Jonathan Sacks had been Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013. Throughout this period and after, he conducted a continuous programme of visiting communities large and small throughout the UK as well as making significant and long remembered visits to Australia, Canada, South Africa, Hong Kong and other countries of the Commonwealth and, of course, regularly speaking and teaching in the USA and Israel. There can hardly be a thoughtful Jew in the world, of any denomination or none who has not heard one of his talks, followed one of his podcasts, read one of his posts or studied one of his books. Further, his masterful commentaries on the siddur (prayerbook), weekly Torah readings (in Covenant and Conversation) and festival prayers breathed new life into well-worn prayers and texts, casting a scintillating fresh insight into the central texts and teachings of the Jews.
But Sacks was a Professor as well as a rabbi. He communicated far beyond the Jewish world. His books were considered valuable and uplifting by the wider public and leading world figures. Indeed, Prince Charles, in a lovely turn on Isaiah’s expression of the mission of the Jews, called Sacks a ’light unto this nation’ in his comments at Lord Sacks’s retirement from his role as Chief Rabbi.
It is no exaggeration to say that few rabbis have ever done more to help the ordinary Jew make sense of the challenging realities of the current world through the rich resource of Jewish teaching. In that, his closest parallel is Maimonides. It is no coincidence that these two both shared a fascination for how philosophy can clarify and sharpen one’s view. Both knew that Jewish teaching had much to say of value in the world’s conversations and both were unflinchingly confident in their mission – and their ability – to share all they could both with their fellow rabbis, but perhaps more importantly, with the ordinary Jew.
We mourn his loss and urge all readers of this to not let his going pass without note. If you wish to memorialise Rabbi Sacks and mark his passing in a fitting way, read something he’s written. If you do, I’m fairly sure you will want to read more – and that will be his legacy, and the one he would have wanted.
CEO – CJC
8th November 2020