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Israel’s Actions Are Becoming Incompatible with Jewish Ideals, Says British Chief Rabbi

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September-October 2002

Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s chief rabbi, told The Guardian of London that he regarded “the current situation as nothing less than tragic. It is forcing Israel into postures that are incompatible in the long run with our deepest ideals.”  

Some things happening in Israel made him “feel very uncomfortable as a Jew,” Sacks said. In particular, he said, he was “profoundly shocked” by a photograph of smiling Israeli soldiers posing with the corpse of a Palestinian.  

“There is no question that this kind of prolonged conflict, together with the absence of hope, generates hatreds and insensitivities that in the long run are corrupting to a culture,” he said.  

Washington Jewish Week (Sept. 5, 2002) reports that, “In a Selichot sermon at London’s Golders Green Synagogue, Sacks appealed to the large congregation to demonstrate ‘compassion, generosity of spirit, gentleness ... Why the anger, the vituperation, the aggression that seems to erupt in Jewish life today ... how can we ask God to forgive us if we can’t forgive one another?’ he said. Judaism, he continued, is ‘the faith that first discovered the idea of forgiveness ... it did not exist before the Torah appeared in the world.’ He added that ‘despite our differences and disagreements, which are natural, we must be generous and gentle with one another.’”  

Rabbi Sacks revealed that after Israel gained control of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, he was “convinced that Israel had to give back all the newly gained land for the sake of peace.”  

The comments by Rabbi Sacks were both criticized and supported. The Jerusalem Post published an editorial calling for his resignation. Rabbi Sholom Gold, dean of the Jerusalem College for Adults in Israel, said, “I have a great deal of respect for the chief rabbi. And therefore it is extremely sad for me to hear him make comments of such a nature which for all intents and purposes will now make him irrelevant in the world Jewish community.”  

In a straw poll conducted by the newspaper Ha’aretz, British-born rabbis in Israel praised Sacks for “his courage in following in the paths of earlier Jewish leaders who have spoken out against Israel’s misdeeds.”  

In his new book, The Dignity of Difference, Rabbi Sacks says of the Israel-Palestine conflict that the solution is two states, “roughly coinciding with existing centers of population, an agreement about Jerusalem and holy sites so that each has access to places important to them, joint supervision of shared resources such as water and an international accord about the future of displaced refugees.”  

Discussing Rabbi Sacks’ statement, Rabbi Jacob Neusner, Research Professor of Religion and Theology at Bard College, declares: “As a principal moral authority of contemporary Judaism, the chief rabbi reaffirmed the ideals of the Torah, which teaches that when the Egyptian pursuers drowned in the sea, God did not join in singing the Song of the Sea but rather lamented, ‘The work of my hands sinks into the sea, and should I rejoice?’” (National Jewish Post and Opinion, Sept. 11, 2002.)

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