Rabbi Jonathan Sacks- Introductory Speaker for Pope Benedict.

Last Friday, the eve of Yom Kippur, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gave the introductory speech before Pope Benedict addressed and interfaith gathering in the chapel at St Marys University College in Twickenham.

Rabbi Sacks seems to have invested a great deal of time and import to the visit. He first prepared his own Jewish community in a message conveying the importance of the event, he then issued a message to the British newspapers, and finally he gave a third message before the religious leaders assembled in the chapel waiting to hear Pope Benedict’s message. In total three messages about the Pope’s visit before Yom Kippur.

Atonement and Forgiveness was his message for the Jewish community. In this talk, he starts with the persecutions of Judaism by Christianity, but he segues into the Jewish need to recognize the Christian change in attitude and their sincere reconciliation. Catholic and Jews are now friends. The chief rabbis applies the message of Yom Kippur of atonement and forgiveness to the Catholic Church and seeks a healing of the relationship of the two faiths.

Selections from “Atonement and Forgiveness, still have the power to transform relationships”
The story might have continued were it not for the darkest night of all, the Holocaust. In the wake of that event, a very great Pope indeed, Pope John XXIII, who had helped save many lives in the war years, began to reflect on the history of Christian attitudes toward the Jews, and came to the conclusion that those attitudes must change.

In 1962 he convened the Second Vatican Council, setting in motion what became three years later, though he did not live to see it, the declaration Nostra Aetate, “In Our Age.” It redefined the relationship between the Catholic Church and other faiths, especially Judaism and Islam. It was one of the greatest acts of reconciliation in religious history, and today Catholics and Jews meet not as enemies or strangers but as friends.

And by one of those coincidences that seem providential, the night of that meeting, this Friday, will be the beginning of the holiest day of the Jewish year, the Day of Atonement, our festival of forgiveness. How moving it will be, this year, to bear witness to how those two ancient ideas, atonement and forgiveness, still have the power to transform relationships and heal the wounds of time.

Rabbi Sack spoke in the chapel as the representative of all non-Catholic faiths. He praises the Vatican for its important Nosta Aetate and its instrumental role in creating an ecumenical environment. Sacks considers the secularization of the Seventeenth Century as due to the inability of religions to live peacefully together. It is interesting to note that Sacks does not quote Torah, rather John Henry Cardinal Newman, and Pope Benedict’s own Caritas in Veritate. In seeming appreciation nd agreement with the Pope, he quotes: “the development of peoples depends . . . on a recognition that the human race is a single family, working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side.”

Sacks gives his own theology when he states: “We celebrate both our commonalities and differences, because if we had nothing in common we could not communicate, and if we had everything in common, we would have nothing to say. “ We all have commonalities in faith and we have difference neither side should be ignored. There is one monotheistic God, but we should give dignity to our differences as enriching the world.

Some of the commonalities of Judaism with Christianity and other religions is that: “We believe in marriage as a commitment, parenthood as a responsibility, and the poetry of everyday life when it is etched, in homes and schools, with the charisma of holiness and grace.” He continues, “In our communities we value people…for what they are, every one of them a fragment of the Divine presence. We hold life holy. And each of us is lifted by the knowledge that we are part of something greater than all of us, that created us in forgiveness and love, and asks us to create in forgiveness and love. His further expansion of the ideas of faith itself as important and that we can relate to one another at a universal level of the God in the soul, which encourages engaging the other. “we recognize in one another the presence of faith itself, that habit of the heart that listens to the music beneath the noise, and knows that God is the point at which soul touches soul and is enlarged by the presence of otherness.”

Sack as a firm believer in having an Establishment Church assumes that “one of our commonalities is that we surely all believe that faith has a major role in strengthening civil society.”

Finally, Sacks concludes with the need to show honor to the Pope who has lead all of us “with wisdom and generosity of spirit, and may all
our efforts combine to become a blessing to humanity and to God.”

The entire Opening address at Interfaith gathering for Papal Visit

We welcome you, leader of a great faith, to this gathering of many faiths, in a land where once battles were fought in the name of faith,
and where now we share friendship across faiths.

That is a climate change worth celebrating. And we recognize the immense role the Vatican played and continues to play in bringing it about. It was Nostra Aetate, 45 years ago, that brought about the single greatest transformation in interfaith relations in recent history, and we recognize your visit here today as a new chapter in that story, and a vital one.

The secularization of Europe that began in the seventeenth century did not happen because people lost faith in God. Newton and Descartes, heroes of the Enlightenment, believed in God very much indeed. What led to secularization was that people lost faith in the ability of people of faith to live peaceably together. And we must never go down that road again. We remember the fine words of John Henry Cardinal Newman, “We should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend,” as well as your own words, in Caritas in Veritate, that “the development of peoples depends . . . on a recognition that the human race is a single family, working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side.”

We celebrate both our commonalities and differences, because if we had nothing in common we could not communicate, and if we had everything in common, we would have nothing to say. You have spoken of the Catholic Church as a creative minority. And perhaps that is what we should all aspire to be, creative minorities, inspiring one another, and bringing our different gifts to the common good.

Britain has been so enriched by its minorities, by every group represented here today and the intricate harmonies of our several voices. And one of our commonalities is that we surely all believe that faith has a major role in strengthening civil society.

In the face of a deeply individualistic culture, we offer community. Against consumerism, we talk about the things that have value but not a price. Against cynicism we dare to admire and respect. In the face of fragmenting families, we believe in consecrating relationships. We believe in marriage as a commitment, parenthood as a responsibility, and the poetry of everyday life when it is etched, in homes and schools, with the charisma of holiness and grace.

In our communities we value people not for what they earn or what they buy or how they vote but for what they are, every one of them a fragment of the
Divine presence. We hold life holy. And each of us is lifted by the knowledge that we are part of something greater than all of us, that created us in forgiveness and love, and asks us to create in forgiveness and love. Each of us in our own way is a guardian of values that are in danger of being lost, in our short-attention-span, hyperactive, information-saturated, wisdom-starved age. And though our faiths are profoundly different, yet we recognize in one another the presence of faith itself, that habit of the heart that listens to the music beneath the noise, and knows that God is the point at which soul touches soul and is enlarged by the presence of otherness.

You have honoured us with your presence, and we honour you. May you continue to lead with wisdom and generosity of spirit, and may all our efforts combine to become a blessing to humanity and to God.

The third piece that Sacks wrote was an op-ed message to the Pope about how the loss of faith in Europe has led to its loss of vitality and decent into a decadence without family, with poverty, suicide, and depression. Sack’s answer is to return to the 19th century values of Newman. A subtext is that the Pope can accomplish more as an intellectual and public religious figure, kinda like Sacks himself, than as the monarch over the Church.

selections from General message to the Pope

Times Op Ed – The Pope will find more glory without power

The current Pope is more than the leader of the largest religious community in the world. He is also a significant public intellectual with a strong sense of history

.According to Save the Children, 3.9 million children are today living in poverty, 1.7 million of them in severe, persistent poverty. 4000 children call Childline every day. 100,000 children run away from home every year. 20 per cent of deaths among young people aged from 15 to 24 are suicides. In 2009, 29.4 million antidepressants were dispensed, up 334 per cent from 1985. During the same period, Samaritans answered 4.6 million calls from people in distress. An estimated one million elderly people do not see a friend or neighbour during an average week.

These are the kinds of social problem that cannot be solved by government spending. They are the result of the breakdown of families and communities and the loss of trust and social capital. In the broadest sense, they have to do with culture and the lack of a shared moral code. Having lost much of its Christian heritage, Britain does not seem to have found a satisfying substitute.

Yet in the nineteenth century it became re-moralized in a process in which John Henry Newman, the man Pope Benedict XVI has come to beatify, played a significant part. It was a joint effort of churches, temperance movements, Sunday schools, charities and friendly societies. It was, admittedly, an imperialistic age, but it also saw the abolition of slavery, the birth of universal education, and campaigns against inhuman working conditions and cruel punishments. It showed that national decline is not inevitable. A culture can be renewed Britain

The Pope himself was equally enamored with Rabbi Sacks who was specially invited to give the address. He wished Jews “a happy and holy celebration of Yom Kippur.” And resonated with Sacks’ universalism. “I would like to begin my remarks by expressing the Catholic Church’s appreciation for the important witness that all of you bear as spiritual men and women living at a time when religious convictions are not always understood or appreciated.”

Pope Benedict paraphrased one of Rabbi Sacks ideas in his own speech. Sacks talks about working side by side in making the world better as well as face to face in dialogue. “As followers of different religious traditions working together for the good of the community at large, we attach great importance to this “side by side” dimension of our cooperation, which complements the “face to face” aspect of our continuing dialogue.” Then Pope Benedict translated the two aspects into the Church’s official PCID four aspects.

Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has placed special emphasis on the importance of dialogue and cooperation with the followers of other religions. In order to be fruitful, this requires reciprocity on the part of all partners in dialogue and the followers of other religions…Once such a respect and openness has been established, peoples of all religions will work together effectively for peace and mutual understanding, and so give a convincing witness before the world.

This kind of dialogue needs to take place on a number of different levels, and should not be limited to formal discussions The dialogue of life [a form of “side by side” dialogue] involves simply living alongside one another and learning from one another in such a way as to grow in mutual knowledge and respect. The dialogue of action [another form of “side by side” dialogue] brings us together in concrete forms of collaboration, as we apply our religious insights to the task of promoting integral human development, working for peace, justice and the stewardship of creation. Such a dialogue may include exploring together how to defend human life at every stage and how to ensure the non-exclusion of the religious dimension of individuals and communities in the life of society. Then at the level of formal conversations [“face to face” dialogue], there is a need not only for theological exchange, but also sharing our spiritual riches [formally known as a “dialogue of religious experience” ], speaking of our experience of prayer and contemplation, and expressing to one another the joy of our encounter with divine love.

My dear friends, as I conclude my remarks, let me assure you that the Catholic Church follows the path of engagement and dialogue out of a genuine sense of respect for you and your beliefs

7 responses to “Rabbi Jonathan Sacks- Introductory Speaker for Pope Benedict.

  1. Rawlsian justice is a system of basic liberties coupled with a redistributive scheme. The new conservative vision, far more apparent in the UK than in tea- party America, rejects this model of individuals and markets limited only by a govt. safety net and tax code. This third way rejects both neo- liberalism and the welfare state, claiming the former is a cruel, winner take all system while the welfare net and statism creates a passivity that is corrupting. The new buzzwords are community, local initiatives, civil society, which are supposed to stand between the state and the market. I imagine this as a nation filled with little Borough Parks and Monseys. These communities are governed by custom, tradition, religious leaders and emphasize absolute morality, honor and shame. Religion in public life will magically prevent speculative bubbles, sin and vice, corruption and decadence. Without religion and communities in public life, society will continue to deteriorate.
    Both the Pope and the Chief Rabbi, more or less in the same language, have accepted this vision. So have the new Anglican theological-political cadre called Radical Orthodoxy. From this cauldron we have a new political grouping , the Red Tories. These ideas were used as an ideological basis for the Cameron campaign, though so far no communitarian has been invited into the cabinet.
    I find all of this fascinating. Can Rabbi Sachs, Margaret Thatcher’s favorite clergyman, the close advisor to Blair and Brown, morph once again into a Disraeli for our time?
    In the Habermas-Pope Benedict debate, Habermas basically changed ideas of a lifetime. He now realizes that accepting the Rawlsian idea that metaphysical arguments have no place in public life, prejudices the debate in favor of the secular. No more veil of ignorance. Each religious community brings to the public arena its own conception of the good, informed and created by its tradition, and yet because everyone is monotheistic, and decent a stable equilibrium will prevail. Halevai!

  2. EJ-
    You basically nailed it. I have not had a chance or excuse to post on Radical Orthodoxy yet.
    I recommend your reading Ulrich Beck, A God of One’s Own (Sept, 2010)- His work is the new synthetic work and probably new starting text for these discussions. Beck discusses all of this Habermas, Pope Benedict, Red Torries and everything else. I will be posting on it after Hag.

  3. EJ —

    1) Technology is making geographic community recede in importance, compared to ideological community. By participating in this blog, we have identified ourselves as sharing preferences, despite the fact that I might be in Tunis, and you in Sydney. If that trend continues, a geographic community should be less and less able to e at enforce decorum.
    2) Religions have a mixed record at promoting morality, and I’m not aware of anything religion has to do with promoting macroeconomic goals.

    How would the Radical Orthodox address these points? Does it even need to?

  4. EJ, Rabbi Sachs was not Mrs. Thatcher’s favorite. That distinction belongs to his predecessor, Lord Jacobowitz.

  5. H Sragow…With respect to your first point, thesis #19 says “Virtual reality is seen as promoting the notions of infinite inter-substitutability and pure flux. Radical Orthodoxy takes these as threatening to destroy the beauty and teleology of the actual, and to remove both the capacity for sustained abstract reflection and direct sensual encounter with the embodied.” Remember Chabad’s mantra that the supernal lights can be accessed only through a davar gasmi lemataw meiasers tefucim.
    I remember reading this claim about speculative bubbles but I forget where. I guess the thought is that where there in a culture permeated by religious values, there would be a natural restraint not to lever beyond reason and natural prudence. The banking houses would not have allowed 40:1 loan- capital ratios, buyers would not have ever thought of buying expensive homes they could not afford and so on.
    The entire “official” 24 theses can be found here: http://elizaphanian.blogspot.com/2007/07/radical-orthodoxy-official-twenty-four.html
    Not every thesis is to be taken literally. They seem to enjoy being in opposition to all ideas post the high middle ages, but these are totally modern people, well versed in Continental philosophy. Some of it is just posing for the sake of dramatic effect.
    A spirited defense of their anti- nominalist position can be found in Catherine Pickstok’s “After Writing.” Who ever knew the future of Western Civilization depends on how we understand essence and accident? In their passion for essentialism and substance and their aversion to modernity they remind me of the Brisker branch of the Edah Hacharedis.

    M. Flax…You are correct. My mistake. It bothers me that now when you google “Rabbi Sachs Margaret Thatcher” my incorrect statement comes up first. I regret being responsible for spreading a falsehood.

  6. I reside in Charleston, SC – also called the “Holy City”- for our many different religions & tolerance/acceptance of different folk. Saying that the US is a “tea party” state is canard. NOT everyone agrees with those misguided lemmings & their politico agendas. America has “faith” yet America has also lost faith, become misdirected & totally self absorbed because a lot of people are indifferent & a lot of people NEVER had “religion” (maybe it was because their parents dropped the ball).

    [edited by site owner]

    I’m an American, Southern, Polish Jew who does NOT subscribe to any political party. So please don’t categorize all folks here as “Teabaggers” – they’re completely deluded & not even cohesive in their party, beliefs or agendas. Our “melting pot” is a mixed bag of folks who for the most part try to live in harmony – but as we all know that isn’t always the case.

    Kindest regards,
    –Pj Suttle

  7. For those interested, R Sacks’s newest book displays an almost pollyanish view of the future of anti Semitism, especially in the UK, and fails to understand that many mitzvos are built on the fact that we are commanded to live a different life than the Gentile world. No amount of “why can’t we all be friends despite our differences” rhetoric can ever overcome that fact. For those interested in the deep roots of anti Semitism in the UK, one should read Anthony Julius’ “The Trials of the Diaspora.”

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