Defending Jonathan Sacks’s Theology of the Stranger from His Orthodox Critics

Oct. 26 2021

Throughout his many works, the late British chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks emphasized the importance of the biblical commandment to “love the stranger”—which appears 36 times in the Torah, often coupled with a reminder that “you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Sacks put it thus:

You have been oppressed; therefore you shall come to the rescue of the oppressed, whoever they are. You have suffered; therefore you shall become the people who are there to offer help when others are suffering.

Sacks, who made this commandment a key part of his worldview and saw it as distinguishing feature of Judaism, elsewhere defined the stranger as “one who is not like us.” Yet the Talmud understands the Hebrew word for stranger in all these 36 cases to refer not to a foreigner, but either to a convert to Judaism or to someone who agrees to renounce idolatry and abide by some, but not all, of the commandments. In other words, the rabbinic tradition—as some of Orthodox critics of Sacks’s work have pointed out—appears not to recognize any general command to love foreigners or people who are different.

But Gil Student contends, in an essay in honor of the first anniversary of Sacks’s death, this critique ignores the host of distinguished medieval rabbis who insist on reading the relevant verse precisely as Sacks does. As one 13th-century halakhic work put it, Jews are obliged “to have mercy on a man who is in a city that is not the land of his birth and the place of the family of his fathers.” Student adds:

Rabbi Sacks’s theology of the stranger follows medieval precedent in reading the text and applying it in practice. . . . It is entirely proper to build a theology based on the Torah’s vision of ethical behavior. . . . In particular, since Rabbi Sacks generally offers this theology to a Gentile audience that is not obligated by the Mosaic commandments, the ethical understanding rightly takes priority. And even when addressing a Jewish audience, Rabbi Sacks presents his understanding on the ethical plane, not the halakhic, because his is a theology of the stranger.

As we take leave of our first full year without Rabbi Sacks, we would do well to look back to his ethical teachings. In this confused world, with many moral compasses pointing in the wrong directions, Rabbi Sacks’s memory and teachings guide us toward the path of responsibility and sanctity.

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Read more at Torah Musings

More about: Jewish ethics, Jonathan Sacks, Judaism, Talmud

Europe Must Stop Tolerating Iranian Operations on Its Soil

March 31 2023

Established in 2012 and maintaining branches in Europe, North America, and Iran, the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Network claims its goal is merely to show “solidarity” for imprisoned Palestinians. The organization’s leader, however, has admitted to being a representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a notorious terrorist group whose most recent accomplishments include murdering a seventeen-year-old girl. As Arsen Ostrovsky and Patricia Teitelbaum point out, Samidoun is just one example of how the European Union allows Iran-backed terrorists to operate in its midst:

The PFLP is a proxy of the Iranian regime, which provides the terror group with money, training, and weapons. Samidoun . . . has a branch in Tehran. It has even held events there, under the pretext of “cultural activity,” to elicit support for operations in Europe. Its leader, Khaled Barakat, is a regular on Iran’s state [channel] PressTV, calling for violence and lauding Iran’s involvement in the region. It is utterly incomprehensible, therefore, that the EU has not yet designated Samidoun a terror group.

According to the Council of the European Union, groups and/or individuals can be added to the EU terror list on the basis of “proposals submitted by member states based on a decision by a competent authority of a member state or a third country.” In this regard, there is already a standing designation by Israel of Samidoun as a terror group and a decision of a German court finding Barakat to be a senior PFLP operative.

Given the irrefutable axis-of-terror between Samidoun, PFLP, and the Iranian regime, the EU has a duty to put Samidoun and senior Samidoun leaders on the EU terror list. It should do this not as some favor to Israel, but because otherwise it continues to turn a blind eye to a group that presents a clear and present security threat to the European Union and EU citizens.

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Read more at Newsweek

More about: European Union, Iran, Palestinian terror, PFLP