  5. Bob Miller says:

    “…I have struggled with R. Elchonon’s explanation my entire adult life…”
    While human nature stays the same, it can manifest itself differently in different times and places. Similarly, Esav may hate Yaakov as a general rule, but this has had notable exceptions.

  6. Yossi says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    I think some people have already addressed this, but about R’ Elchonon-do you think he was adressing modern times as well? The Chazon Ish famously differentiates between the treatment of a mumar in the days of Chazal, and one in today’s day and age, based on said mumar’s understanding of the position of Klal Yisroel in the world.

  7. Dovid Kornreich says:

    ” He considered all the counterarguments to belief. And he dismissed them from a position of power and erudition.”

    Not always from a position of power, I’m afraid.
    In his debate with Richard Dawkins, he often goes down the road of apologetics and theological retreat in order to save face and avoid exposing Judaism as anti-scientific by the scientific mainstream. He clearly doesn’t want to lose their respect and is quite willing to bend over backwards theologically in order to curry that respect.
    See this:

    • Nachum says:

      Protip: Sometimes you don’t have to say anything.

    • mb says:

      David Kornreich,
      I completely disagree with you regarding this debate. I have a feeling you missed the point of it. He didn’t avoid exposing Judaism to anti-scientific at all. Quite the opposite. Just 2 very different disciplines. We, or we should at least embrace both. Dawkin’s does not consider the “why” of life or anything for that matter a legitimate question I have used this video for years as a wonderful example of the Mishna’s requirement to “know how to answer a heretic” with great success. Cheers

      • Dovid Kornreich says:

        Rabbi Sacks was relegating Judaism to ONLY address the “why” of life and retreated from boldly asserting that the Torah is also the source of historical truth about human history.

        He retreated from asserting that nature-breaking miracles did in fact occur in history, and he retreated from affirming that Adam and Eve were the first human beings from whom the entire human race descended.
        These are two major theological retreats since the Rambam declared both these things cornerstones in Jewish belief.
        (See the igerres Techiyas Hamesim about nature -breaking miracles and the Moreh Book III chap. 50n about the historicity of Adam being the first human being who fathered the entire human race.)

      • mb says:

        David Kornreich,
        In other words Rabbi Sacks did not assert what you consider correct. That is the historicity of the Torah. You take the fundamentalist opinion, and I assume that includes a 6000 year old universe and everything that goes with that..
        Rabbi Sacks did not concur, nor do I. cheers.

      • Dovid Kornreich says:

        I don’t think Rabbi Sack is a high enough authority to “not concur” with the Rambam who asserted that nature-breaking miracles did in fact occur as the Torah describes. Do you?

    • dr. bill says:

      Dovid Kornreich, Philosophy is a continuously developing area of wisdom; one does not have to smarter/ greater / whatever/ etc. to stand on the shoulders of generations who came before and disagree. We are not in an area of established law!!

  8. Nachum says:

    R’ Adlerstein, I share your discomfort with the idea. (I suppose it’s a more developed idea of the old “Very convincing. But did you start believing this before or after you met the shiksa?” line.) Of course there are many people who wonder and keep all mitzvot carefully.

    But if I may, that’s not everything. Sure, in R’ Elchanan’s time, the guy with “proofs” may (or may not) have wanted a sort of crass violation- non-kosher food, the aforementioned shiksa, or to be a good Communist or something. But today, people are happy to keep kashrut, no one has to work on Shabbat, etc. 613, yes, yes, yes. But sometimes (again- not always!) these days, “doubts” are used as an excuse to abandon some pretty serious issues, even if they don’t touch on one’s own practices- to accept current orthodoxy on sexual matters, to abandon support of Israel, to vote a certain way…

    So, yes, are questions good? Of course. Do they usually not indicate such things? Sure. Do they *sometimes*? No doubt.

  9. Steve Brizel says:

    R Sacks ZL’ works especially with respect to their emphasis on the family as the key to all moral values and being a bulwark against the “I centered” values of the secular world and his insistence upon the relevance of those values in the secular world today should not be allowed to overshadow as R Gil Student ( who suggested years ago that R Sacks ZL thoughts on the Parsha introduced me to R Sacks ZL and his machshava) has pointed out that R Sacks ZL was a fine Talmid Chacham who could give a wonderful shiur , who was not afraid of invoking the well known views of Chasam Sofer in rejecting the feminist critique of Halacha , who refrained from taking the long march to the outer reaches of MO and the extreme nationalist element of RZ and who gently and respectfully dealt with the Chareidi world which did not always appreciate his views and writings. MO, the role and presence of R Sacks ZL gave UK Jewry which had long avoided taking stances on political issues, the courage to stand up against Corbin and his influence upon the Labor Party

    R Sacks ZL will be missed.

  10. leo says:

    Is there no one left who will stand up for truth, however uncomfortable or “divisive” it may be? For all his great accomplishments and great learning – of which there were many – Rabbi Sacks crossed a red line in ikarei ha’emuneh, and although he took those problematic comments out of his book he nevertheless publicly admitted that he hadn’t changed his mind. Any honest Torah profile of Rabbi Sacks ought to contend with that.

    • mb says:

      He did not cross any line at all in Dignity of Difference, Just a difference of opinion, which was the whole point of the book! When he revised the edition, he published simultaneously a 100 page pamphlet of sources confirming those”heretical” sentences! What’s more he had said all these things previously without a peep.
      There’s still 70 faces of Torah, I hope.

      • nt says:

        Rabbi Sacks’ entire thesis in Dignity of Difference is beyond the red line. He wrote that all religions can learn from each other, and that none is the supreme position of truth. And no religion possesses supreme moral authority. This is not a throwaway comment; this is the entire basis of his argument for how religions can coexist. Essentially, Judaism (and every other religion) must rewrite whatever claims they have to absolute truth in order to avoid conflict. The sources he brings in Dignity of Difference about respecting the stranger etc. are clearly being misused.

        Essentially, Sacks is trying to suborn the idea of religious revelation to the idea of a Western coexistence. To those who wanted Enlightenment values to replace religion, he says they would be better off accepting religion in a subordinate, dhimmi role, if the religious would all fit their square pegs into the round hole of Western values.

        In addition, his understanding of the economic system and globalization are deeply flawed. Instead of recognizing capitalism as the greatest force in history for lifting the global masses from poverty, he buys into the liberal criticism of uneven outcomes.

        Rabbi Sacks was clearly a brilliant man who did tremendous good in the world, but his elegance, passion, and sterling character should not blind us to legitimate criticism of his worldview.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Regarding the comment by nt – November 15, 2020 at 12:41 pm
        See this on Rav Yaakov Emden:
        which may shed light on Rav Sacks’ motivations for muting our exclusive claims.

      • nt says:

        Bob Miller posted an interesting link. This is not the place to “fisk” it, but it is very unconvincing. So R’ Emden made the same comments as the Rambam that Christianity is far superior to polytheism, and he published the exact same disclaimers in his work that everyone else published for centuries. He also took the pretty widespread opinion that Christianity is shittuf and thus not forbidden to goyim. In addition, he took a balanced view of Christianity and admitted its positive impact at some points in history, etc. etc. None of this at all justifies what Rabbi Sacks attempted in Dignity of Difference; namely, judging all religions -Judaism included- by their compatibility with Western values, and saying all religions are equally valid.

  11. Dovid Kornreich says:

    I’m concerned that Rabbi Sacks will be held up as the paragon of how the Orthodox can put its best face to the non-Jewish world. It needs to be pointed out that whenever people do this professionally, they will ALWAYS be put in uncomfortable situations where compromising one’s principles to save face and avoid being ridiculed/dismissed is almost inevitable.

  12. BF says:

    The Rambam I cited bolsters the arguments of “nt” above.

  13. Shades of Gray says:

    “I have struggled with R. Elchonon’s explanation my entire adult life ”

    R. Adlerstein is in good company.  R. Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg(Derech Emunah U’bitachon, pg. 63, Parshas Beshalach) differs at least with some aspects of the Kovetz Maamorim,  and offers an alternative approach based on Rishonim.

    I transliterated one of the relevant parts of R. Sheinberg’s essay in “Rabbi Yosef Grunblatt, z”l”(CC, 11/13), where R. Adlerstein quoted R. Grunblatt as similarly questioning R. Elchanon’s position. Specifically, Rav Sheinberg writes “eino mestaber lechorah” concerning the fact that the Kovetz Maamorim does not distinguish between the logic of  belief in Hashem and other Ikkarim automatically compelling a non-believer; he adds that certainly a Bar Mitzvah boy would  not have an obligation to believe all of the other Ikkarim merely through  using his intellect, what even Aristotle could not achieve. In “The Final Volume of the Rav Soloveitchik Chumash”,(CC, 7/18),  R. Adlerstein discusses an alternative approach to  the  Kovetz Mamorim based on R. Soloveitchik.

    R. Mordechai Willig, in a shiur on YU Torah(“The Thirteen Ikkarim”, 1/23/19, Minute 41), quotes from the writings of Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank, who in turn quotes  some of the NYT interview below with Prof. Alvin Plantinga(“Is Atheism Irrational?”, 2/9/14), which is in agreement with some of Rav Elchanon’s essay:

    I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t have any special knowledge here. Still, there are some possible explanations. Thomas Nagel, a terrific philosopher and an unusually perceptive atheist, says he simply doesn’t want there to be any such person as God. And it isn’t hard to see why. For one thing, there would be what some would think was an intolerable invasion of privacy: God would know my every thought long before I thought it. For another, my actions and even my thoughts would be a constant subject of judgment and evaluation.

    (From a practical standpoint, as I see it, asserting biases in a debate leaves the religious person exposed to countercharges of his own biases; in the case of a more sincere person, it isn’t helpful necessarily either to convince them. Pointing out possible biases against observance is effective when an already committed person want to be introspective during the learning of Mussar.)

  14. BF says:

    Since my comment about the Rambam evidently did not make it past the moderators, my comment about the Rambam supporting “nt” is meaningless.
    Please refer to Rambam, Avodat Kochavim, 2:3.

    • nt says:

      That is a good source too. I don’t know if one could survive saying this in public, but R’ Elchanan’s position is definitely an outlier.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        REW may seem like an outlier especially with some of his hashkafic views and especially negative views on RZ and RAYHK and one can argue that his views on America and Zionism were rejected by those Gdolim who arrived here before the outbreak of WW2 and many of his contemporaries such as R Meir Simcha .However his assessment of European Jewry being the targets of Nazism and Communism was clearly accurate and REWs other posthumously published writings on many Masectos have numerous Chiddushim and Torah from RCS and other Gdolim .The Kuntres Divrei Sofrim is indispensable on understanding the basis of takanos Gezeros etc and his views on hashkafa are critical for anyone interested anyone in understanding many of the hashkafic foundations of the Charedi world I don’t think that we should engage in cancel culture with respect to the views of anyone within the Mesorah of TSBP

      • nt says:

        Steve: I clearly said REW’s position, meaning this specific position on this specific topic. And I only said this by comparing his position to those of other acknowledged authorities. I would never go after REW in general. In fact, I consider him a source of inspiration. He was one of the greatest of a generation of gedolim, and his influence on Talmud study today is incalculable. I was simply observing that on this one topic, he seems to take a minority view.

  15. Nachum says:

    Honestly, a great leader of Klal Yisrael dies, can’t the criticisms at *least* be held off until at least the shiva is over?!? Do people have no self-control in their self-righteousness?

    • Raymond says:

      Because your words state the truth so plainly, they made me laugh, although I understand it is no laughing matter. As for me, I have been in such total admiration of Rabbi Sacks for so many years now, that I just automatically consider any criticism of him to be silly and hardly worth my time or energy. But thank you for coming to the defense of the great Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. It really is so sad that he is no longer with us.

    • Bob Miller says:

      The problem with these “drive-by” criticisms, beyond bad timing, is the lack of specific, complete enough, details to prove their points. Often, if we investigate statements that strike us as anti-Mesorah, we can find opinions within the very same Mesorah to support them.

  16. Daniel says:

    I’d be interested in seeing additional hespedim or Rabbi Sacks. If anyone has seen ones they found particularly moving or interesting please post links.

    • Raymond says:

      I actually found the very brief eulogy given by his youngest daughter to be particularly moving, although if you watch it, be prepared to shed some tears. It is heartbreaking. Also, I really think that the best way to understand who Rabbi Sacks was, and why so many people are paying tribute to him, is to watch the many videos of Rabbi Sacks himself. Every time he spoke, it was pearls of wisdom and insight expressed with such a total mastery of language.

  17. Azka says:

    You write “This second group could ride the coat-tails of R. Sacks. He had seen all the questions, from so many disciplines. He had considered them in great depth. And he found nothing in them that could budge his faith.”

    Unfortunately, some could come to exactly the opposite conclusion. In all his vast writings and talks, Rabbi Sacks zt”l did not deal with Biblical Hisrory, Biblical Archeology, Biblical Textual Criticism etc.

    This glaring omission could leave one to conclude that in fact, Rabbi Sacks zt”l didn’t have the answers. Nevertheless, like many, he decided to continue with his faith.

    The conclusion of one struggling could therefore be, “if even Rabbi Sacks didn’t have the answers, there cant be answers.”

    One cannot bring any proof from Rabbi Sack’s decision to stay frum. That could be for a multitude of reasons.

    • mb says:

      Sorry Azka, but I think you are mistaken.
      Rabbi Sacks z’tl very much wrote/spoke on Biblical History, Biblical Archeology, Biblical Textual Criticism etc.
      Search his website for starters. He never shied away from proofs following Rambam’s instruction.
      His lecture that i attended on the theoretical 4 Torah writers and the 4 Gospel writers is a gem.

    • Shades of Gray says:

      “In all his vast writings and talks, Rabbi Sacks zt”l did not deal with Biblical Hisrory, Biblical Archeology, Biblical Textual Criticism etc.”

      I wondered the same thing, from what I’ve sampled of his writings. I received chizuk and encouragement when Rabbi Sacks debated  Richard Dawkins  on the BBC. As University of Chicago Divinity School’s Prof. Laurie Zoloth put it in a NPR obituary:

      It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of Rabbi Sacks…for millions of Jews who were not really educated in the complexities of the Torah, he was able to say, ‘Look at your tradition and how interesting and intellectually power and beautiful it is’.


      Conservative Rabbi David Wolpe, while expressing admiration for R. Sacks’ oeuvre as the “most gifted expositor of Judaism in our day”, argued in 2011  that “Lord Sacks’s ignoring of comparative religion, archaeology, history and textual criticism of the Bible has left a “gaping hole” in his work” (Jewish Chronicle interview 2011, quoting Wolpe’s  Jewish Review of Books article, Spring 2011; Wolpe’s original  Jewish Review of Books article incorrectly added “science”, which R Sacks, has in fact dealt with). 

      Rabbi Sacks was apparently aware of this and told Tablet’s Yair Rosenberg in 2013 of his plans to write “a comprehensive Orthodox response to modern biblical criticism”.  Koren is in fact ready to publish a version of R. Sacks’ new Chumash translation and commentary(per commenters on Emes Vemunah).

      In  a 2015 JTA interview, R. Sacks described his planned commentary(see full JTA interview):”[The Hertz Chumash] is a commentary that asks: How do we set this against its historical background? What does it mean to us today? Nobody’s done a Hertz Chumash since Hertz a century ago and it’s an urgent necessity. ArtScroll anthologizes traditional commentaries and it’s done tremendously well. But they have not stepped outside that world of the yeshiva and said how do we make sense of this today? ” 

      In this 2016 Jewish Press interview(“On The Bookshelf”), R. Sacks describes a need for a great book on the fundamental belief of Torah min ha’shamayim(in section of “What book hasn’t been written that you’d like to read?”). See link, including his mention of Mesilas Yesharim at end:


    • Shades of Gray says:

      “One cannot bring any proof from Rabbi Sack’s decision to stay frum. That could be for a multitude of reasons. ”

      One would have to flesh out R. Sacks’ writings and speeches on the nature of faith. 

      In 2013, R Yaakov Salomon discussed in a short video blog  R. Sacks’  approach from “The Great Partnership” of not proving Torah, and instead arguing for its way of life, and while noting the book’s strengths, proceeds to argue for the Discovery Seminar approach. 


      On the other hand, see this tribute, also on Aish by Rabbi Johnny Solomon, who knew R. Sacks. He quotes from his various works, including “The Great Partnership” and “Dignity of Difference”, about R Sacks’ approach to proof and faith(see Note 2, 5,6 ) among other topics:

      …”questioning is at the heart of Jewish spirituality” (6). By doing so, Rabbi Sacks communicated a profound and stirring message to the many Jews who have doubts and questions in their faith that rather than their doubt expressing weak faith, it was an expression of genuine, heartfelt and authentic faith.


       If I recall correctly,  R. Sacks said in the discussion with Facebook’s executive  Nicola Mendelsohn, to the effect,  that he did not(ever?) have a reason to doubt the 13 principles of faith(I can’t access it now, but it should be around Minute 35, per my notes):


      He does write about going to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe and others in America “as a young man, full of questions about faith”(“Covenant & Conversation, 5768-Behaalotcha Humility”).

      See also:



  18. Steve Brizel says:

    R Yons Reiss has a very important and moving tribute to R ZN Goldberg ZL in Tradition for those interested

  19. Dovid says:

    Shmerel wrote: “I have a very different hashkafa than Rabbis Sacks.”

    Ignoring the rest of his post, this wording is quite disturbing to me. Very different? You have a very different hashkafa than a member of an African tribe, or an aboriginal in Australia. Or even I’ll go along with a very different hashkafa than a believer in the principles of Reform Judaism.

    But not with Rabbi Sacks. “Very different” is a high bar.

    And lest you say that we all know that we’re only using as a population the world of Orthodox Jews, I still say that such semantics are a slippery slope and lead us to terrible places, where famous yeshivos can split over devarim shel ma b’kach. They are a result of what Freud called “the narcissism of minor differences”, or if you prefer a traditional source, of the attitude the Netziv described in his introduction to Bereishis.

    They result, for instance, in comments made right here, worrying about that “Rabbi Sacks will be held up as the paragon of how the Orthodox can put its best face to the non-Jewish world.” I was blown away by that – if it was written that he was worried that Rabbi Sacks would be held up as a better leader than Rav Kanievsky (just to pick a random name), OK, I wouldn’t necessarily agree – but in terms of our interactions with non-Jews? He picked the very point where Rabbi Sacks excelled. I guess it’s another example of “umadua tisnas’u al kahal Hashem”, where someone is unjustly criticized in the very area in which he excels.

    They result in a situation (happened to me) whereby a head of a well-known seminary can remark that his institution is 180 degrees from a different seminary (whereas in reality you couldn’t find the differences with a microscope).

    Let’s try to focus on the big picture here. We should try to learn something from churban bayis sheini, and not just parrot it k’tziftzuf hazarzir without implementing it.

    • Schmerel says:

      I wasn’t expecting agreement with my general comment but I never would have thought that saying “I have a very different hashkafa than Rabbis Sacks.” in the neutral context of my continuation “therefore I barely would have heard of him” would be objectionable.

      Rabbi Sacks had a different approach than me with regards to things like education (if his son wanted a nominal secular education and then to go on to learn in Brisk by R’ Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveitchik , assuming he would not have given him a hard time it still would not have been a minor issue for him) view of science and Western Society (which almost defined his contribution to the world) and other issues in life

      Freud may have considered them “the narcissism of minor differences” but I don’t .And I don’t believe Rabbi Sacks would have considered these issues, some which have such a major bearing on day to day life to be minor either.

      If anything my post should indicate the opposite of why it is being objected to . You can have a very different hashkafa than Rabbi Sacks and still respect and recognize his contribution to the (frum) world.

      Had someone said “I have a very different haskafa than Satmar’ would you have reacted the same way?

      • David says:

        Au contraire – I have no problem with the general thrust of your post. It’s only with the part I quoted that I have a problem. And yes, you may have not expected it, but nevertheless I’d prefer if we all looked at the forest more than the trees. Those who view themselves as “having a very different hashkafa” sometimes end up in a situation like exists in Ponovizh. For the average non-Jew, there is no difference whatsoever between you and Rabbi Sacks. Re your hypothetical about Satmar: absolutely I’d say the same thing. Differences do exist, but let’s not add adjectives.

  20. caren may says:

    Thank you Reb Yitzchok for an exceptional post that open up the mind to explore ideas and expand thoughts. There are few and far between writers of your caliber.

  21. mb says:

    First, thank you Rabbi Adlerstein for this lovely tribute. It is excellent.
    And secondly, to those who are critical of Rabbi Sacks because he didn’t share your views, perhaps your views are incorrect. Possible?
    Rabbi Sacks strongly accepted the Rambam’s requirement to accept the truth from wherever the source and paraphrasing, if proven science disputes our understanding of Torah, then perhaps our understanding of Torah needs refining.

  22. Shades of Gray says:

    An inspiring  short video by Rabbi Sacks about Modeh Ani and gratitude is linked below. Introduced with the music of Omer Adam’s “Modeh Ani”, Rabbi Sacks proceeded to  tell  how, when on his honeymoon in the ancient Mediterranean coastal town of Paestum, someone rescued him from drowning in the sea. Although R. Sacks seldom wrote  about being a two-time cancer survivor, he  says in the video about that incident in Italy:

    It changed my life. For years afterwards, I would wake in the morning knowing that but for a miracle, I wouldn’t be here. Somehow that made everything easier to bear. Every life has difficult moments, but I never forgot that day, on an Italian beach, when the life I so nearly lost was given back to me. It’s hard to stay depressed when you remember daily that life is a gift. Which is why, every morning, I say with real feeling those words: Modeh ani lefanecha: “I thank you, living and everlasting King, for giving me back my soul in mercy. Great is Your faithfulness.” Thank you, God, for giving me back my life.

    The song at the beginning of the video, which speaks of dedicating one’s talents and/or music to Hashem, is also appropriate when describing Rabbi Sacks:   על כל כישרונותיי ועל כל שיריי  כולם אקדיש לך

    The referenced video, “Understanding Prayer: Thanking & Thinking (2/10)” , is the second in a series of ten short videos on prayer. See link to the video series and transcripts(click on upper-right of video to navigate playlist to the various videos in series):


    On a lighter note, R. Sacks told another story from his European honeymoon at the 2011 International Kinus of Chabad Shluchim(see beginning of video on Chabad website, “A Story in Three Acts: How the Lubavitcher Rebbe Changed My Life”), this time when on the Swiss Alps, where their visibility was blocked by low clouds. He quipped to his wife that they would sing Chabad niggunim, “because if a Jew is lost anywhere in the world, Chabad will find them” . The NYT obituary similarly concluded  that Rabbi Sacks once said on a BBC program that if he was stranded on a desert island, he would take the Talmud, a pencil to write a commentary on it, and Chabad’s “Tzomoh L’cho Nafshi” , whose words  he hoped would be his epitaph.

  23. Weaver says:

    I haven’t seen the that Kovetz Maamarim in a while, but for the record, Aristotle was not an atheist, rather, he saw God as the Prime Mover who then “stepped back” and let nature (teva) take it’s course.

    Rav Elchonon’s explanation always bothered me as well, especially in light of the fact that many non-Jews essentially live with sheva mitzvos benei Noach values anyway – so what are they trying to get out of?!
    Rav Elchonon’s answer is still popular in yeshivas, in part because yeshivas seem to update their bookshelves only every 75 years or so. (I’m completely serious. Yeshivas also think the latest posek is the Mishna Berura)

  24. mb says:

    Rabbi Sacks’ advice on dealing with severe criticism. He experienced it and so did one or two of you reading this. You know who I mean. Number 4 is spectacular, classic Sacks.
    You go through four stages. First, it will hurt, you have to know that every time this happens.
    Second, you’re going to see that they’re just words. You’re going to get up and move on and you’ll see that these words have no long term impact, and that in turn will make you stronger.
    Third, you have to internalize that this is not about you. It’s about what you stand for. And once you realize that you’re fighting for this because it’s right no matter who you are, it allows you to get some distance, and the distance, too, makes you stronger, because the critiques are not really about you personally.
    Fourth, you’re going to see that while you’ve made some enemies, many more others are going to be so grateful to you for speaking up, for being the voice they never had. And once you see you’ve made an impact then you become invulnerable. And then buoyed by the impact you’re making and the strength you derive from it, you will suddenly be able to look at your detractors in a different light. They will no longer seem threatening to you, and you will look at them charitably and magnanimously.

  25. Steve Brizel says:

    I reread A Lettter in the Scroll which I thoight was passionately written argument for Jewish continuity in a post modern secular world .I also reread Future Tense which struck me as an overly apologetical critique of overly cautious engagement with the secular world. Based on R Sacks ZL strong defense of the traditional family and his reluctance to jettison Halachic norms and his reaction to the anti Semitism of the secular left IMO R SacksZL could have written that Future Tense was an overly optimistic view of engagement with the very secular intersectional progressive world of today as inconsistent with a non negotiable demand for Jewish continuity That would have been entirely consistent with his lifelong search for Emes and presentation of Torah to the secular world

    • Bob Miller says:

      It could be that the academics Rav Sacks associated with were not representative of their group as a whole, so he didn’t catch the full flavor of the secular world’s descent into madness. The writer Melanie Phillips, who admired him, saw this trend more clearly.

      • mb says:

        Or it could be he saw it the trend very clearly and did not use the combative approach, that many like Melanie Phillips used.
        Seems to me it worked.

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