Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Between traditional Judaism and modern antisemitism

By Michael Selutin |
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
National Poverty Hearing 2006 at Westminster. A one-day National Poverty Hearing in Central Hall Westminster, held on Wednesday 6 December 2006, for up to 500 senior politicians, high-profile/influential policy makers and opinion formers in the media and public life and national and grassroots anti-poverty/civil society groups from across the United Kingdom. Photo: Creative Commons

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks died of cancer in November. As Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, he cared for the Kingdom’s Jews for 22 years, but it was his public appearances after this time that made him popular around the world.

In his more than 20 books and commentaries, the rabbi’s worldview becomes clear, outlining a fusion of traditional Judaism with modernity. His writings expose the modern relevance of the biblical commandments. Morals and ethics are largely in disrepair today, but only unshakable, love-based laws can hold a society together. Sacks emphasized this in his writings and appearances.

Unlike other clergymen, Rabbi Sacks was never on the defensive against modernity, which is often hostile toward religion. Neither the Bible nor Judaism have to prove or explain themselves. It testifies to its divine origin.

It was also his secular education that made Rabbi Sacks such an effective spokesman for Orthodox Judaism. As a doctor of philosophy he was able to describe Judaism in a modern way. It became clear again and again that his knowledge went far beyond Judaism. He was a professor at several universities in Great Britain, at Yeshiva University and at New York University.

In 2005, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was knighted and given a seat in the British Parliament for life. Awards and honors showered his books as well as his commitment to intercultural dialogue. Rabbi Sacks tirelessly repeated his call for brotherhood of all people in the British Parliament and in various media, all of which were happy to invite him.

Rabbi Sacks always kept politics and religion apart. But there were two issues on which he could not remain silent: Israel and antisemitism. It is not always comfortable for a Jew in the Diaspora to stand up for Israel, but Rabbi Sacks made no compromises on this issue. It was the same with the issue of antisemitism. Although he found it difficult, he criticized the leader of the British Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn. A YouTube video by Sacks, published in 2017, describes how antisemitism gradually morphed into anti-Israelism.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was 72 years old.

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