on 4 August 2012
The central theme of Jonathan Sacks' book is his concern for the potential loss of Jewish identity, as so many Jews are neither practising their religion nor finding marital partners from within their community. That an outsider like me thinks of them as a community is itself a little odd, as Jews have had varying identities through both history and geography. The Diaspora following the Jewish revolts in Roman times resulted in communities isolated from one another developing their religious perspectives and learned writings to the point where modern Judaism is probably a broader church than the Christian faith, which itself varies considerably around the globe.
There are Jewish stereotypes that have nothing to do with religion, such as their apparent predominance is some professions, including banking and theatre. There's a branch of Judaism, magnificently dressed in tall fur trimmed hats around Clapton, London; each variation, as it were, doing its bit to maintain that four thousand year old identity, based, as the author explains, on their covenant with God; a covenant for them as a tribe, a society, not as a nation. They tried nation-hood in ancient times, but suffered from their land being the buffer zone between various regional powers who were so interested in getting at each other than they were happy to use Israel/Judea as the war zone. It was a bit like being Belgium in more recent history; going clockwise, Phoenicians, Hittites Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Philistines and once all that calmed down after the second exile, the Macedonians and then the Romans came and that led to the third exile.
The twentieth century tested Judaism as never before. Lord Sacks mentions the weird and discredited 'protocols of the elders of Zion' cobbled up by Russians in Paris; so damaging and so obviously not Jewish writing. There's not one scriptural reference in it and no real Jewish writer has managed that since Moses. Lord Sacks mentions the scriptures and many other writers - a lot of name dropping that doesn't work particularly well for an outsider, yet he still gets to his point for all readers, general and specialized. The current problem is that since the state of Israel was re-founded in 1948, the state-nation has become the international identity with which Jews are associated. The trouble with that seems to be that the nation's identity is derived from eastern European traditions that went through the melting pot of the Holocaust in the 1940s.
It's not an identity that sits well with everyone in the Diaspora, so the lowering of the collective profile outside Israel that this book addresses is, in part, a reaction to the nation carrying forward that 4,000 year old identity instead of the society. Judaism has survived millenia by reinventing itself. The magnificent Clapton Jews have only the covenant with God in common with those who followed Moses into the desert. Everything else about them has been arrived at through a sort of osmosis; that's what is happening again, and if you read what Lord Sacks has to say in this work, you can sense that the process is active again, as the Jewish community work a new identity for their fifth millennium in this changing world.
on 29 April 2015
When reading this book, it is written in exactly the same way as Rabbi Sacks speaks. There where times when reading it was as if I was actually listening to the Rabbi speak.
My reason for purchasing this book was to try and learn more about the Jewish Faith and Culture (I am not Jewish). Rabbi Sacks does this brilliantly and in a manner that makes the reader at once comfortable and relaxed.
I have learnt so much from this book but in so doing have been left with new questions and wanting to learn even more about Judaism.
It is a challenging read and by that I mean that at times I had to read parts perhaps two or three times to try and understand what was being said and what was meant. At other times, I found my challenged, spiritually despite the fact that I'm not Jewish. Of I'm being honest there have been many times, while reading this book that I have found myself to have been extremely jealous of those who are Jewish and at times I have been angry with those who are Jewish and who choose to ignore and reject the precious 'birthright' that they turn their backs on.
It is a brilliant book, written by one of our times most brilliant teachers and one of our times greatest religious leaders.
It has been a privilege, a blessing and a challenge to me to have read this book.