Jonathan Sacks: A Rabbi Whose Vision of the Jews as a Creative Minority Was a Message to All People of Faith

November 13, 2020 | Mark Gottlieb
About the author:

The former chief rabbi of England, Jonathan Sacks—who died last Shabbat—was, in Mark Gottlieb’s words: “perhaps the last of [an] increasingly rare breed: the orthodox sage on the world stage; counsel to kings, queens, presidents, and prime ministers.” Examining the hopefulness and wisdom with which Sacks confronted the problems of our age, Gottlieb writes:

Although sometimes depicted as a conservative for certain social-cultural stands, in his politics Rabbi Sacks retained classical liberal loyalties. This was true from his days as an undergraduate at Cambridge to his last publication, Morality, released just last month. His principled aversion to political correctness throughout his life is more a token of his classical liberalism and embrace of epistemological pluralism than any purported conservatism, but he also had definite communitarian leanings, evident especially in his philosophically traditionalist The Home We Build Together.

Tellingly, upon taking his seat in the House of Lords after being awarded a lifetime peerage, Rabbi Sacks was a “crossbencher,” avoiding party allegiances to Labor or Conservative lines. For Rabbi Sacks, as his spiritual mentors Rabbis [Menachem Mendel] Schneerson and [Joseph B.] Soloveitchik emphasized, human experience is dialectical and Orthodoxy must always transcend and absorb right and left, conservative and liberal—or even progressive.

Transcending what he viewed as the false alternatives of cultural secession and assimilation to the deepening demands of secular consumerism, relativism, and anomie, Rabbi Sacks powerfully articulated a third way, what he playfully but seriously dubbed the Jeremiah option. . . . Rabbi Sacks . . . argued for the durability and lasting relevance of the “creative minority,” something all people of faith, and not just Jews, must now identify with.

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