THE Australian Jewish community will come together tonight (Thursday) to commemorate a rabbinical giant of his generation: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.
Tributes from across the country – including from Prime Minister Scott Morrison – have poured in since the former chief rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth passed away on Saturday morning at the age of 72 after a third battle with cancer.
“I join with the Jewish community around the world to give thanks for the life and legacy of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks,” Morrison said.
“His inspirational teachings and wisdom have long transcended the faith divide and been an important voice for peace, hope and understanding.
“He will be greatly missed.”
One of the world’s leading Jewish voices, Rabbi Sacks was a prolific author and scholar whose wisdom was often quoted by international leaders.
He was outspoken in his condemnation of antisemitism, famously labelling former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn an antisemite and declaring anti-Zionism a new form of antisemitism.
He visited Australia most recently in 2006 and 2012, hailing the Australian Jewish community as “blessed with wonderful rabbis and exceptional lay leaders”.
In May this year, Rabbi Sacks took part in a virtual event organised by our community to mark Lag b’Omer, and was quoted by Morrison in a video message to the community for the High Holy Days.
“The Jewish world, and the whole of humanity, has been left much the poorer for his passing,” Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) co-CEO Peter Wertheim said.
“For Rabbi Sacks there was no hard and fast division between Jewish and secular knowledge. There was just knowledge. More important was the wisdom that comes with knowledge, and he had it in abundance.
“He had an extraordinary command of Jewish learning, moral philosophy and ethics, and a wonderful ability to convey his ideas to a wide audience, regardless of their level of education.”
Speaking in federal Parliament on Monday, Labor MP Josh Burns acknowledged “a giant not just of the rabbinical world but of Britain, the UK and the wider world”.
“He was a man of giant intellect and of a great moral compass.”
Stating Rabbi Sacks was “one of the most profound influences on my life”, federal Liberal MP Julian Leeser reflected, “He reminded Jews to ‘be true to your faith and a blessing to others regardless of their faith.’
“His scholarship and erudition enabled him to put things into words for people of faith in a way that restored their pride at a time when people of faith have been increasingly under attack.”
Saying Rabbi Sacks’ teachings will continue to inspire for decades to come, the Rabbinical Association of Australasia (RAA) and Rabbinical Council of NSW (RCNSW) said, “Rabbi Sacks’ ability to apply the timeless and ancient teachings of our Torah to the fast moving and ever evolving world in which we live was remarkable. Rabbi Sacks’ impact on Jewish communities across the globe has been enormous and he will be sorely missed.”
The Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) described Sacks as “a shining example for world Jewry and beyond”.
“He taught Torah in a way that was relatable to the modern world. He addressed some of the complex ethical and moral issues of our time with empathy and respect and demonstrated the true qualities of leadership. He was respected by people of all faiths and none, for his reason, compassion and moral clarity.”
Rabbanit Ellyse Borghi said Rabbi Sacks provided her with the “confidence to practise my Judaism proudly throughout my university years knowing that I have inherited a religion of ethics and compassion”.
“He was an exceptional ambassador for Judaism to the wider community, clearly articulating the Jewish value of humanity and taking seriously the divinity within each person,” she added.
Union for Progressive Judaism co-president David Knoll said, “The world is richer for the manifold contributions of this gracious, intellectual giant, who I had the honour to meet when he visited Sydney some years ago.”
It is very sad that we lose a great Leader and Philosopher former chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks,
His inspirational words have been quoted by so many including Rabbis, teachers and even politicians.
— David Southwick (@SouthwickMP) November 7, 2020
Noting Rabbi Sacks “inspired a generation of young Jews and demonstrated moral courage in everything he did” and was passionate and outspoken about Israel, emphasising the importance and centrality of Israel to the Jewish people, Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) president Jeremy Leibler said, “A mensch in the purest form, the world is a darker place without the compassion and insight of Rabbi Sacks. We send our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.”
The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council added, “For many years, his weekly Torah commentaries have been essential reading and he has become one of the few religious voices which was respected, considered and welcomed in public discourse.
“His memory will always be a blessing.”
Caulfield MP David Southwick said Rabbi Sacks’ “legacy and inspirational teachings will continue to make the world a better place for generations to come”.
Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich described Rabbi Sacks as “a visionary and fearless leader, scholar and monumental figure who was at the epicentre of the Jewish world for decades”.
Hailing Rabbi Sacks as “a luminary of the Jewish people” and “a beloved figure across the globe”, Moriah College principal Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler said, “We were fortunate to welcome Rabbi Sacks to Moriah College in 2006, and today, the Moriah family joins the world in mourning the loss of this incredible man.”
The Council of Christians and Jews added, “Together with Jews of all stripes and people of faith around the world, we mourn his intellect, his ability to explain even the most complex concepts in simple terms, but most of all we mourn his humility, his passion and his humanity.”
On Wednesday night, members of the community joined an online memorial hosted by the ZFA and the ECAJ. Tonight (Thursday) at 8pm, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth Ephraim Mirvis, and federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, will lead tributes in an online commemoration hosted by the RAA, RCV and RCNSW.
Thursday’s commemoration is at tinyurl.com/rabbilordsacks.