The very first vision for the Interfaith Heroes books was for it to be a community project. The only problem was people would just send me names but not the finished stories! So it ended up as my book. Now I’m trilled to have people writing their own stories of interfaith heroes. This month we have a number of folks who have responded to the call and sent Read The Spirit articles. Some are people many of us have heard about or known. Others are people who are more local in their impact, but whose work and witness can inspire in a broader circle. As one folk musician I know says: The difference between a hero and an unsung hero is the singing, so we’ll sing about a lot of these folks this month! Thanks to Paul Dekar, my long-time peacemaking friend, for getting us started as a guest writer today.
Jonathan Sacks (born 1948)
By PAUL DEKAR
Jonathan Henry Sacks was born in London, England in 1948. He and his wife Elaine are the parents of three adult children, and grandparents. In addition to his roles as spiritual leader and writer, Sacks has taught Jewish thought at universities in Britain, Israel and the United States.
Educated at King’s College, Rabbi Sacks served as Principal of Jews’ College, as well as rabbi of the Golders Green and Marble Arch synagogues in London. In 1991, he succeeded Immanuel Jakobovits as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Assuming this role, Sacks became spiritual head of the largest synagogue body in the United Kingdom. He was not, however, a religious authority for all Jewish movements.
In 2002, publication of The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations prompted a group of Haredi rabbis to accuse Sacks of heresy against what they consider the traditional Orthodox viewpoint. According to them, some words in the book seemed to endorse pure relativism between religions and to reject the idea that Judaism is the sole true religion. While Sacks refused to recall books already in stores, he did rephrase more clearly some sentences in the book in a second edition.
Sacks is concerned about the negative effects of materialism and secularism in Britain and more widely. For Sacks, these forces undermine basic values of family life and lead to selfishness. He calls for cooperation among all people in confronting such challenges.
In 2008, Sacks gave a plenary address, ”The Relationship between the People and God” to the 14th Lambeth Conference, the decennial assembly of bishops of the Anglican Communion convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He explored covenant theology and affirmed that, “if we look at Genesis 50, we will see that just before Joseph says his great words of reconciliation, the text says: ‘Joseph wept.’ Why did Joseph weep? He wept for all the needless pain the brothers had caused one another.”
Continuing, Sacks observed that all too often the face religion shows to the world is one of conflict between faiths, and sometimes within faiths. He called on Jews and Christians to work together to address such issues with which humanity is faced as poverty, hunger, disease and environmental catastrophe.
Sacks concluded with the following appeal:
And we, Jews and Christians, who have worked so hard and so effectively at reconciliation, must show the world another way.: honouring humanity as God’s image, protecting the environment as God’s work, respecting diversity as God’s will, and keeping the covenant as God’s word.
Too long we have dwelt in the valley of tears. Let us walk together towards the mountain of the Lord, side-by-side, hand in hand, bound by a covenant of fate that turns strangers into friends. In an age of fear, let us be agents of hope. Together let us be a blessing to the world. (view source)
In 1995, Sacks received the Jerusalem Prize for his contribution to diaspora Jewish life. In June 2005, he was awarded a Knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Among his remarkable writings I commend the following:
- The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations (New York: Continuum, 2002; revised edition 2003)
- To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility (New York: Continuum, 2005)
- The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning (New York: Schocken, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2012)
- Radical Responsibility: Celebrating the Thought of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, edited by Michael J. Harris, Daniel Rynhold and Tamra Wright, (Jerusalem: Maggid [Koran] 2013)
- Wiki article on Jonathan Sacks