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June 01, 1990 - Image 35

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-06-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

June 1, 1990

renowned for his brilliance
as a speaker and all-round
communicator, for his erudi-
tion and for his dry, acerbic
wit. But he always looks as if
he would rather be in his
study — a converted shed at
the bottom of his North Lon-
don garden. He is not, he
concedes, a "natural rabbi,"
and he agrees that he will be
an extremely reluctant chief
rabbi.
Any one of the bright
young men of his generation
who had chosen to embark
on a religious vocation
would, he insists, have done
a better job. But when he
looks around today, 20 years
after the "big bang," he
finds that while most of his
Cambridge contemporaries
have remained religious,
they have become all sorts of
wonderful things, but not
rabbis or Jewish educators.
"I never thought about
anything so hard," he says of

"Pre and
post-Holocaust
Jewish existence
has traced out the
oldest and most
haunting theme of
the Bible: the
improbability and
yet the certainty of
the survival of the
covenantel
people."

)=C

his decision to accept the job
of chief rabbi. "It was a very
painful decision, a decision
that runs totally against the
grain of my inclinations."
Ultimately, though, he
was persuaded that he could
do it: "It was a job that need-
ed to be done and one that
would have to be done,
whatever the sacrifice. I'm
not saying that out of modes-
ty, but out of great personal
feeling." Jewish history, he
points out, is replete with
reluctant leaders: "Perhaps,
if a person were not reluc-
tant, he shouldn't be a
leader."
Certainly, Sacks' reputa-
tion has spread far beyond
Britain . He has been offered
a fistful of plum jobs in the
United States (he mentions
Lincoln Square in New York
and Beth Jacob in Los
Angeles), but he was never
seriously tempted to aban-
don his chosen vocation of
educating British Jews.
Having first rejected the
most glittering prizes that
the secular academic world
could offer and then some of
the most prestigious pulpits
the Jewish world could offer,

he opted to become principal
of Jews' College, London,
which trains rabbis and
teachers for the British
community and which, dur-
ing his five year incumben-
cy, has doubled its student
body.
Now, sitting in a spartan
room at the college, Sacks
surveys the daunting pro-
spect of being Chief Rabbi of
Great Britain and the Com-
monwealth, a role that he
can expect to fill the next
quarter-century of his life.
He would be less than
human if he did not flinch
slightly at such a prospect.
In formal terms, the Chief
Rabbi is leader of only those
who are affiliated with the
centrist United Synagogues
movement, which provides
the foundation of British
Jewry. In practice, however,
he is regarded by the wider
community as the spokes-
man for all British Jews, a
role that is likely to be
significantly enlarged as the
integration of Europe
gathers pace.
At the same time, he
knows full well that the
British community is spill-
ing out at both ends. Despite
the religious revival of re-
cent years, it has fallen in
numbers from a
peak of 450,000 to
to just over
300,000. And the hem-
morhage is continuing:
While the left is drifting into
assimilation and, in increas-
ing numbers, away from any
identification with the Jew-
ish community, the ultra-
right is tending towards a
total rejection of the secular
world.
Sacks laments the lack of
statistical and sociological
data about Britain's Jews, in
contrast to the wealth of in-
formation that the American
Jewish community has
about itself.
What he does know,
however, is alarming
enough: Two out of every
three young Jews who
should be showing up for
synagogue weddings are not
doing so (because they are
either marrying out or not
marrying at all); the Jewish
divorce rate doubled bet-
ween 1965 and 1980; one
Jewish child in six can ex-
pect to experience family
break-up by the age of 16.
For all his formidable
qualities, Sacks is seen as
being deficient in one very
obvious area: the lack of
years of yeshiva study and
the authority of exhaustive
Jewish learning.
To compensate for this, he
will travel to Israel in
September to spend a year at
the Harry Fischel Institute.

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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

35

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