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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: A British Invasion of Spirituality and Wisdom

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: A British Invasion of Spirituality and Wisdom

Rabbis aren’t usually rock stars, but British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks isn’t your average rabbi. A one-of-a-kind spiritual leader — and this week’s Top Jew — Rabbi Sacks consistently attracts overflow crowds all around the Jewish world. Last month, he thrilled attendees of a standing-room-only Shabbat weekend at Lincoln Square Synagogue with his insights, intellect and scholarship. His new book “Future Tense: Jews, Judaism and Israel in the 21st Century” is a must-read. Here are a few highlights:

“Future Tense”
Elevator Pitch

“Historically, Jews have thought of
themselves in terms of the biblical phrase,
‘The people that dwells alone.’ In the
current global environment, this is dangerous. It leads to the isolation of Jews, Judaism and Israel. Too much contemporary Jewish writing is self-referential: Jews talking to Jews, preaching to the converted. Yet Jews cannot cure anti-Semitism alone. We need to persuade Jews and non-Jews alike that Jews, Judaism and Israel have something unique to contribute to the future.”

“Future Tense” does this. It moves beyond the “they hate us” school of Jewish thought to provide an overarching vision for the future of Judaism, Jewish life and Israel for the 21st century.”

Need for a Compelling Jewish Narrative

“My belief is that many, perhaps most, Jews within Israel and outside have forgotten the Jewish story: the journey from slavery to freedom, darkness to light, exile to the Promised Land, a journey of faith sustained by faith. … We have lost our way and need to recover the classic terms of the Jewish story. That story is not about anti-Semitism or about Israel as a nation surrounded by enemies. It is not about Jews destined to live alone, at best misunderstood, at worse the perennial target of hate. It is about faith, an unusual faith in which God summoned a people and charged them with becoming his partners in creating lives, and in Israel a society that should become a home for the divine presence.”

Universalism Versus Particularism

“Judaism was never meant for Jews alone. It contains a message for all humanity, and much in the 21st century will depend on whether this message or a different one prevails. Judaism belongs to the human conversation, and we must take the trouble to share our ideas with others, and let others share theirs with us. … Jewish life is quintessentially communal, a matter of believing and belonging. Maimonides rules: “One who separates from the community, even if he commits no sin but merely holds himself aloof from the congregation of Israel … and shows himself indifferent to their distress, has no share in the world to come.”

Identity And Peoplehood

“Identity involves duty, commitment, loyalty and fidelity. It comes wrapped up with a sense of obligation. Identity is the point at which ‘I am’ shades into ‘I must’ — because these are my people and this is my heritage. Identity involves responsibility. There were Jews, among them the writer Ahad Haam and the poet Chaim Nahman Bialik, who believed that religion could be translated into the language of culture, but it cannot. Something is lost in translation. To paraphrase Harvard professor Ruth Wisse: no continuity without command.”

Key Stats

Favorite Jewish food: Kugel

Favorite Jewish
or Yiddish phrase: Fablongien – Discombobulated

Favorite ritual: Havdalah

Motto: Win the respect of people you respect.

Guilty pleasures: Chocolate cake at midnight.

Favorite movie: “The Shawshank Redemption”

Favorite book: “My Family and Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell

Recent hero: Klausenberger Rebbe (Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam)
lost his whole family in the Holocaust and went on
to inspire community in the U.S. and Israel.

Hero of all time: Moses

accomplishment: Tripling the number of day school students
in the UK between 1993 and 2008.

11th commandment: Never give up.

Visit for more information on Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks of the United Hebrew Congregations of Great Britain. Watch the Rabbi Sacks video collection on with more than 30 new segments. Tell us what you think at

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