Jewry Is More "Exciting" in the U.S. Than in Europe

The size of the Jewish community in America is a quantum leap from what it is in any European country—and its sheer scale makes it more "exciting."
  • Transcript


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. 

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.

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