God does not want us to understand
November 10, 2020 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has died. The former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Sacks was an intellectual and a leader, but most of all a scholar and teacher respected by Jews of every denomination. He spent most of his life's work focusing on the question of how humanity can do better to one another, the importance of interfaith communications to prevent religious-based violence, and the struggle to find meaning in an unjust world. posted by Mchelly (26 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by jquinby at 9:35 AM on November 10, 2020


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posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 9:49 AM on November 10, 2020


Rabbi Sacks vs. Dawkins (2012)

(Sacks won :)
posted by sammyo at 9:52 AM on November 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


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I have never really been in touch with my Jewish heritage, but I wonder if I had been exposed to someone like this earlier on if that might be different.
posted by Alensin at 9:59 AM on November 10, 2020 [3 favorites]


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posted by ChuraChura at 10:33 AM on November 10, 2020


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posted by meinvt at 10:34 AM on November 10, 2020


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posted by pt68 at 10:40 AM on November 10, 2020


So, to recap, God allows or facilitates injustices to innocent people so that the rest of us have something to resist. OK.

This agnostic rolled his eyes and turned off NPR.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:43 AM on November 10, 2020 [13 favorites]


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posted by Cash4Lead at 10:51 AM on November 10, 2020


That seems like a willfully uncharitable reading of that quote, ryanshepard.
posted by obfuscation at 10:53 AM on November 10, 2020 [8 favorites]


So, to recap, God allows or facilitates injustices to innocent people so that the rest of us have something to resist. OK.

I'm pretty sure that's the opposite of what he was saying. His point was that we don't know why bad things happen to innocent people. It's not that a deity is doing this so that people will react in a certain way. Whether a deity does or doesn't exist, injustice still strikes innocent people. No matter what we believe (or don't), humans still have to come to terms with that moral imbalance.

So if you are a person of faith, asking why won't get you anywhere - just the same as if you're an atheist. We'll never know why. But rather than wait for answers, or demand them, or feel angry at that deity for not providing them, we can lean into that lack of answers and realize that if we want things to be better, we have to fight to make them better ourselves.

It's not transactional. It's a view of G-d that assumes people have agency.
posted by Mchelly at 11:12 AM on November 10, 2020 [38 favorites]


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posted by mumimor at 11:18 AM on November 10, 2020


That seems like a willfully uncharitable reading of that quote

Sacks's is right to be saying that theodicy is a mistake, theodicy meaning attempts by theologians and philosophers to explain why God allows bad things to happen. Their solutions are generally pat, verging on obscene. I agree with Sacks that any God worth following does not want us to have answers that make the existence of evil tolerable.

ryanshepard is right to be dissatisfied with the fact that the Problem of Evil is being left open. If we ought to be struggling to eliminate injustice, should God not be struggling to eliminate injustice? Abraham asks the same question: "shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" My suspicion is that it would take more than a minute and thirty seconds for Sacks to give his teaching in full.

Mchelly, thanks for providing this compilation of Sacks' work. This is my first exposure to his work, and it clearly merits a deep dive.
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posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:22 AM on November 10, 2020 [7 favorites]


"God does not want..."

"He wants..."

"God has arranged..."

Until we become God then we're left with these imperfect means of expressing things and ryanshepard's point remains.. Yes we can refute the point, or claim it to be uncharitable, but here we are. We are fortunate that people are born into the world who seek to pursue these questions.

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posted by elkevelvet at 11:26 AM on November 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


The position of Chief Rabbi is an unusual one, and one which is not easy to fill, but he served with patience, dignity, and grace. He was extraordinarily unassuming and his behaviour towards the end of his life was no exception. Although Rabbi Sacks was a very private person I read an interview where he mentioned his late father's behaviour towards the end of his own life. He must have been reflecting on this but I had no idea – most people had no idea – that the cancer which had plagued him as a young man and in his middle age had returned. He knew this was likely to be his end, and he faced it with courage and faith.

ברוך דיין האמת. יהי זכרו ברוך
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:40 AM on November 10, 2020 [5 favorites]


For those who don't have an hour right now, what were subjects of the discussion between Sacks & Dawkins? (Also, was it actually a versus/debate scenario, or a discussion between people of opposing views?)
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:40 AM on November 10, 2020


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posted by epj at 11:47 AM on November 10, 2020


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posted by hydropsyche at 12:18 PM on November 10, 2020


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posted by Bella Donna at 1:26 PM on November 10, 2020


If we ought to be struggling to eliminate injustice, should God not be struggling to eliminate injustice? Abraham asks the same question: "shall not the judge of all the earth do right?"

Sacks's daughter mentioned just that verse in her eulogy.

(sorry for the threadsit)
posted by Mchelly at 1:34 PM on November 10, 2020 [4 favorites]


Sacks's daughter mentioned just that verse in her eulogy.

Mchelly, thanks for posting that. Right behind me where I sit is the library my granddad inherited from his grandparents, in Hebrew, Yiddish, English, German and Danish. He explicitly left it to me, hoping I would uphold the values he had been given, exactly those Gila Sacks describe in her eulogy. It was incredibly moving for me to see her speaking so strongly in her state of grief.
It isn't always easy to accept and support change. And sometimes you fail as a parent or mentor. I feel I need to step up, in memory of Jonathan Sacks.
posted by mumimor at 2:16 PM on November 10, 2020 [3 favorites]


respected by Jews of every denomination.

If only that respect had been returned. Zikhrono livrakha, but Rabbi Sacks was not very accepting of progressive wings of Judaism, did not accept patrilineal Jews, and spoke out against intermarriage. He refused to attend the funeral service of the late Reform Rabbi Hugo Gryn and described him as someone who was destroying Judaism. And although he claimed to have softened on that position later, he and his Beth Din prevented the retired Rabbi Louis Jacob from reading from the Torah at his own granddaughter's wedding. He opposed gay marriage and prevented LGBTQ Jewish groups from participating in communal events. It wasn't merely that he personally opposed liberal interpretations of Judaism; as Chief Rabbi, he was in a position to actually be exclusionary.

Even progressive Orthodox Jews I follow on Twitter expressed sorrow at his passing but also felt that his time was long gone, that it was time for a more expansive and tolerant vision of Judaism.
posted by maxsparber at 5:11 PM on November 10, 2020 [7 favorites]


Even progressive Orthodox Jews I follow on Twitter expressed sorrow at his passing but also felt that his time was long gone, that it was time for a more expansive and tolerant vision of Judaism.

Agreed. I just recently listened to his appearance on CBC's Tapestry not long ago. He says a lot of nice, profound-sounding things, but with a hard, patronizing edge that I think comes of an Orthodox background (like my own) that views the world in a very black and white way. If you are Orthodox, and believe that the Torah is the literal word of YHWH, it's very hard to adopt a progressive, pluralistic, and welcoming worldview without major cognitive dissonance or significant reinterpretation of Biblical verses to the point where they lose their original meaning. In my experience, most Orthodox rabbis, even the most liberal, cannot bring themselves to disagree with the ancient texts, or even call into question whether the values they reflect are worth maintaining in today's times.

For example, at around 11:55 in the linked interview, he says, when asked about how he feels about seeing a gay couple in love who want to marry, "What goes through my heart is, 'I am not going to judge this couple, I am going to leave this to God because he does this better than we do. I am going to be compassionate and affirming and not injure their feelings because I recognize their sense of vulnerability' When I became chief rabbi, the Jewish gays and lesbians came to see me, not asking for my blessing, just asking 'understand us and our sense of shame and humiliation and ostracism and be understanding, help us pastorally, tell your rabbis not to be brutally and needlessly harshly dismissive of our way of life.' I thought those were perfectly legitimate requests and I sat down with our rabbis and we've become the first [?Jewish] community not to have a fight with our gays and we can still find it in our hearts to love one another even if we can't agree on the way people should live."

It sounds nice on the surface, but the takeaway is that it took heartfelt pleas from LGBTQ+ folk to just get him to agree that Jews of non-heteronormative sexuality shouldn't be ostracized, and even so, God is still going to judge them.

בּרוך דיין האמת, but colour me unimpressed.
posted by greatgefilte at 6:51 PM on November 10, 2020 [3 favorites]


just the same as if you're an atheist. We'll never know why.

I don't know if the question has the same edge for non-believers; if you don't believe in an all-powerful, perfectly good creator, then the idea that people are capable of doing evil and that bad stuff may happen to you no matter how good you are doesn't really challenge any foundational beliefs. It'd be more surprising if bad things never happened.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:36 PM on November 12, 2020 [3 favorites]


Rabbi Lord Sacks looked a great deal like Oliver Sacks, in my opinion.

So I looked and found that Oliver Sacks did indeed have a nephew named Jonathan Sacks, who contributed an obituary for Dr. Sacks to The Observer, but did not find explicit confirmation that Rabbi Lord Sacks was Oliver Sacks' nephew.
posted by jamjam at 11:49 PM on November 15, 2020


Rabbi Jonathan and Dr Oliver Sacks were not related.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:31 AM on November 16, 2020 [1 favorite]


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