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

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.

Read more at Torah Musings

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

As Hamas’s Power Collapses, Old Feuds Are Resurfacing

In May, Mahmoud Nashabat, a high-ranking military figure in the Fatah party (which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority), was gunned down in central Gaza. Nashabat was an officer in the Gaza wing of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist outfit that served as Fatah’s vanguard during the second intifada, and now sometimes collaborates with Hamas. But his killers were Hamas members, and he was one of at least 35 Palestinians murdered in Gaza in the past two months as various terrorist and criminal groups go about settling old scores, some of which date back to the 1980s. Einav Halabi writes:

Security sources familiar with the situation told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaza is now also beleaguered by the resurgence of old conflicts. “Many people have been killed in incidents related to the first intifada in 1987, while others have died in family disputes,” they said.

The “first-intifada portfolio” in Gaza is considered complex and convoluted, as it is filled with hatred among residents who accuse others of killing relatives for various reasons, including collaboration with Israel. . . . According to reports from Gaza, there are vigorous efforts on the ground to contain these developments, but the chances of success remain unclear. Hamas, for its part, is trying to project governance and control, recently releasing several videos showcasing how its operatives brutally beat residents accused of looting.

These incidents, gruesome as they are, suggest that Hamas’s control over the territory is slipping, and it no longer holds a monopoly on violence or commands the fear necessary to keep the population in line. The murders and beatings also dimension the grim reality that would ensue if the war ends precipitously: a re-empowered Hamas setting about getting vengeance on its enemies and reimposing its reign of terror.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Fatah, Gaza War 2023, Hamas