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2 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great book, with a hollow centre, 22 Jun 2010
This review is from: To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility (Paperback)
Generally, this is a thoughtful book, and most inspiring, especially the focus on the Jewish doctrine of tikkun olam, which translated pretty much means the same as the title. Sadly though, where it fails to satisfy is in the author's reticence, within the book itself, in practising what he preaches. I found two particularly noticeable instances of this, both interlinked.

Towards the end of his book (p.209-215 of the 2005 paperback ed.), after recounting the touching story of Yoni Jesner's post mortem gift of life to the 7-year-old Palestinian girl, Yasim Abu Ramila, Sacks regretably appears to resort to negative stereotyping. In discussing the shocking and unjustifiable murder of the journalist, Daniel Pearl, the author writes of Pearl's father's desire "to engage with the world of Islam that had harboured Daniel's killers." To be sure, his murderers were living in Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country; but to talk of "harbouring" is surely to imply the population's general connivance with the crime. He then goes on to write of reaching out to Muslims, "one of whose people had just murdered a member of your family." Again, what is the sense of this? Is it not as pointless as remarking that, at Yitzak Rabin's funeral, his widow was surrounded by Jews, one of whom had just murdered a member of her family.

This brings me back to p.73, where Sacks outlines that "... For centuries Spain had been the home of medieval Jewry's golden age. Under relatively liberal regimes, Jews had risen to eminence in business, the sciences and public life. Their expertise was sought in finance, medicine and diplomacy. They sustained a rich intellectual and cultural life. Jewish learning flourished. Spanish Jewry was noted for its achievements in Jewish law, mysticism and philosophy. But the Jews of Spain were also well versed in the wider culture and made significant contributions to its poetry, politics, astronomy, medicine and cartography." And yet "They were never totally secure. There were periodic attempts to convert them to Christianity..."

Given the title and purpose of his work, and given the facts of the Arab-Israeli conflict over last sixty years, why did he not give credit where credit was due, explicitly mentioning the rights and freedoms accorded to Spanish Jewry under the Islamic state in Andalusia, instead perhaps leaving the historically unaware reader to infer that both the flourishing and the forced conversions occurred under Christian sway? Any why not clearly state that, at the time of the Reconquista, many Jews, great scholars like Maimonides amongst them, preferred the protection of Muslim rulers and the safety of North Africa, Egypt and the Middle East?

When faced with a marriage under pressure of exploding or collapse, does not the responsible, Godfearing Jew, like the Muslim (or Christian or Hindu), seek to calm the situation and affect reconciliation by emphasising to each spouse the good traits of the other, however modest they may be? There are a handful of occasions in this book for the Chief Rabbi to reach out in a spirit and gesture of peace to those with whom, according to the media, Jews today are most obviously in conflict, namely Arabs and Muslims. However, rather than use his position to reach out "To Heal a Fractured World", Jonathan Sacks seems to duck each and every opportunity in favour of what? Not upsetting the sensitivities of any pro-Zionist readers?

Let us hope that Sacks's next attempt to address the issue of conflict will be more generous in scope, and do "what it says on the tin".
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