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 “A Judaism Engaged with the World” – Torah v’Chokhma

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, inspiring intellectual and spiritual leader, left an indelible mark on the world through his profound insights, admirable writings, and remarkable contributions to interfaith dialogue. Born on March 1948 and passed away in November 2020, Rabbi Sacks was a renowned British Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, and theologian who served as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013.

While a student at Cambridge, he traveled to New York City, where he met with rabbis Joseph Soloveitchik and Menachem Mendel Schneerson (known to many as the Lubavitcher Rebbe or simply the Rebbe) to discuss a variety of issues relating to religion, faith, and philosophy. He later wrote, “Rabbi Soloveitchik had challenged me to think, Rabbi Schneerson had challenged me to lead”. Sacks subsequently continued his postgraduate studies at New College, Oxford and King’s College London, completing a PhD at the University of London. He received his rabbinic ordination from the London School of Jewish Studies and London’s Etz Chaim Yeshiva. After stepping down as Chief Rabbi, in addition to his international traveling and speaking engagements and prolific writing, Rabbi Sacks taught at New York University and at King’s College London.

Rabbi Sacks was widely respected for his ability to bridge the gap between tradition and modernity. He had a unique talent for articulating complex Jewish teachings in a way that it resonated with both a religious audience and the broader public. His work includes books, articles and speeches that explored ethics, faith, leadership, and societal challenges.

The favoured phrase of Rabbi Sacks was Torah vehokhmah (Torah v’Chokhma), ‘Torah and Wisdom’. “Torah, for Jonathan Sacks, represents the particularistic, inherited teachings of Judaism, while hokhmah (wisdom) refers to the universal realm of the sciences and humanities. “Chokhmah is the truth we discover; Torah is the truth we inherit. Chokhmah is the universal language of humankind; Torah is the specific heritage of Israel […]. Chokhmah tells us what is; Torah tells us what ought to be.”

Rabbi Sack’s legacy also included the exploration of the concept of “covenant”, a central theme in Judaism. He argued that societies function best when individuals see themselves as part of a shared covenant that transcends individual interests. This idea had implications not only for religious communities but also for society in general. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was a brilliant mind and a dedicated bridge-builder between faiths and cultures.

Further information

Goldman, Ari L. (9 November 2020). “Jonathan Sacks, the U.K.’s Inclusive Former Chief Rabbi, Dies at 72”. The New York Times.

Jonathan Sacks, Future Tense (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2009), p.221