Rabbi Sacks on Advice for our Times
JInsider (March 2010)
I partly wrote my latest book, Future Tense to combat this feeling that we’re living the worst of times. Look, there’s Israel isolated on the international arena. There’s antisemitism returning to the world 65 years after the Holocaust. Oi! Things are bad. Hang on, guys. We’ve been around for a long time, 4,000 years. Tell me any other time. When we had our own state and sovereignty in Israel and equality and dignity in the diaspora, we may well be living at the best of times. Of course, it’s never easy to be a Jew, but I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to live as a Jew because you can go to Israel and know what it is to walk through the Jewish landscape and speak the Jewish language and be part of an unbroken Jewish history. And then all of a sudden you come back to New York, or as I discover in London, in Britain, people, not Jews alone, but people generally look for Jewish inspiration, Jewish guidance.
Here we are engaging in, in vitro fertilisation, cloning, genetic interventions, things human beings have never done before. And where do you turn for guidance? Pure reason? Well, pure reason, you know, as pure reason, isn’t really a compass. You know, it depends on what your starting positions, what your axioms are and who knows how tested human reason is because we’re dealing with a landscape we’ve never been on before uncharted territory. When you’re in uncharted territory and you don’t have a map, take a compass. And there is no more tested compass than Judaism. This collection of wisdom, that’s been tested against reality for 4,000 years.
And therefore we say things about medical ethics that not many people say. A lot of very religious people say, don’t do genetic engineering in vitro fertilisation. You’re playing God, leave that to God. And we say, no. We say, God asks us to be His partners in the work of creation. So how can we use this technology to allow infertile women to know the blessing of a child? And all of a sudden you realise this most modern of technologies answers this most ancient of dilemmas cause Sarah and Rivka and Rachel prayed to God for a child. And it was the great work of God to give them a child. And now He’s taught us how to be His partners and we can treat, treat infertile women and give couples children that they prayed for but at any previous age weren’t able to have.
So stop being negative about Jewish identity. To me, what it is to be a Jew in the world is to walk with pride, but never arrogance, to feel a sense of thanks to God for our faith without ever denigrating anyone else’s faith. As I put it, to be a Jew is to be true to your faith and a blessing to others regardless of their faith. And I would look at Judaism in the 21st century and say, without being blind to any of the dangers and any of the risks, now is the greatest moment to be a Jew that we have ever known. So don’t let’s blow it this time. Let us go out there full of confidence and live our Judaism and share some of its wisdom with whoever turns to us for advice.