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Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks and Our Readers' Reactions
Last uploaded : Friday 13th Sep 2002 at 23:06
Contributed by : The Editor



(Photo: Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks)

The past month has kept us busy, from attending not-very-good plays in London to looking in on the (banned) al Muhajiroun rally in London. We will be providing a separate article about al Muhajiroun, but our immediate concern is with the uproar that has arisen from an interview with Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks, the British Chief Rabbi. (In order not to precipitate the usual pile of angry e-mails from Progressive British Jews who hate it when I refer to Dr Sacks as ‘the Chief Rabbi,’ I hasten to add that he is the officially appointed spiritual leader of British Jewry but does not necessarily represent those other than the strictly Orthodox . Britain, the land of Private Eye and Punch, has a tradition of correcting one on the most idiotic of minutiae, but if anyone can tell me what Jonathan Sacks is, I’d like to know. People screaming at me for calling him ‘Chief Rabbi’ is like 50 million Gore voters saying ‘Don’t call Bush ‘President!’)

Anyway – I have read mountains of responses to Rabbi Sacks, who has criticised Israel and said that the actions of the Sharon government have created a societal vacuum in Israel that is contrary to Jewish morals, ethics and values. His views might have been better received by a battered Anglo-Jewish community – not to mention by Israelis -- had he gone to a friendly paper rather than the ‘Guardian’, who have been known to refer readers to the Hamas website, but here is my reaction:

Since the days of the abhorrent Hitler-loving Mufti of Jerusalem, it has been hard to find a Muslim cleric who exhorts his flock to welcome and know their Jewish neighbours. This past week in London, Muslim clerics have held a ‘celebration’ of the Twin Towers tragedy. Generations of Muslim leaders have called for jihad. If there is one virtue in the act of Dr Sacks, it is his projecting to the world the highest form of Jewish conduct: to value life, to wish to elevate his brethren to acts of goodness and to welcome all into his home. Dr Sacks has enraged many by saying he would welcome a meeting with Sheikh Abu Hamza, one of the organisers of the Twin Towers shindig. Here is a rabbi showing the highest form of Jewish morality. He should not be attacked. It is time for us in the Diaspora and in Israel to step back and appreciate that Rabbi Sacks is not showing Jewish weakness but shaming the killer-mullahs. Lest we forget that it was not an Arab who killed Yitzhak Rabin (yes, Right-wing Zionist that I am I still believe he was a tzaddik) but one of our own. We must handle a difference of opinion from one of our own with respect and dignity; Sacks’ ancestors did not slaughter or torture us; let’s save our vitriol for the anti-Semitic writers who hate us and pass as ‘columnists’ when in fact they would rejoice if (God forbid) Iraq annihilated Israel. I will not countenance non-Jewish critics who hurl columns of anger at Israel, but I am prepared to listen and reflect on the words of one of our most eminent Rebbes.

The interview may be read at:

Go to:

We have had the following reactions to the Sacks interview from readers who read the article on our e-mail list. (Do join our list if you are not on it already.)

Dear JewishComment

What you may not have heard is that the moderate Moslem comunity in the UK
is livid about the Chief Rabbi's offer to talk to Abu Hamza. They are trying
depserately to marginalize him and are less than happy to have the Cheif
Rabbi make him a major Moslem leader.

Professor Bryan Reuben
Professor emeritus of chemical technology
South Bank University

e-mail: reubenbg@sbu.ac.uk
I don't respect a man who won't challenge the assumption of the Guardian's
questions, mainly that there is even an occupation. The fact that he
believes there is one disqualifies him from being a spokesman for me.
Bill Hoffman
New York
You were looking for reaction to the Guardian piece by Dr Jonathan Sacks. I read and reread this piece, trying to understand the point he was making. I work in the media and was particularly shocked by the ambiguity of his remarks about Israel being "forced into postures that are incompatible ...with our deepest ideals".
It is one solitary sentence in an otherwise thought-provoking and decent piece of journalism.
It is naivete in the extreme, a betrayal of those who are most in need of support. How could you, Dr Sacks?
While many people within Israel may believe this, and it is acceptable to make such comments there because it forms part of the political debate.
But here in the UK, it is deeply hurtful. How can he cite one photograph - most likely taken out of context - as indicative of the moral decay of a nation?
We are all here having to deal with a steep increase in anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. To say anything that could provoke such feelings is at best counter-productive, at worst dangerous.
I still have immense respect for Dr Sacks, most especially for his heartwarming pieces over the past two years. But this was an aberration, providing a sumptuous meal to a hungry anti-Israeli media.
Paul Kirby


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