Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A Defining Speech: Rabbi Sacks' Manifesto

He may not have the title of Chief any more, but to the thousands of people who came to, or tried to come to, hear Rabbi Lord Sacks speak, he is still one of the most sought-after figures in the Jewish world.

Having heard Rabbi Sacks speak many times in the UK, I thought that tonight might hold a sense of deja-vu, the only difference being the novelty of hearing him in Israel. However despite the fact that some of his ideas, and certainly jokes, were not new, there was a fundamental difference with the speech he gave at the Great Synagogue tonight.

It was more than a speech - it was a manifesto. Rabbi Sacks was unequivocal in his message. The Torah was always intended as a protest against the two early failures of man - the barbarian world of Adam and Noach which ended in the flood and the imperialist world of Nimrod which ended in the dispersion following the Tower of Bavel. Therefore, by definition, Judaism was always meant to engage the world. And now that we have a Jewish state, we are now able more than ever before to finally realise this mission.

He went on to explain that following the enlightenment and ensuing assimilation which was accompanied by growing and extreme anti-semitism, ending in the Holocaust, Judaism split into two parts: the inward-looking religious world which sprouted the most remarkable recovery of Torah learning in Jewish history and the outward-looking secular Zionist world which built the State of Israel. The time has come, said Rabbi Sacks, to bring these two sectors together and unite the ideas. The time for Sinat Chinam is over and we must build the State of Israel together, the greatest Kiddush Hashem in history.

Although neither of those two groups were represented in the audience, a third group that is capable of realising this message was. The Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist community have the tools to be able to unite the nation through their belief in Torah study, the State of Israel and an engagement with the wider world. And for this community, there is now a leader in Rabbi Sacks, who, free from his commitments to the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, is now dedicating his life to pursuing this mission and empowering others to do the same.

Rabbi Sacks singled out the youth as the people who can bring about this change. It may sound cliche, but a cursory glance around the synagogue showed that this was not just a mere throwaway statement. Of the audience, a very sizable proportion were aged between 18-30. It was the social event of the year for people on their gap years in Israel. Rarely does a talk from a rabbi attract the many hundreds of young people like this.

Rather than being a keynote speech of a retired public figure, Rabbi Sacks has started to lay down a manifesto for what it means to be a Jewish nation in the 21st Century. He has promised to inspire a new generation of leaders who will take his messages forward and actualise them. Today's speech in Israel was a defining moment in the career of Rabbi Sacks, and could yet be a milestone in the Modern Orthodox world.

1 comment:

  1. "The time for Sinat Chinam is over and we must build the State of Israel together, the greatest Kiddush Hashem in history." - I like this... It's time to return to Zion!