On Friday morning, people listening to BBC Radio 4’s popular Today program heard a familiar voice addressing them on “The Thought for the Day” slot. It was Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks making his final appearance.
This afternoon, Rabbi Sacks will formally step down from the post he has filled for the last twenty-two years and induct Rabbi Eprhaim Mirvis as Great Britain’s new chief rabbi. Some 1,400 guests, including Prince Charles, will attend today’s ceremony at St. John’s Wood Synagogue in London. However, it was that two-and-a-half minute homily on the importance of faith that encapsulated the farewell of a religious leader who has succeeded like no other rabbi before him in crafting a message palatable to much wider audiences than his congregation, and transcending the confines of the Jewish community.
In the short broadcast, Sacks ticked all the right boxes. He thanked British society for its respect for different beliefs, highlighted the civic responsibility of the Jewish community, name-checked the Holocaust, the quest for peace and even managed to include a tiny dig at atheists for elevating science above religion. It was classic Sacks: elegant, mellifluous, open-ended and shying away from controversy.
He repeated his favorite slogan, “the dignity of difference,” the title of one of his many books, and the catch-phrase with which he has sought to dampen down discord, although it often hobbled him in his dealings within the Jewish establishment.
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