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Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: Making the Jewish Voice More “Self-Confident”

The Jewish community in Britain represents only one-half of one percent of the population, but Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks believes it need not have a commensurate voice in the “human conversation.” Sacks, who is only the sixth person to serve as Britain’s Chief Rabbi since the position was formally created in 1845, says that he has worked to carve out an outsize influence for the Jewish community in the media, and is working to make the country’s Jewish community “much more self-confident and willing to engage with the world.”

In his Big Think interview, Sacks talks about the state of anti-Semitism in the world, calling it a “virus” and saying we are currently in the “fourth mutation.” Anti-Jewish sentiment has taken a number of forms over the years, he says, but it is now transforming into demonic anti-Zionism” that is focused not on Jews as individuals but Jews as a nation in their own sovereign state.  Essentially, this new type of anti-Semitism accuses Israel of “every kind of distress in the Universe.”

Modern anti-Semitism is one reason that the Jewish voice isn’t so confident, says Sacks. Jews are “paranoid,” says Sacks, because they have “defined ourselves as the people that dwells alone. We are nature’s victims. Everyone hates us. We always find ourselves alone.  When push comes to shove, our friends desert us.  Now, that is the negative self-image of Jewish life that has developed since the Holocaust, since 9/11 with the isolation of Israel, the return of anti-Semitism to Europe.” Sacks says that the danger of this self-image—which is untrue—is that it has the potential to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If you think you’re alone, you’ll probably find yourself alone. And I see the Jewish world pursuing these policies and they are disastrous.”

Sacks also says that, because of the size of its population, American Jewry is “exciting” in ways that the Jewish community in Britain—or in any European country—can’t be. “The sheer scale of Jewry in America is a quantum leap from what it is in any European country and that is… that results in enormous diversity, creativity,” he says.


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