Another question that didn’t appear in The Jewish Press is in the interview with the ever-controversial Dr. Marc Shapiro. He’s known for critiquing the haredi world but this question ironically has him criticizing the Modern Orthodox community for not being terribly interested in learning, or ideas in general. “For many people,” he told me, “ ‘Modern Orthodox’ means having kosher food at a Mets game.”
What was it like interviewing Rabbi Jonathan Sacks? Many would consider him the most famous person you’ve interviewed.
The truth is I wish I had had more time with him. I interviewed him a week before Rosh Hashanah and he could only spare fifteen minutes. You’d be surprised how much you can pack into fifteen minutes, though – especially when you’re interviewing someone who stays on point without going off on a million tangents.
The most important question I asked him, I thought, was why he attended the wedding of Prince William and Princess Kate in Westminster Abbey. A lot of people were talking about that and I thought it important that his answer be on record. I searched extensively on the Internet before that interview and couldn’t find a single article, or even blog post, that presented Rabbi Sacks’s stance on the issue.
What did he say?
He told me that every single British chief rabbi for the past 150 years has attended state functions in Christian places of worship. That would include people like Rabbi Nosson Adler [1803-1890], who was a big talmid chacham. One of the rabbis, incidentally, who competed with Rabbi Adler to become England’s chief rabbi was Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.
In any event, Rabbi Sacks said attending the wedding in Westminster Abbey was a civic as opposed to a religious act, and was permitted due to darchei shalom and eivah.
What would you say to someone who asks, “Why should I buy this book when I’ve already read Resnick’s interviews in The Jewish Press?”
I think people would be surprised at how much they’ve forgotten. In preparing these interviews for publication, I found myself being fascinated by the material. Now remember – I did these interviews! I recorded them, typed them up, edited, and proofread them. But some of these interviews are six years old, and I had forgotten what was in them. I found myself getting a tremendous education and a real dose of inspiration just from rereading these interviews.
In his approbation for my book, Rabbi Berel Wein wrote, “This book will inform, even inspire.” I was very happy he wrote that because I honestly felt the same way in rereading these interviews. So many of the interview subjects stand for a cause and hearing them talk about their passions was invigorating. The ideas they express, the stories they tell, the information they proffer – all of them stimulate the mind.
You’ve mentioned many personalities that appear in your book. Any other notable ones you haven’t mentioned that you think people will find interesting?
Certainly. Rabbi Nosson Scherman from ArtScroll; Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who actually called one of my critical questions “pure nonsense”; Steven Emerson, the terrorism expert; Libby Kahane, Rabbi Meir Kahane’s wife; Marvin Silbermintz, a frum Jew who used to write jokes for Jay Leno; Zev Golan, who talks about Lehi’s revolutionary leader, Israel Eldad; Rabbis Julius Berman and Aaron Rakeffet who tell wonderful stories about Rav Soloveitchik; Rabbi Gil Student, who authors one of the Internet’s most popular Torah blogs; Ambassador Yehuda Avner, who wrote that wildly popular book about Israel’s prime ministers, which is actually is in the process of becoming a movie; and Hershey Friedman, the man who took over Rubashkin’s meat plant.
There are plenty of others I think people will enjoy too.
You said Rabbi Steinsaltz called one of your questions ‘pure nonsense.’ Which one was that?
I asked him about the objection, leveled by some, that he treats the avos and imahos in his books as human beings with flaws rather than saints. I was just voicing an argument made by others and was interested in his response. Rabbi Steinsaltz, however, apparently thought I agreed with this objection and said it’s pure nonsense and that many classical mefarshim look at the avos and imahos as he does.