Question: How is being Jewish different in the U.K. than it is
in the U.S.?
Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: The Jewish community in the United
States is 20 times as big as the Jewish community in Britain so you have
critical mass. We were walking through Fifth Avenue as part of the
Israel parade in New York. Now, the hundreds of thousands of people
that take part in that—we couldn’t possibly assemble that many people,
although you know, we’ve done not badly. But the maximum we’ve ever got
together is 55,000 Jews in Trafalgar Square. The sheer scale of Jewry
in America is a quantum leap from what it is in any European country and
that is… that results in enormous diversity, creativity. American
Jewry is exciting in ways that just don’t have the numbers for.
Question: Should the U.S. have a Chief Rabbi?
Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: The United States does not have an
Archbishop of Canterbury. It doesn’t have central institutionalized
religious leadership. So there’s no model on which the Jewish community
could possibly build. The United States is the United States and I
love it and Britain is Britain and it’s different. I mean we have
monarch. We have, you know, a House of Lords, all this kind of stuff
which just looks crazy to an American, or either that or very ancient.
And it is very ancient but it’s very beautiful so I think each country
finds its own way of being itself and every Jewish community finds its
own way of being Jewish.
Question: What do you say to those who believe the role of Chief
Rabbi has run its course?
Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: That statement really has never been
more untrue. It is absolutely clear today that given the smallness of
our community, not only are there more Muslims than Jews in Britain, not
only are there more Hindus than Jews in Britain, there are more Sikhs
than Jews in Britain. And if we continue to want to have some kind of
influence, we’re going to need the two kinds of representative voice
that we have. One if called the Board of Deputies, which defends Jewish
interestsa bit like your Conference of Presidents. And the other is
the Chief Rabbi who articulates Judaic principle. So given that the
world if more unstable—Europe especially than ever before—I think every
other religious community envies us for this particular office. The
Muslims, the Sikhs and the Hindus would love to have such a thing but
they are not constituted to do it and so they don’t.
Recorded May 24, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman