Op-Ed: Did Former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks Misspeak?

Rabbi Sacks demanded action, not surrender, at the Herzliya Conference.

Published: Sunday, June 14, 2015 7:39 AM
Arutz Sheva

Back in the 1930s Zeev Jabotinsky warned his fellow Jews to “vacate Europe before Europe vacates you.”

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks had exactly that in mind when he spoke at Herzliya in what his detractors now call his “gloom and doom speech.”

They misunderstand. Rabbi Sacks told the harsh truth and let the chips fall where they may.

Like King Solomon in Ecclesiastes he indulged in prophetic despair. Tradition is on his side. Being critical is a Talmudic trademark and on Torah and Talmud Rabbi Sacks is a scholar of top rank. Many of us who use the computer as an added form of study to this day eagerly await his timely commentaries – always brilliant.

But was Rabbi Sacks really in despair, or is “disgust” the word we want? Rabbi Sacks knows Europe. When he says it’s time to leave, the wise start packing.

A generation ago many packed too late.

(I am not in his league on Torah scholarship, but on Europe and the midnight knock on the door, trust me, on this I speak as an authority.)

First let’s remember who we’re talking about. Of all the great European Rabbinic intellects, it was Sacks who was chosen as Chief Rabbi of the British Empire. He served this post with great honor and distinction from 1991 to 2013. He retired with laurels from non-Jews and Jews alike.

This is a man who walks with Princes. Kings, Queens and Archbishops learn from him.

When a man of this caliber speaks, we are warned to listen to each word and hasten to his lamentations.

His remarks at the Herzliya conference have been reduced, mostly by his critics, as being a call to “surrender.”

That is a total misunderstanding and misreading of his message.

Quite the opposite from surrender is what he had in mind. He demanded action.

What exactly did he say? He said that BDS and others of that ilk have created a “divisive” atmosphere for Jewish supporters of Israel.

He said “Jews have been faced with a choice: live in Europe and criticize Israel or be silent – or leave Europe.”

From France, Rashi would have said it just as crisply. From Spain, Yehudah Halevi who saw it coming a thousand years ago would have applauded.

Once again the fate of a people hangs in the balance. This was no time to be indirect, subtle or polite. Rabbi Sacks gave it straight, no sugar added.

A prophet, according to Abraham Heschel, is someone who knows what time it is.

Rabbi Sacks would be the first to deny prophecy for himself. But Rabbi Sacks knows what time it is.

On the one hand, Sacks was rebuking Europe, saying – again? Have you learned nothing? One Holocaust wasn’t enough?

Rabbi Sacks was speaking directly to his fellow Europeans. He minced no words registering his disgust.

Mostly though, he was talking to the Jews of Europe. He gave them a choice clearly enough, simply, that once again the place is unsafe.

It’s as bad as it ever was. Silence? Never an option.

So, time to do what? Surrender? No, not at all.

“Leave Europe,” he said. There is no other choice. There is no Plan B. That was his point, precisely and emphatically.

Leave, go to Israel, make Aliya. Act now! Europe is finished. Israel is waiting.

Those who misunderstand do so, once again, at their own peril. Rabbi Sacks got it exactly right.

Jack Engelhard writes a regular column for Arutz Sheva. The new thriller from the New York-based novelist, The Bathsheba Deadline, a heroic editor’s singlehanded war on terror and against media bias. Engelhard wrote the int’l bestseller Indecent Proposal that was translated into more than 22 languages and turned into a Paramount motion picture starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore. Website: www.jackengelhard.com