By Jeremy Gimpel
Dear Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks,
I admire your work for and dedication to the Jewish people. Aside from shepherding the Jewish community of England and inspiring a generation of Jews around the globe, you have served as a remarkable ambassador of Torah to other religions and all nations. I have read just about everything you have ever published. Your message and delivery are unparalleled in our generation and I believe they have the potential to change the world.
I am devastated that you are not making Aliyah.
I was certain after retiring from the position of Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, Jerusalem would be your next stop. With your decision to move to New York holding influential positions at New York University and Yeshiva University, I have no doubt that you will change lives and bring a sorely needed light of holiness and Jewish pride to the United States. I am not challenging your decision but rather respectfully urging you to consider making New York your last stop before coming home to Israel… soon.
As a country and as Jews we need you in Israel now more than ever. It is also possible that your greatest contribution to the Jews of the world and the world at large will be when you lead from Israel and speak from Jerusalem.
The Jews in Israel need you here:
I made Aliyah in 1991, the same time you became the Chief Rabbi of England. In these 22 years, I don’t recall Israel ever being so divided. Unfortunately, the primary source of the chasm in the Jewish State today is rooted in the Jewish religion. From the Charedi dominated Rabbinate chasing one out of every three secular Jews to Cyprus for civil marriage to the controversy over egalitarian prayer at the Kotel, we need a thoughtful, diplomatic Torah voice in Israel to help guide us through these definitive, foundational times. Right now, the Jewish part of our Jewish-Democratic State is a train wreck.
I had hopes that the Religious Zionist politicians in the different parties would help bridge the gap but it seems Israeli politics has only created more animosity between religious and secular. Moreover, the internal wounds within the orthodox camp itself may take years to heal. The challenges in Israel are complex, but they are fundamentally Jewish and we need brilliant Jewish thinkers to navigate our country toward Ahavat Yisrael (love of Israel) and Achdut (Unity).
In one of my favorite speeches you delivered on Israel’s Independence Day (2005) you taught:
“Emunah is usually translated as faith, but it does not mean faith. It means faithfulness, loyalty, not walking away when times are tough. It means being steadfast in our loyalty to our people and our land, the home of all our hopes, the place where long ago the Jewish people was born, and where, within living memory, it has been reborn. Ve-erastich li be-emunah. We are betrothed to Israel in unbreakable, unshakable loyalty. Nothing will stand between it and our love.”
More than anything, Israelis need to be inspired again and reminded how marvelous it is to be Jewish and how truly fortunate we are to live in our ancient homeland.
Rabbi Natan Lopez Cordoza articulated it best in his editorial in the Jerusalem Post, ‘The Rebellion of Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’:
“Rabbi Jonathan Sacks became a rebellious man… His confidence in the power of Judaism and its infinite wisdom enabled him to enter the lion’s den, taking on famous philosophers, scientists, religious thinkers and sociologists and showing them that Judaism had something to teach that they couldn’t afford to miss if they wanted to be at the forefront of philosophy and science.”
The Israeli chief rabbinate has rarely contributed new theological ideas to Jewish tradition, ethics or general philosophy. Many of the rabbis lack any background in religious and secular philosophy and are unequipped and therefore unable to debate or influence the intelligentsia and academia in Israel. Ultimately, it is the thought leadership that determines the national direction for our country and your influence here could be monumental and historic.
The world needs you here:
For me, the existence of Israel is a fundamental source of pride and faith. “Ye are my witnesses, says the Lord, and I am God” (Isaiah 43:12). I understand this to mean that for God to be present and recognized in the world there must be witnesses. Without the people of Israel, the Bible is a good read but through Israel it is a voice, a power and a challenge. The Torah can no longer be relegated to ancient literature or treated like a forgotten book on primitive faith gathering dust in the attic. Through the modern Jewish State, we are living the covenant between God and Israel for the world to witness in wonder and amazement.
The re-birth of a sovereign Jewish nation-state is the single most significant achievement in modern Jewish history. The return to our land is a return to relevance, a process that restores the Jewish people to the highest level of international influence. We now have the greatest potential to either inspire and perfect the world or utterly fail on the international stage desecrating everything we hold holy, God forbid.
My greatest fear is that we, the Jewish people, blow it. Although we have come long way in 60 years, Israel is far from where it needs to be. We need your help, your leadership, your insight and your vision.
I have no doubt that your decision to move to New York is rooted in wisdom and weighty considerations. I am also confident you will be on the front lines battling for the Jewish State and our right to live as a free people in our land. I just want you to know the Jews in Israel are eagerly waiting for you to help us rebuild our national home and transform our ancient land into a modern Jewish paradise.
Please come home… soon.