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Question: Why isn’t the Jewish voice more self-confident?

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:  Because we’re paranoid. That's really why I wrote the book "Future Tense." We have defined ourselves as the people that dwells alone.  We are nature’s victims.  Everyone hates us.  We always find ourselves alone.  When push comes to shove, our friends desert us.  Now, that is the negative self-image of Jewish life that has developed since the Holocaust, since 9/11 with the isolation of Israel, the return of anti-Semitism to Europe.  And I wrote this book because I believed that is the worst possible self-definition… it will be… first of all it isn’t true.  Second of all, it’s thoroughly miserable and self-pitying.  And thirdly, it has an enormous risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you think you’re alone, you’ll probably find yourself alone.   And I see the Jewish world pursuing these policies and they are disastrous.

Why has being Jewish become a burden?

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:  That is the residue of anti-Semitism.  There’s an anti-Semitism out there but if you’re subjected to it for long enough, it begins an anti-Semitism in here.  In its very extreme form, self-hatred, but it can take all sorts of other forms.  I mention in the book that wonderful remark of the late Shlomo Carlebach, who went around university campuses all his life, loving everyone and he used to say, I ask people, what are you and I know when somebody says I’m a Catholic, I know that’s a Catholic.  Somebody says, I’m a Protestant, I know that’s a Protestant.  Somebody says, I’m just a human being, I know that’s a Jew.

Now, you know, let’s move beyond that and so I have defined in the book a Judaism that we can share with the world.  I define Judaism as the voice of hope in the conversation of humankind.  And that’s why I really share my Judaism with the British public, that is 99.5 percent not Jewish.  I do so, broadcasting to them, be they Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Muslin or secular, and we try and share our wisdom and, you know, the result is I’m probably better known by the non-Jewish public than even by the Jewish public and people like that.  There’s nothing really threatening about Judaism because we don’t try and convert anyone.  So we say, look, guys, this is how we say things.  If it makes sense to you, please have it and if it doesn’t, that’s okay.

Recorded on May 24, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman

More from the Big Idea for Monday, July 12 2010


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