Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: The Voice of Judaism for Western Civilization

“Rabbi Sacks was a friend, mentor, teacher, and ‘my rabbi.’ He will inspire future generations, Jewish or not, “said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a recent tribute to the late Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

Sacks died on Heshvan 20, 5781, or November 7, 2020, at age 72. His unexpected death, after a brief illness, was a tragedy. Many still struggle with a sense of shock and disbelief – the loss remains stark. To think that just a few months before his passing, we were watching his inspiring videos from his home trying to help us deal with the pandemic and the lockdowns, is difficult to understand.
In fact, Sacks was the voice of Judaism to Western civilization and became the chief rabbi of the world’s Jews – he was a walking kiddush Hashem (sanctification of the Name) and spread the light of faith on the world stage. He believed that, rather than being the cause, religion can provide solutions to the problems and conflicts that plague everyday life and modern international relations.

Whether through his TED Talks, his Templeton Prize speech, or his powerful speeches in the European Parliament and House of Lords on anti-Semitism, Sacks was unrivaled as a speaker and transformed his audience through his passion and eloquence.

Sacks was a quintessential Torah teacher. Rabbi Dr. Raphael Zarum, dean of the London School of Jewish Studies (LSJS), said: “Rabbi Sacks wanted the Torah to be accessible and Judaism meaningful to fully modern people. It was a rav for our time. Rabbi Sacks was a genius at speaking of the moment. He was a master speaker, which made the Torah relevant and attractive. “

Zarum emphasized that Sacks was a tireless community builder: “In 2004, Rabbi Sacks was very involved in the rebirth of LSJS. Together with Marc Weinberg, myself, and a group of young leaders, Rabbi Sacks gave us the trust and unwavering support we needed to make LSJS the success it is now, as a center for teacher training and adult education. He guided us on what to teach, how to teach it, and continually improve.

“Rabbi Sacks taught us the power of ideas and that Judaism meant living meaningfully and thoughtfully. That the Torah still has much more to teach us about life, the universe and everything. It inspired us to make a difference, for us, our community, Am Yisrael and the world, ”concludes Zarum.

Sacks was highly respected in the Jewish and secular world; in that sense, as a rabbinical leader, he is unparalleled in our times. Like Rabbis YB Soloveitchik and Aharon Lichtenstein, he was a master of both Jewish and modern thought. Like Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, he saw the synthesis between Torah and right eretz (interaction with the world at large) and, through his writings and personal relationships, demonstrated that a Jew can feel at home in society. usually.

Magazine spoke with Dan Sacker, who, along with Joanna Benarroch is Co-Director of The Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust, about how Sacks’ first yahrzeit was commemorated, along with his own personal reflections.

In the UK, his passing was marked by Sacks’ Inaugural Conversation on October 11 with former Prime Minister Blair which was broadcast around the world. (The event can be seen in www.TheSacksConversation.org)

PUBLISHED OCTOBER 11 by Hodder & Stoughton. (credit: courtesy)

To coincide with this, Sacker compiled a book entitled The Power of Ideas: Words of Faith and Wisdom, featuring selections from Sacks’ BBC Radio broadcasts, articles and speeches.

The collection includes a foreword by the Prince of Wales, with whom Sacks had a special relationship. In it, Prince Charles writes: “Although this volume represents a mere fragment of his contributions during his lifetime, it demonstrates, once again, Rabbi Sacks’ unique ability to interpret the present and predict the future through a deep understanding of the last. Rich in learning and rooted in humility, this collection embodies the lightness of touch, inclusive approach, and elegant wit for which Rabbi Sacks was so famous. “

To commemorate the yahrzeit itself, The Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust organized a World Learning Day called “Communities in Conversation.” This educational initiative saw more than 100 communities, schools, and organizations in 14 countries, along with people from across the Jewish world, teaching Sacks’ ideas and sharing their wisdom.

Since his passing, The Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust was established to perpetuate his teachings. The trust focuses on the development of educational resources featuring Sacks’ work; ensure accessibility to Sacks’ work, including translation into multiple languages, especially Hebrew; and the continued publication of his written work.

Rabbi Sacks had many qualities. First was his humility. He never fully understood, maybe because he didn’t want to, how great he was or how he was perceived by Jews and non-Jews around the world, ”Sacker said.

Second was his tireless thirst for knowledge. We joked around the office that he just kept Amazon in business, because every day books came in on a wide range of subjects: economics, psychology, sociology, politics, philosophy. He had always wanted his next article, his next speech, his next book to be better than the last.

“Third, it was how he treated us, his staff. He respected us enormously and empowered us to challenge him, to push him, to lift him up when we felt he had fallen short. He was the smartest person any of us had ever met, yet he listened to our opinions, valued our contributions, and trusted our judgment. “

Sacker saw reading Sacks’ books as an “extraordinary journey.” “Each book, in its own way, is a favorite because each offers a unique perspective on a topic and, when taken together as a working canon, gives you a wonderful perspective on Judaism and its contribution to society at large. ”.

Sacker points out four books that stand out:

“I loved The Politics of Hope because it laid out its political philosophy as clearly as possible. It is in this book where he expands his concept of social contract versus social pact; on the role of politics, the economy and civil society; of the need to counteract the powers of competition with the virtue of cooperation.

“Second, there is no better book that answers the question ‘Why be a Jew?’ How radical then, radical now. It is the heartbeat of his canon and the book from which so many others have their origins.

Third, his latest book for a secular audience was Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times. It is an extraordinary book that, like Radical Then, Radical Now, in Jewish terms, brings together as many lines of his thought as a public moral and intellectual voice for society at large.

Finally, Rabbi Sacks dedicated the Covenant and Conversation: Leadership Lessons in the Weekly Parsha to Jonathan (now Lord) Kestenbaum, Syma Weinberg, Joanna Benarroch, and me, writing that we were the closest people he worked with and from. which he learned a lot. To think that he found such value in our work is truly humbling, ”concludes Sacker.

In his 2000 book Radical Then, Radical Now, Sacks argues that Judaism “is not a way of understanding, accepting, or reconciling with the world. On the contrary, it is a protest against the world, that is, in the name of the world that it should be ”. Sacks has left us all with a challenge: continue his protest and show humanity all that Judaism has to contribute to the progress of humanity.


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