Jonathan Sacks

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Chief Rabbi
The Right Honourable
 
Lord Sacks
 
Kt
Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
Sirjonathansacks.jpg
Position Chief Rabbi
Organisation United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
Began 1st September 1991
Ended 1st September 2013
Predecessor The Lord Jakobovits
Successor Ephraim Mirvis
Personal details
Birth name Jonathan Henry Sacks (Yaakov Zvi)
Born (1948-03-08) 8 March 1948 (age 66)
London, England
Nationality British
Denomination Orthodox Judaism
Spouse Elaine Taylor Sacks
Children Joshua, Dina and Gila
Alma mater Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge
New College, Oxford
King's College London
Semicha Jews' College and Etz Chaim Yeshiva (London)

Jonathan Henry Sacks, Baron Sacks, Kt (born 8 March 1948) is a rabbi and scholar of Judaism. He was the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. His Hebrew name is Yaakov Zvi. As the spiritual head of the United Synagogue, the largest synagogue body in the UK, he was the Chief Rabbi of those Orthodox synagogues, but he was not a religious authority for the Federation of Synagogues or the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations or the other movements, Masorti, Reform and Liberal Judaism.[1][2]

Biography[edit]

Sacks was born in London, England on 8 March 1948. As a child he was educated at St Mary's Primary School and Christ's College Finchley. He completed his higher education at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge where he gained a first-class Honours Degree in Philosophy, before continuing his studies at New College, Oxford as well as King's College London, achieving a Doctorate in 1981. That same year, Sacks received his rabbinic ordination from Jew’s College and London's Etz Chaim Yeshiva.[3] He married Elaine in 1970 and together they had three children: Joshua, Dina and Gila.

His first rabbinic appointment was as the Rabbi for the Golders Green synagogue (1978–82) in London. In 1983 he became Rabbi of the prestigious Marble Arch synagogue in Central London, a position he held until 1990. Between 1984 and 1990, Sacks also served as Principal of Jews’ College, the world’s oldest rabbinical seminary.[4] He was inducted to serve as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth on 1 September 1991, a position he held until 1 September 2013.

Sacks was made a Knight Bachelor in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2005 "for services to the Community and to Inter-faith Relations".[5][6] He was made an Honorary Freeman of the London Borough of Barnet in September 2006.[7] On 13 July 2009 it was announced that Sacks was recommended for a life peerage with a seat in the House of Lords by the House of Lords Appointments Commission.[8][9] He took the title Baron Sacks, of Aldgate in the City of London.[10]

A visiting professor at several universities in Britain, the United States and Israel, Rabbi Sacks holds 16 honorary degrees, including a doctorate of divinity conferred on him in September 2001 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, to mark his first ten years in office as Chief Rabbi. In recognition of his work, Sacks has won several international awards, including the Jerusalem Prize in 1995 for his contribution to diaspora Jewish life and The Ladislaus Laszt Ecumenical and Social Concern Award from Ben Gurion University in Israel in 2011.[11]

The author of 25 books, Sacks has published commentaries to the daily Jewish prayer book siddur and has completed commentaries to the Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Pesach festival prayer books (machzorim) to date. His most recent secular book – The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning – was published in July 2011. A number of his books have won literary awards, including the Grawemeyer Prize for Religion in 2004 for The Dignity of Difference, and a National Jewish Book Award in 2000 for A Letter in the Scroll.[11] Covenant & Conversation: Genesis was also awarded a National Jewish Book Award in 2009, and most recently his commentary to the Pesach festival prayer book won the Modern Jewish Thought and Experience Dorot Foundation Award in the 2013 National Jewish Book Awards in America.[12] His Covenant & Conversation commentaries on the weekly Torah portion are read by thousands of people in Jewish communities around the world.[13]

Sacks' contribution to wider British society have also been recognised. A regular contributor to national media, frequently appearing on BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day or writing the Credo column or opinion pieces in The Times, Sacks was awarded The Sanford St Martin's Trust Personal Award for 2013 for "his advocacy of Judaism and religion in general". He was invited to the wedding of Prince William of Wales and Kate Middleton as a representative for the Jewish community.[14]

At a Gala Dinner held in Central London in May 2013 to mark the completion of the Chief Rabbi's time in office, HRH The Prince of Wales called Sacks a "light unto this nation", "a steadfast friend" and "a valued adviser" whose "guidance on any given issue has never failed to be of practical value and deeply grounded in the kind of wisdom that is increasingly hard to come by".[15] The Gala Dinner also featured video messages from current and past British Prime Ministers and Archbishops of Canterbury. Rt Hon David Cameron MP said: "over the past two decades you have been not just a leader for Jewish people but for all of us." [16] Tony Blair described Sacks as "an intellectual giant... He is somebody who … has made an extraordinary, outstanding contribution, not just to British and International Jewry, but to British and International public life.".[16] Gordon Brown asked "How do you sum up someone who is the greatest scholar you know, the greatest philosopher, the greatest writer you know, one of the greatest thinkers in the world?" [16]

Chief Rabbinate[edit]

In his Installation address upon succeeding Lord Jakobovits as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth in September 1991, Sacks called for a Decade of Renewal which would "revitalize British Jewry’s great powers of creativity".[17] He said this renewal should be based on five central values: "love of every Jew, love of learning, love of God, a profound contribution to British society and an unequivocal attachment to Israel." [17] Sacks said he wanted to be "a catalyst for creativity, to encourage leadership in others, and to let in the fresh air of initiative and imagination".[17] This led to a series of innovative communal projects including Jewish Continuity, a national foundation for Jewish educational programmes and outreach; the Association of Jewish Business Ethics; the Chief Rabbinate Awards for Excellence; the Chief Rabbinate Bursaries, and Community Development, a national scheme to enhance Jewish community life. The Chief Rabbi began his second decade of office with a call to 'Jewish Responsibility' and a renewed commitment to the ethical dimension of Judaism.[18]

Sacks' Chief Rabbinate was not without challenges. One of the central issues was the inter-denominational relationship between Orthodox Judaism - which Sacks belonged to - and the other strands of Judaism: Masorti, Reform and Liberal movement who emphasised that, despite wider society viewing Sacks as the spokesman for the whole Jewish community, the Chief Rabbi did not speak for them on religious issues. This became a major issue following the death of Rabbi Hugo Gryn, a respected leader of Reform, in 1996. Though he did not attend the funeral, Sacks attended the shiva, memorial prayers, for Gryn, a move that caused anger with some in the ultra-Orthodox community.[19][20] In a private response to an Ultra-Orthodox leader, Sacks wrote in Hebrew that Gryn was "among those who destroy the faith". The letter was leaked and published, and received wide coverage within the Jewish community and beyond. However in a letter to The Jewish Chronicle in May 2013, Jackie Gryn, the wife of Rabbi Gryn, wrote: "I feel the time has come for me to lay to rest, once and for all , the idea… that there ever was a ‘Hugo Gryn Affair’, as far as I am concerned, regarding the absence of the Chief Rabbi at the funeral of my late husband, Hugo.” "From the beginning, relations were cordial and sympathetic and have remained so,” she wrote. “There has never been any personal grievance between us concerning his non-attendance at the funeral, which promoted such venomous and divisive comments and regrettably continues to do so.”[21]

As a result of the Gryn Affair, Sacks developed two key principles that spanned the rest of his Chief Rabbinate when it came to inter-denominational relations within the UK Jewish community. When asked about it in a farewell interview published in The Jewish News in August 2013, Sacks said: "As a result of the turbulence at that time, I was forced to think this whole issue through and I came up with these two principles; on all matters that affect us as Jews regardless of our religious differences we work together regardless of our religious differences, and on all things that touch our religious differences we agree to differ, but with respect. As a result of those two principles relations between Reform and Orthodox have got much better and are actually a model for the rest of the Jewish world. Progressive rabbis sit with me on the top table of the Council of Christians and Jews, we stand together for Israel. All of this flowed from those two principles. Until then there had been a view never to do anything with the non-Orthodox movements but once you thought it through you saw that there were all sorts of opportunities." [22]

A second controversy occurred after the publication of his book The Dignity of Difference when a group of Haredi rabbis, most notably Rabbis Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Bezalel Rakow accused Sacks of heresy against what they consider the traditional Orthodox viewpoint. According to them, some words seemed to imply an endorsement of pure relativism between religions, and that Judaism is not the sole true religion. This led Sacks to rephrase more clearly some sentences in the book for its second edition, though he refused to recall books already in the stores.[23] In his "Preface to the Second Edition" of the book, Sacks wrote that certain passages in the book had been misconstrued: he had already explicitly criticised cultural and religious relativism in his book, and he did not deny Judaism's uniqueness. He also stressed however that mainstream rabbinic teachings teach that wisdom, righteousness and the possibility of a true relationship with God are all available in non-Jewish cultures and religions as an on-going heritage from the covenant that God made with Noah and all his descendants, so the tradition teaches that one does not need to be Jewish to know God or truth or to attain salvation.[24][25] As this diversity of covenantal bonds implies, however, traditional Jewish sources do clearly deny that any one creed has a monopoly on spiritual truth. Monopolistic and simplistic claims of universal truth he has characterized as imperialistic, pagan and Platonic, and not Jewish at all.[26] The changes made did not change the substantive arguments in the book itself, which received international acclaim, winning the Grawemeyer Award in 2004.[27]

Views[edit]

Some Orthodox opposition[edit]

After the publication of his book The Dignity of Difference, a group of Haredi rabbis, most notably Rabbis Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Bezalel Rakow, accused Sacks of heresy against what they consider the traditional Orthodox viewpoint. According to them, some words seemed to imply an endorsement of pure relativism between religions, and that Judaism is not the sole true religion, e.g. "No one creed has a monopoly on spiritual truth." This led him to rephrase more clearly some sentences in the book for its second edition, though he refused to recall books already in the stores.[23]

In his "Preface to the Second Edition" of the book, Sacks wrote that certain passages in the book had been misconstrued: he had already explicitly criticised cultural and religious relativism in his book, and he did not deny Judaism's uniqueness. He also stressed however that mainstream rabbinic teachings teach that wisdom, righteousness and the possibility of a true relationship with God are all available in non-Jewish cultures and religions as an on-going heritage from the covenant that God made with Noah and all his descendants, so the tradition teaches that one does not need to be Jewish to know God or truth or to attain salvation.[24][25] As this diversity of covenantal bonds implies, however, traditional Jewish sources do clearly deny that any one creed has a monopoly on spiritual truth. Monopolistic and simplistic claims of universal truth he has characterized as imperialistic, pagan and Platonic, and not Jewish at all.[28]

Efforts to accommodate Haredi Jews[edit]

A book by the British historian and journalist Meir Persoff, Another Way, Another Time, has argued that "Sacks’s top priority has been staying in the good graces of the Haredi, or strictly Orthodox, faction, whose high birthrate has made it the fastest-growing component of British Jewry." But, Persoff has argued, "the Orthodox circles Sacks strives to placate will never consider him Orthodox enough no matter what he does."[29]

Rabbi Gryn and Rabbi Jacobs[edit]

Sacks provoked considerable controversy in the Anglo-Jewish community in 1996 when he refused to attend the funeral service of the late Reform Rabbi Hugo Gryn and a private letter he had written in Hebrew, which (in translation) asserted that Gryn was "among those who destroy the faith," was leaked and published. He wrote further that he was an "enemy" of the Reform, Liberal and Masorti movements, leading some to reject the notion that he is "Chief Rabbi" for all Jews in Britain. He attended a memorial meeting for Gryn, a move that brought the wrath of some in the ultra-Orthodox community.[19][20] Rabbi Dow Marmur argued that after attending the memorial service, Sacks then attempted to placate the ultra-Orthodox community, an attempt which Marmur has described as “neurotic and cowardly."[30]

A similar stance was taken by Sacks and his Beth Din when they prevented the retired Rabbi Louis Jacobs, who had helped establish the British branch of the Masorti movement, from being called up for the Reading of the Torah on the Saturday before his granddaughter's wedding.[31]

Secularism and Europe's changing demographics[edit]

Sacks has expressed concern at what he regards as the negative effects of materialism and secularism in European society, arguing that they undermine the basic values of family life and lead to selfishness. In 2009 Sacks gave an address claiming that Europeans have chosen consumerism over the self-sacrifice of parenting children, and that "the major assault on religion today comes from the neo-Darwinians." He argued that Europe is in population decline "because non-believers lack shared values of family and community that religion has."[32][33][34][35]

Consumerism and Steve Jobs[edit]

Rabbi Sacks made remarks at an inter-faith reception attended by the Queen, in November 2011, in which he criticised what he believed to be the selfish consumer culture that has only brought unhappiness. "The consumer society was laid down by the late Steve Jobs coming down the mountain with two tablets, iPad one and iPad two, and the result is that we now have a culture of iPod, iPhone, iTune, i, i, i. When you're an individualist, egocentric culture and you only care about 'I,’ you don’t do terribly well." [36][37][38][39] In a later statement, the Chief Rabbi's office said "The Chief Rabbi meant no criticism of either Steve Jobs personally or the contribution Apple has made to the development of technology in the 21st century."[36]

Opposition to gay marriage[edit]

In July 2012 a group of prominent UK Jews criticised Sacks for opposing plans to allow civil marriage for gays and lesbians.[40]

Animal welfare[edit]

Sacks is a practising Jewish vegetarian.[41]

Current positions[edit]

  • Professor of Judaic Thought, New York University, New York (announced 29 October 2013).
  • Professor of Jewish Thought, Yeshiva University, New York (announced 29 October 2013).
  • Professor of Law, Ethics and the Bible at King’s College, London (announced 5 December 2013).

Previous positions held[edit]

Sacks is also a frequent guest on both television and radio, and regularly contributes to the national press. He delivered the 1990 BBC Reith Lectures on The Persistence of Faith.

Published Books[edit]

  • The Koren Sacks Pesach Mahzor (Koren, Jerusalem, March 2013)
  • The Koren Sacks Yom Kippur Mahzor (Koren, Jerusalem, 2012)
  • The Koren Sacks Rosh Hashana Mahzor (Koren, Jerusalem, 2011)
  • The Great Partnership: God Science and the Search for Meaning (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2011; Schocken, New York, 2012)
  • Covenant and Conversation: Exodus (Koren, Jerusalem, 2010)
  • Future Tense (Hodder, London, 2009; Schocken, New York, 2010)
  • Covenant and Conversation: Genesis (Koren, Jerusalem, 2009)
  • The Koren (Sacks) Siddur (Koren, Jerusalem, 2009)
  • The Home We Build Together (Continuum, London, 2007)
  • The Authorised Daily Prayer Book (HarperCollins, London, 2006)
  • To Heal A Fractured World (Continuum, London; Schocken, New York, 2005)
  • From Optimism to Hope (Continuum, London, 2004)
  • Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s Haggadah (Harper Collins, London, Continuum, New York, 2003)
  • The Dignity of Difference (Continuum, London / New York / Toronto, 2002)
  • Radical Then, Radical Now (Continuum, London, 2001) - published in the USA as: A Letter In the Scroll (The Free Press, New York, 2000)
  • Celebrating Life (Continuum, London, 2006)
  • Morals and Markets (Occasional Paper 108) (Institute of Economic Affairs, London, 1998)
  • The Politics of Hope (Vintage, London, 2000)
  • The Persistence of Faith (Continuum, London, 2005) - based on the BBC Reith Lectures
  • One People: Tradition, Modernity and Jewish Unity (The Littman Library, London, 1993)
  • Community of Faith (Peter Halban, London, 1995)
  • Faith in the Future (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1995)
  • Will We Have Jewish Grandchildren? (Vallentine Mitchell, 1994)
  • Crisis and Covenant (Manchester University Press, 1992)
  • Arguments for the Sake of Heaven (Jason Aronson, 1991)
  • Tradition in an Untraditional Age (Vallentine Mitchell, 1990)

In addition he has edited:

  • Torah Studies:Discourses by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson (Kehot, New York, 1996)
  • Orthodoxy Confronts Modernity (Ktav, New York, 1991)
  • Tradition and Transition (Jews College Publications, 1986)

Awards Received[edit]

  • 2014: American National Jewish Book Award for The Koren Sacks Pesah Mahzor
  • 2013: The Sanford St Martin's Trust Personal Award for Excellence in Religious Broadcasting
  • 2011: Keter Torah Award, Open University (Israel)
  • 2011: The Ladislaus Laszt Ecumenical and Social Concern Award, Ben Gurion University
  • (Israel)
  • 2010: The Abraham Kuyper Prize, Princeton Theological Seminary (USA)
  • 2010: The Norman Lamm Prize, Yeshiva University (USA)
  • 2009: American National Jewish Book Award for Covenant & Conversation Genesis: The Book of Beginnings
  • 2004: The Grawemeyer Prize for Religion (USA)
  • 2000: American National Jewish Book for A Letter in the Scroll
  • 1995: Jerusalem Prize (Israel)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Abrams, Hester (7 December 1991). "Philosopher is new leader of Britain's Jews : Educational standards, disintegrating family concern rabbi". The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario). p. C11. "He is officially head of the mainstream United Synagogue, but is not recognized as religious leader by many in the progressive Reform and Liberal movements" 
  2. ^ Butt, Riazat (13 July 2009). "Chief Rabbi joins House of Lords". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 15 August 2009. "The decision to confer a title on Sacks may anger Jews from both the progressive and strictly orthodox branches who do not recognise him as their religious leader" 
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 57665. p. 1. 10 June 2005.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 58099. p. 12615. 15 September 2006.
  7. ^ Honorary Freemen of the London Borough of Barnet[dead link]. Barnet.gov.uk (29 September 2009). Retrieved on 3 December 2011
  8. ^ Paul, Jonny (July 13, 2009). "UK chief rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks gets peerage". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2009-07-20. [dead link]
  9. ^ House of Lords Appointments Commission[dead link]. Lordsappointments.gov.uk (13 July 2009). Retrieved on 3 December 2011.
  10. ^ The London Gazette: no. 59178. p. 15388. 8 September 2009.
  11. ^ a b [3]
  12. ^ [4]
  13. ^ [5]
  14. ^ "Royal wedding guest list". BBC News. 23 April 2011. 
  15. ^ "Prince pays tribute to Chief Rabbi". The Jewish Chronicle. 25 June 2013. 
  16. ^ a b c "UK Chief Rabbi’s Star-Studded Send-Off". Tablet. 26 June 2013. 
  17. ^ a b c [6]
  18. ^ [7]
  19. ^ a b "Jonathan Sacks: Defender of the faith"[dead link], The Independent, 8 September 2001
  20. ^ a b Ian Burrell, "Leaked letter widens schism in Jewry", The Independent, 15 March 1997
  21. ^ [8]
  22. ^ [9]
  23. ^ a b Petre, Jonathan (15 February 2003). "Chief Rabbi revises book after attack by critics". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  24. ^ a b Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, 2nd edition, 2003, pp. vii, 52–65
  25. ^ a b Faith Lectures: Jewish Identity: The Concept of a Chosen People[dead link]. Chief Rabbi (1 December 1990). Retrieved on 3 December 2011.
  26. ^ See ibid., Chapter 3: "Exorcising Plato's Ghost," and reaffirmed in his book, Future Tense, 2009, Chapter 4: "The Other: Judaism, Christianity and Islam."
  27. ^ [10]
  28. ^ See ibid., Chapter 3: "Exorcising Plato's Ghost," and reaffirmed in his book, Future Tense, 2009, Chapter 4: "The Other: Judaism, Christianity and Islam."
  29. ^ MP9996 (16 May 2010). "Is Sacks Britain’s Last Chief Rabbi?". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  30. ^ Simon Rocker (22 October 2010). "Lord Sacks criticised by progressive rabbi". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  31. ^ "Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs". The Times (London). 4 July 2006. Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  32. ^ "Europeans too selfish to have children, says Chief Rabbi". The Daily Telegraph (London). 5 November 2009. Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  33. ^ Butt, Riazat (5 November 2009). "Falling birth rate is killing Europe, says chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  34. ^ Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks: Europe is dying from secularism – Ruth Gledhill – TimesOnline[dead link]. RichardDawkins.net (5 November 2009). Retrieved on 3 December 2011.
  35. ^ "Selfish culture is killing secular Europe, says Chief Rabbi". Daily Mail (London). 6 November 2009. 
  36. ^ a b Lee Moran 'It's all i, i, i nowadays': Chief Rabbi blasts late Apple boss Steve Jobs for helping to create a selfish consumer society. Mail Online. 21 November 2011
  37. ^ Does this not make the UK's Chief Rabbi a hypocrite? – Downtime. Computerweekly.com (23 November 2011). Retrieved on 3 December 2011.
  38. ^ Chief Rabbi blames Apple for helping create selfish society. Telegraph. Retrieved on 2011-12-03.
  39. ^ Rabbi vs. Steve Jobs: iThis & iThat cause sadness – OTOH: On the other hand. Blogs.computerworlduk.com. Retrieved on 3 December 2011.
  40. ^ Rocker, Simon (5 July 2012). "Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks attacked over gay marriage opposition". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  41. ^ Sacks, Jonathan (6 June 2001). "Faith Lectures: The Messianic Idea Today". "But I can’t say very much about chickens because I’m a vegetarian and I stay milchik all the time." 

External links[edit]

Jewish titles
Preceded by
Lord Jakobovits
Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth
1991–2013
Succeeded by
Ephraim Mirvis