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Editorial

A giant of our times

'The former chief rabbi was a champion of faith in general, a spiritual leader who made religion relevant in the modern world'.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Photo: United Synagogue via JTA
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Photo: United Synagogue via JTA

“WE used to joke that if you bumped into my dad in the kitchen, he’d probably want you to work out how to solve global antisemitism while the kettle boils. But he did, because why wouldn’t he? Problems are there to be solved. Everything he taught, he wrote, were mainly in the things he chatted to us about while the kettle boiled.”

These were Gila Sacks’ words at her father’s funeral on Sunday. For those who knew Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks or had the privilege of hearing him speak, the description encapsulates this giant of our times – a towering intellect who was instantly relatable. A man who tackled major issues while making a cup of tea. An academic, intellectual and philosopher who was able to leave his ivory tower to speak to the masses – as much at ease offering counsel to presidents and prime ministers as the public.

“Rabbi Sacks’ ability to apply the timeless and ancient teachings of our Torah to the fast moving and ever evolving world in which live was remarkable,” noted the Rabbinical Association of Australasia. “Rabbi Sacks’ impact on Jewish communities across the globe has been enormous and he will be sorely missed.”

A champion of our faith – whether promoting Judaism, challenging antisemitism or speaking up for Israel on the world stage – the former chief rabbi was a champion of faith in general, a spiritual leader who made religion relevant in the modern world. 

In the words of Prince Charles, “His immense learning spanned the sacred and the secular, and his prophetic voice spoke to our greatest challenges with unfailing insight and boundless compassion. His wise counsel was sought and appreciated by those of all faiths and none.”

Indeed, there were those who felt he related better to other faiths than different streams of his own faith. But while there were tensions with both those to the religious left and religious right of Modern Orthodoxy, the tributes that have since flowed demonstrate that despite the strained relations, he was universally respected. Echoing praise from Reform and Liberal Judaism in the UK, as Union for Progressive Judaism co-president David Knoll said, “The world is richer for the manifold contributions of this gracious, intellectual giant.”

Today though the world is all the poorer for his loss.

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