Jonathan Sacks The Dignity of Difference (Krista Tippett)

MS. TIPPETT:You know, I start in this place with everyone I interview, whoever they are. If they’re a quantum physicist or a theologian. And I just wanted to hear something about the particular spiritual background of your childhood. Did you have a devout Jewish upbringing?

RABBI SACKS: I was the oldest of four boys. My father, who had come to Britain as a refugee from Poland at the age of six, had to leave school at the age of 14, so he never had an education — not Jewish or secular. My mother had to leave school at the age of 16. So my parents didn’t know that much. What they did have was a great love for Judaism. And, you know, I tend to think that’s the greatest gift you can give a child. Wordsworth said it beautifully. “What we love, others will love, and we will show them how.”

 

RABBI SACKS:No, actually. In 1990, the BBC asked me to give the Reith Lectures. They’re given once a year. There are six lectures on radio, first given by Bertrand Russell in 1948. I was only the second religious leader to give them, and I called them “The Persistence of Faith.” It was probably the first response to Francis Fukuyama’s vision of the end of history. You know, the Berlin Wall had fallen, Soviet Union had collapsed, end of Cold War. Everyone was seeing what he foresaw as the, you know, seamless spread of liberal democracy over the world.

And I said no, actually. I think you’re going to see faith return and return in a way that will cause some problems because the most powerful faith in the modern world will be the faith most powerfully opposed to the modern world. So that was in 1990, the year before I became Chief Rabbi. Nothing that’s happened since has surprised me, though it has saddened me. Religion is a great power, and anything that powerful can be a force for good or, God forbid, for evil. But it’s certainly fraught and dangerous and needs great wisdom and great — if I can use this word — gentleness.

 

MS. TIPPETT:And so I’d like to draw you out on how Jewish experience and Jewish tradition — you know, what resources and vocabulary that might bring to this global moment, which is not merely uncertain, but certainly marked by change, which is stressful for human beings. One of the ways you’ve talked about that, not uncontroversially, is about the approach you see deep within Jewish tradition to difference.

RABBI SACKS:Yeah. It seems to me that one of the things we most fear is the stranger. And at most times in human history, most people have lived among people who are mostly pretty much the same as themselves. Today — certainly in Europe and perhaps even in America — walk down the average main street and you will encounter in ten minutes more anthropological diversity than an 18th-century traveler would have encountered in a lifetime.

So you really have this huge problem of diversity. And you then go back and read the Bible and something hits you, which is, we’re very familiar with the two great commands of love: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might; love your neighbor as yourself. But the one command reiterated more than any other in the mosaic box — 36 times, said the rabbis — is love the stranger. For you were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Or, to put it in a contemporary way, love the stranger because, to him, you’re a stranger. This sense that we are enlarged by the people who are different from us — we are not threatened by them — that needs cultivating, can be cultivated, and would lead us to see the 21st century as full of blessing, not full of fear.

 

Oh, sure. I mean, you take — you know, I’m really not very good at sort of operating machines, so I fall back on that old aphorism, “When all else fails, read the instructions.”

MS. TIPPETT:Right. [laughs]

RABBI SACKS:And here we are reading those instructions afresh through the eyes of quantitative and experimental science and discovering what the great traditions of wisdom were saying three or 4,000 years ago. We now know that it is

  1. doing good to others,
  2. a network of strong and supportive relationships, and
  3. a sense that one’s life is worthwhile, are the three greatest determinants of happiness.

And, you know, somehow or other, against our will sometimes, we are being thrust back to these ancient and very noble and beautiful truths. And that we can now do so in a fellowship — awkward, perhaps, and embarrassed — between religious leaders and scientists and social scientists.

 

RABBI SACKS:Yeah. Well, let’s not try to describe this as 21st-century radical theology. It always helps if we can locate it in sacred texts. So for me, here is a moment where the hero of the Book of Exodus is a young man called Moses and the villain of the Book of Exodus is somebody called Pharaoh. But it’s Pharaoh’s daughter who, at great risk to herself, saves the life of this young baby who she knows immediately is a Hebrew baby, that she says so, and she knows her father has decreed that every male Hebrew child shall be killed. So at great risk to herself, she takes this child into her home and brings it up. So now we have the daughter of the biggest villain of the book who is responsible for the saving of the life of the hero. Now if that doesn’t challenge our paradigms, I don’t know what does.

You can find God in the other side, and that is something the Bible is doing quite a lot. After all, there’s only one perfect individual — well, perhaps two, if you like — in the whole Bible and neither of them is Jewish. One is called Noah and one is called Job and neither is Jewish. Noah comes before Judaism. Job is what I call every man. Then you look at all the prophets of ancient Israel, and they spent a lifetime preaching to the Israelites, and nobody listened. God sends one prophet, Jonah, to non-Jews, the people in Nineveh, the capital of Israel’s traditional enemy, the Assyrians. Here, all he does is say five Hebrew words, one English sentence: “In 40 days, Nineveh will be destroyed.” And they all repent. So it turns out that non-Jews are better at listening to Jewish prophets than Jews are.

MS. TIPPETT:[laughs] Right. So there is this paradox, this very interesting recurring threat of otherness and …

RABBI SACKS: The Bible is saying to us the whole time, don’t think that God is as simple as you are. He’s in places you would never expect him to be. And, you know, we lose a bit of that in English translation. Because, when Moses, at the burning bush, says to God, “Who are you?” God says to him three words: “Hayah asher hayah.” And those words are mistranslated in English as “I am that which I am.” But in Hebrew, it means “I will be who or how or where I will be,” meaning, don’t think you can predict me. I am a God who is going to surprise you. And one of the ways God surprises us is by letting a Jew or a Christian discover the trace of God’s presence in a Buddhist monk or a Sikh tradition of hospitality or the graciousness of Hindu life. You know, don’t think we can confine God into our categories. God is bigger than religion.

Javanka vs. the Klossy Posse

But while Will & Kate & Harry & Meghan are seen as a unit, pulling for Mother England together, Jared & Ivanka & Josh & Karlie are seen in opposition, in a public tug of war over American values.

Even as Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are inside the White House, helping to shape policies, Josh Kushner and Karlie Kloss are outside it, protesting against some of those policies.

It’s a perfect illustration of the riven state of the country right now, where all manner of Americans — from the Kushners to my family to the characters on “Roseanne” — are glaring at each other over an insurmountable fence.

.. Ivanka found that she could not reignite her father’s more liberal impulses, any hope that the pair could be a moderating influence vanished. Members of their old moneyed set began to dismiss Jared as “dumb” and “arrogant,” as several put it to me, and Ivanka as complicit, the label she got after Scarlett Johansson played her on “Saturday Night Live.”

.. one Vogue.com headline sniped in July, “It’s Time to Collectively and Officially Give Up on Ivanka Trump.”

.. The low point for the self-proclaimed daddy’s girl came a month ago when The Times reported that the president might be using his chief of staff, John Kelly, an adversary to Javanka, to push them out and back to New York.

.. “It’s not like they could leave and all of a sudden you have this quiet life. Look at Don Jr.” At this point, being a Trump is less a good brand than a bad state of mind.

.. His crown jewel, a health insurance company called Oscar, was structured around Obamacare — the main thing Trump has been trying to explode.

.. Josh and Karlie, both about 6-foot-2, ambitious and private, also showed up at the gun-control march last weekend. Josh posted a picture on Instagram of Karlie holding a sign that read “Load Minds, Not Guns” and donated $50,000 to the cause.

.. (Tiffany Trump, for her part, liked a post on Instagram showing a guy holding a sign that said “Next massacre will be the GOP in the midterm elections.”)

.. Like Ivanka before her, Karlie has had some rough patches in her romance because of the severe pressure she faces from Seryl and Charles Kushner, the parents of Josh and Jared, to convert to Orthodox Judaism.

.. In a story in The Forward, Margaret Abrams noted that, of course, the Kushners would not have been pleased with two such “WASP-worthy girls,” but given Charles’s controversial past, “they can’t exactly complain about the shiksas treating Yom Kippur like a juice fast.”

The Profound Connection Between Easter and Passover

It’s not just that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder. Both holidays are about the dead rising to new life

 .. Christianity’s most important day recapitulates Passover. Both holidays face head-on the daunting power of death—and both announce God’s greater power of life.
.. The Hebrew word for Passover is Pesach. In French, Easter is Paques.
.. They celebrated Easter on the first Sunday after Passover, as we do as well
.. all agreed on the central point: The lunar cycle that sets the date for Passover also determines Easter.
.. Passover emphasizes the blood of the Passover lamb, which Moses commands the Israelites to put on their door frames so that the Angel of Death, sent to kill the firstborn of Egypt, will “pass over” them. This image—the lamb whose blood saves—is taken up in the New Testament
.. Jesus himself is the Passover lamb, offered as a sacrifice for the whole world.
.. John 1:29 emblazoned: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
.. During the time of Christ, Jews came from the surrounding provinces to bring lambs to the Temple in Jerusalem for the Passover sacrifice.
.. “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord, our God, took us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.”
.. The Passover Seder recalls and celebrates the resurrection of the people of Israel.
.. Most religions regard death as profane and keep it far from their sacred sanctuaries. Christians, by contrast, allow death to come into their churches.

Netanyahu Criticizes American Jewish Leaders Over Western Wall Protest

JERUSALEM — In a sign of a growing rift, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized American Jewish leaders on Wednesday as a struggle over a stalled plan for equal prayer rights for both sexes at a Jerusalem holy site erupted with mutual recriminations and a tumultuous protest led by liberal rabbis wielding Torah scrolls.

.. The Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray, has become the crucible of a fight over rituals and a sense of belonging. Together with their Israeli counterparts, North American Jews, who overwhelmingly identify with the liberal, non-Orthodox Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism, have challenged the strictly Orthodox authorities who enforce the traditional practice at the site, in which scores of Torah scrolls are restricted for male use.

.. Liberal Jews hailed the decision as historic at the time, but the government has failed to advance the plan because of opposition from the ultra-Orthodox parties that Mr. Netanyahu relies on for his governing coalition.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, and with a petition pending before Israel’s Supreme Court, non-Orthodox rabbis and lay leaders defied traditional convention by marching to the Western Wall holding 14 Torah scrolls. Despite some violent pushing and shoving by orderlies and ultra-Orthodox counterdemonstrators, they broke through the security barriers.

Why American Jews Eat Chinese Food on Christmas

“Chinese restaurants were the easiest place to trick yourself into thinking you were eating Kosher food,” Ed Schoenfeld, the owner of RedFarm, one of themost laureled Chinese restaurants in New York, said. Indeed, it was something of a perfect match. Jewish law famously prohibits the mixing of milk and meat just as Chinese food traditionally excludes dairy from its dishes. Lee added:

If you look at the two other main ethnic cuisines in America, which are Italian and Mexican, both of those combine milk and meat to a significant extent. Chinese food allowed Jews to eat foreign cuisines in a safe way.

.. Schoenfeld, whose restaurant features an egg roll made with pastrami from Katz’s Deli, shrugs off the idea that Americanized Chinese food is somehow an affront to cultural virtue. “Adaptation has been a signature part of the Chinese food experience,” he said. “If you went to Italy, you’d see a Chinese restaurant trying to make an Italian customer happy.”

.. “I would argue that Chinese food is the ethnic cuisine of American Jews. That, in fact, they identify with it more than they do gefilte fish or all kinds of the Eastern Europe dishes of yore.”

Michael Wyschogrod, Dean of Orthodox Jewish Theologians, Dies at 87

God’s preferential love for Israel was the great theme of Wyschogrod’s own writing. Jewish history begins with an act of inexplicable love: God fell passionately in love with Abraham and for his sake loved his descendants. Wyschogrod’s most-read book,The Body of Faith, asserts that “Judaism is a religion of the body,” whose purpose is to sanctify the real, physical Jewish people so that it can be a fit vessel for God’s Indwelling (Shekhinah) in this world. His study of Kierkegaard and other Christian philosophers strengthened his argument that Judaism is an incarnational religion: The divine is physically present in the Jewish people.

.. Even if Christianity is wrong to worship a man-god, he argued, the Christian idea of Incarnation sheds light on a fundamental Jewish concept: that God’s Indwelling is present in the physical Jewish people. As the sages of antiquity said, the Shekhinah went into exile with the Jewish people after the destruction of the Temple.

.. Unlike Christian theologians, who characterize Judaic particularism in contrast to Christian universalism, Wyschogrod asserted that God’s first love for Israel did not exclude love for all humankind. On the contrary, “When we grasp that the election of Israel flows from the fatherhood that extends to all created in God’s image, we find ourselves tied to all men in brotherhood, as Joseph, favored by his human father, ultimately found himself tied to his brothers. And when man contemplates this mystery, that the Eternal One, the creator of heaven and earth, chose to become the father of his creatures instead of remaining self-sufficient unto himself, as is the Absolute of the philosophers, there wells up in man that praise that has become so rare yet remains so natural.”