Miriam Shaviv has penned one of the most important articles in recent memory. It highlights what we will truly be missing when the current Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom officially enters retirement in September.
This may sound a bit fawning or overblown. But I don’t think it is. Rabbi Sacks is all that is right with Judaism. He is a brilliant thinker who has written numerous books on Jewish thought. Largely through his efforts Jewish education for the masses has increased to record numbers in his country.
Those items alone makes his retirement regrettable. But in perhaps one of his most important functions as a Chief Rabbi – he has done the ultimate Kiddush HaShem. He has made Judaism among British leadership something to look up to. Something to respect and admire. A religion that more than any other has taught lessons about ethics and leadership to world leaders. In short he has done a lot to spread the light of Torah.
His final farewell dinner was attended by not only British government leadership, both past and present, it was attended by British royalty. From the Times of Israel article:
The guest of honor was Charles, the Prince of Wales, who in a deliberate misquote of the prophet Isaiah, called Lord Sacks “a light unto this nation.”
…Prince Charles admired Lord Sacks’s “lightness of touch and elegant wit,” and said that he had personally benefited from his advice.
“Your 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,” he said.
The heir to the British throne actually read his books to much acclaim. The effusive praise did not stop there:
In a video message, former prime minister John Major said, “As a student of your books over many years you have absorbed more hours of my time than I can possibly remember,” while Labour’s former prime minister Gordon Brown, with whom Sacks was reputed to have had a particularly close relationship, praised his book “Politics of Hope” for suggesting a way “between markets and state… He saw that the ethics of markets were an issue long before the financial crisis.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said that “The Home We Build Together” “had a significant influence on my own mission to build a bigger and stronger society right here in Britain,” which was a cornerstone of his platform in the early years of his premiership.
Lord Sacks had an excellent relationship with clergy of other faiths as well, particularly with the Chief cleric of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
It is also rather well known that former prime minister Margaret Thatcher thought so well of Lord Sacks’ wisdom that she turned more often to him for advice than she did to clergy of her own religion.
It is also a tribute to Lord Sacks that clergy of other Jewish denominations attended this event too:
In a rare display of solidarity amongst Britain’s Jewish religious leaders, there were representatives from all the denominations, including Reform’s Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner and the Liberal movement’s Rabbi Danny Rich.
The only ones apparently not in attendance were England’s Charedi establishment rabbis.
The well deserved accolades from the distinguished speakers were far too many to quote here. But aside the huge Kiddush HaShem that Lord Sacks has made during his 22 year tenure, another important issue was addressed that evening. It was on the subject of the shrinking moderate center at the expense of the growth of Ultra- Orthodoxy. He considers this phenomenon ‘worse than dangerous’:
Lord Sacks drew an equivalence between assimilated Jews “who embrace the world and reject Judaism, and those who embrace Judaism and reject the world.”
“It is an abdication of the role of Jews and Judaism in the world. We are here to engage with the world, to be true to our faith and a blessing to others regardless of their faith.”
It is important to point out that Lord Sacks does not reject the philosophy of Charedim. I’m sure he supports their right to interpret ‘Talmud Torah K’Neged Kulom’ as learning Torah full time and leading as holy a life as possible. What he rejects is their isolationist approach to the world. This is something we should all reject.