Jewish Unity: Three Reflections

Produced by World Mizrachi this video features three clips from Rabbi Sacks discussing the topics of Jewish unity, conflict resolution, and our shared covenant and fate. This compilation is an engaging tool to use to open up discussions around the Fast of Tisha b’Av, with its theme of sinat chinam and ahavat chinam.


First clip: Rabbi Sacks in New York, at a UJA / Jerusalem Unity Prize event in 2015.

Second clip: From the Ask Rabbi Sacks project, when Rabbi Sacks was asked, ‘How can Jews with different opinions to come together as one people?’

Third clip: A video where Rabbi Sacks speaks about Community Conflict as part of the Jinsider series.

If We Are United, No Power On Earth Can Prevail Over Us

Friends, if you look at Jewish history, you find something extraordinary. The Jewish People was assaulted by some of the greatest empires the world has ever known: Egypt of the Pharaohs, Assyria, Babylon, the Alexandrian Empire, the Roman Empire, the medieval empires of Christianity and Islam all the way through to the two great forces of the 20th Century – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Every one of them tried in some way to attack either Jews or Judaism. And every one of them, the superpower of its day, has been consigned to history, and our tiny, vulnerable people can still stand and say Am Yisrael Chai – the Jewish people lives.

And yet, three times in history our people went into exile. Once in the days of Joseph and his brothers. A second time after the destruction of the First Temple. A third time after the Roman destruction of Judaism.

And all three times for the same reason: the reason that the Torah says about Joseph and his brothers – vayisnu otto – they hated him – lo yachlo dabro leshalom – they could not live and speak peaceably with him. And that is what happened in the days of Joseph, in the days of Bayit Rishon, after a mere three kings of Israel, the kingdom split in two and as, in deference to where we are, Abraham Lincoln said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.

And then in the Bayit Sheini period, if you read Josephus, you see there were times when the Jews inside Jerusalem were more intent upon fighting one another than the enemy outside. This means there is only one people on earth who capable of threatening the future of the Jewish People. And it is: the Jewish People.

If we are united, no power on earth can prevail over us…

A Covenant of Fate

You see, Hashem, in choosing Am Yisrael, the Jewish people, and in making a covenant with us, really has two ways of relating to us.

The late Rabbi Soloveitchik called it the brit goral and the brit ye’ud the covenant of fate and the covenant of faith. And that becomes terribly important because it means that we’re not only a religious community with all the divisions that exist within us on religious matters. We’re also a people, or to put it more simply, a single extended family. And we are joined by bonds of responsibility, kol yisrael ereivim zeh bazeh.

And whenever, God forbid, bad things happen to Jews, all Jews feel the pain. When good things happen to Jews, all Jews feel the sense of pride and the sense of joy. So even when we are divided on matters of faith, we are still united on matters of fate. And that means that we have to work together on the matters on which we don’t disagree…

Unity Without Uniformity

We argue. How then do we stay as one? By the sheer force of the argument itself.

We stay, we converse, we disagree, but we never split apart. The Sages coined the most beautiful idea. They called it machlochet lesheim shamayim, Argument for the Sake of Heaven. And the Talmud dramatises it. It says Rabbi X says this, Rabbi Y says that. The Rabbis, inquired “who is right?” And Heaven replied, “eilu v’eilu divrei elokim chayim” they are both the words of the living God. God enjoys an argument.

So the Talmud says this: “afilo av u’beno, afilo rav v’talmido” when a father and son or a rabbi and a disciple sit together, they become enemies to one another, that they argue. “ve’einu zazim misham ad sh’ne’a’sim ohavim zeh b’zeh,” but they do not part from there until they become lovers of one another. Why? Because et ahav basufa, if you stay within the argument, there is love at the end.

In other words, Judaism believes that the argument itself is the total conversation of the Jewish people in dialogue with God. And so long as we can keep arguing with one another, never leaving the table, but engaged in the collaborative pursuit of truth, that is what holds the Jewish people together. Unity without uniformity. The willingness to keep talking, even with those with whom we disagree.