Sacks, Jonathan 1948–

views updated

Sacks, Jonathan 1948–

(Jonathan Henry Sacks)

PERSONAL: Born 1948, in London, England; son of Louis and Louisa (Frumkin) Sacks; married Elaine Taylor, 1970; children: Joshua, Dina, Gila. Education: Attended Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, New College, Oxford, and King's College London.

ADDRESSES: Office—Office of the Chief Rabbi, Adler House, 735 High Rd., London N12 0US England. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Writer, editor, educator, public speaker, television and radio broadcaster, and rabbi. Gained rabbinic ordination from Jews' College London and Yeshiva Etz Chaim; Jews' College London, Chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovits professorship in modern Jewish thought, 1982–83, director of rabbinic faculty, 1983–90, principal, 1984–91; United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, London, chief rabbi, 1991–; rabbi of Golders Green and Marble Arch synagogues in London, England. Visiting professor of philosophy, University of Essex; Sherman lecturer, Manchester University; Riddell lecturer, Newcastle University; Cook lecturer, universities of Oxford, Edinburgh, and St. Andrews; visiting professor, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; visiting professor of theology, King's College London. Regular contributor to British Broadcasting Corporation radio program A Thought for the Day.

AWARDS, HONORS: Jerusalem Prize, 1995, for contributions to diaspora Jewish life; knighted in Queen's Birthday Honors list, 2005; honorary degrees from University of Bar Ilan, Cambridge University, University of Glasgow, University of Haifa, University of Middlesex, Yeshiva University New York, University of Liverpool, St. Andrews University, and Leeds Metropolitan University; honorary fellow, Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge and King's College London; honorary doctorate of Divinity from archbishop of Canterbury, 2001.


(Editor) Tradition and Transition: Essays Presented to Chief Rabbi Sir Immanuel Jakobovits to Celebrate Twenty Years in Office, Jews' College Publications (London, England), 1986.

Traditional Alternatives: Orthodoxy and the Future of the Jewish People, Jews' College Publications (London, England), 1989.

(Editor and author of introduction) Orthodoxy Confronts Modernity, Ktav Publishing House/Jews' College, London, England (Hoboken, NJ), 1991.

Arguments for the Sake of Heaven: Emerging Trends in Traditional Judaism, J. Aronson (Northvale, NJ), 1991.

Crisis and Covenant: Jewish Thought after the Holocaust, Manchester University Press (New York, NY), 1992.

One People?: Tradition, Modernity, and Jewish Unity, Littman Library of Jewish Civilization (London, England), 1993.

Will We Have Jewish Grandchildren?: Jewish Continuity and How to Achieve It, Vallentine Mitchell (Portland, OR), 1994.

(Adaptor) Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, Torah Studies: Discourses,Kehot Publication Society (Brooklyn, NY), 1996.

Faith in the Future, Mercer University Press (Macon, GA), 1997.

The Politics of Hope, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1997.

A Letter in the Scroll: Understanding Our Jewish Identity and Exploring the Legacy of the World's Oldest Religion, Free Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Celebrating Life, Continuum (New York, NY), 2000.

The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations, Continuum (New York, NY), 2002.

From Optimism to Hope: Thoughts for the Day, Continuum (New York, NY), 2004.

The Persistence of Faith: Religion, Morality, and Society in a Secular Age, Continuum (New York, NY), 2005.

To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Author of monthly column, "Credo," for London Times.

SIDELIGHTS: The author of more than fifteen books, Jonathan Sacks is chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, in Great Britain. A prolific writer, speaker, and thinker on Jewish law, philosophy, and tradition, Sacks has written and lectured widely on these and related philosophical and theological topics.

Faith in the Future addresses how a workable and humane social order can be constructed in a world where almost everyone sees themselves as a member of a minority group, and how that social order can be crafted to account for, and respect, human dignity and the inevitable differences between segments of the global population. Sacks broadly discusses morality, issues of living together in the world while maintaining distinct identities, observances of Jewish holy days, and the intricacies of Jewish ethics and spirituality. Sacks seeks out the origins and cause of a variety of social ills, including homelessness, violence, and lack of moral centeredness. Using actual events as a springboard for discussion, he narrows causes down to areas such as the rise of individualism; excess reliance on government for solutions it is unable to provide; and the breakdown of family, community, and authority. Yet he also finds positive aspects of modern society, and encourages their continued growth and support. "As well as inspiring confidence and providing instruction in the way the contemporary pluralistic society could promote the wellbeing of both individuals and minority communities in this rapidly changing world, this is an enjoyable book," commented Mary Kelly in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies.

A Letter in the Scroll: Understanding Our Jewish Identity and Exploring the Legacy of the World's Oldest Religion is based on a personal essay Sacks originally wrote and presented to his children as a wedding gift. In the book, he writes deeply about the Jewish way of life, what it means to be Jewish, and the importance of maintaining a Jewish identity. Sacks notes that Jews have come to define themselves by the disasters, holocausts, persecutions, and negative aspects of Jewish history rather than by the internal beauty and strength of Judaism. The book offers "important ideas explained in a highly accessible manner," noted Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper. Marcia Welsh, writing in Library Journal, called it "a most profound and eloquently expressed meditation" for both Jewish and non-Jewish persons looking for a deeper and more refined understanding of the "Jewish legacy and commitment."

In The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations Sacks approaches and analyzes the many problems inherent in globalization. In the book, he provides a "look at the discontents of our world and how religious values can unite rather than divide us," observed Paul Kaplan in Library Journal. The rabbi notes that education, charity, responsibility, and other values are critical to a modern world, no matter one's religion. Sachs supports the development of more covenantal relationships between different populations and religious groups, and warns that commercial relationships will not be strong enough to last. He also strongly suggests that religious beliefs must underlie the development of a strong, safe, and respectful global society, and that each religion must learn to affirm and learn from other religions.

The Dignity of Difference was a source of controversy for its author. Orthodox rabbis sharply criticized the book, and Sacks was threatened with charges of apikoras, or religious heresy, because he suggested in the book that all faiths might learn from each other, implying that Judaism is not the one true religion. Sacks agreed to revise offending portions of the book for future editions.

Despite the book's reception among the orthodox community, other critics were much more favorably disposed toward it. A reviewer in First Things called the book "A timely and urgent statement by a major religious thinker." "Sacks does not offer much help in determining how religious people are to grapple with … theological questions," commented Paul Knitter in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research. "His brilliant service is in showing us that we must."

In To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility Sachs calls for a reaffirmation and reapplication of the core beliefs of Jewish social ethics, including justice, charity, pursuing the ways of peace, and mending the world. He also calls on people of all groups to behave with a greater sense of individual and ethical responsibility. Only by embracing and assuming this new level of responsibility can the seemingly impossible social and political obstacles of the modern world be overcome. Even acts of good that at the time seem minor or inconsequential can have a cumulative effect on the world, Sacks states. A Publishers Weekly contributor observed that "this powerful, biblically based plea for ethical behavior will appeal to non-Jews as well as to Jews," while Library Journal reviewer David B. Levy commented: "This brilliant book is not only for Jews but also serves as a moral Jewish voice in the conversation of humankind."



Booklist, October 1, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of A Letter in the Scroll: Understanding Our Jewish Identity and Exploring the Legacy of the World's Oldest Religion, p. 307; October 1, 2005, George Cohen, review of To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility, p. 31.

Conscience, winter, 2005, Amy Hutchinson, review of To Heal a Fractured World, p. 49.

First Things, March, 2003, review of The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations, p. 67.

International Bulletin of Missionary Research, July, 2003, Paul Knitter, review of The Dignity of Difference, p. 138.

Journal of Ecumenical Studies, summer, 1998, Mary Kelly, review of Faith in the Future, p. 518.

Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, spring, 1993, Gilbert S. Rosenthal, review of Orthodoxy Confronts Modernity, p. 255.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2005, review of To Heal a Fractured World, p. 835.

Library Journal, October 1, 2000, Marcia Welsh, review of A Letter in the Scroll, p. 110; November 15, 2002, Paul Kaplan, review of The Dignity of Difference, p. 77; October 1, 2005, David B. Levy, review of To Heal a Fractured World, p. 86.

Publishers Weekly, June 22, 1992, review of Crisis and Covenant: Jewish Thought after the Holocaust, p. 53; August 29, 2005, review of To Heal a Fractured World, p. 54.


Web site of the Chief Rabbi, (January 23, 2006).