Former UK Chief Rabbi Sacks and current Russian Chief Rabbi Lazar have opposing understanding of Jewish identity – it looks like they live in completely different Jewish spiritual worlds.
Jewish Agency for Israel (Mr. Sharansky) and the state of Israel (Mr. Netanyahu) are working on a project of strengthening Jewish identity all around the world in all major countries where Jews reside. What Jewish identity they are going to strengthen – an identity defined by Rabbi Sacks or Rabbi Lazar, by Israeli politicians Sharansky and Netanyahu?
Before strengthening Jewish identity we have to define it and have a great majority of the Jews agree with the definition. It looks like Jewish Agency for Israel is trying to do this – however we don’t have yet a defined and agreed upon Jewish identity to “be strengthened”.
To be truly Jewish, a definition of Jewish identity has to be a Torah-based one. Why is it so? The Jewish identity is rooted in what the majority of Jews believe is their mission in this world, and this mission is defined in the Torah as the mission of the Chosen. The Jewish history, culture or social ideas all are derivatives of the mission of the Chosen.
Let’s see how Rabbis Sacks and Lazar, and politicians Sharansky and Netanyahu define the Jewish identity.
Rabbi Sacks believes the mission of the Chosen is to help build a better world for everybody here on this earth.
The quality of any human “better world” is defined by its ethics that guide the people to decide what is good and should be strengthened and what is bad and even devilish and should be curtailed. The quality of a “Jewish-wise better world” is defined by the Torah/ Bible-based ethics. The Chosen are supposed to promote and strengthen society’s ethics as defined in the Torah/Bible and considered to be the foundation of Judeo-Christian civilization. Rabbi Sacks summarized all that in the following way as could be seen for example from
“The historian Niall Ferguson quotes the verdict of a member of the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences, tasked with finding an explanation for why the West overtook China in the sixteenth century and went on to industrial and scientific greatness. At first, he said, we thought it was because you had better guns than we had. Then we thought it was your political system. Next we thought it was your economic system. But for the past twenty years we have had no doubt: it was your religion.
What was it about the Judeo-Christian ethic that led the West to develop market economics, democratic politics, human rights and the free society? … [That is] seven aspects of biblical ethics, each of which played a part in this development: human dignity, freedom and responsibility; an ethic of guilt rather than shame; the family as the matrix of virtue, love as the basis of ethics and covenant as the basis of society.”
It looks like Rabbi Sacks defines Jewish identity as being active in non-Jewish world and promoting and strengthening there Biblical traits of a better world for everybody.
Rabbi Lazar disagrees with Rabbi Sacks. For Rabbi Lazar the core definition of Jewish identity has nothing to do with building a better world for everybody. The post at
leaves no doubt that is the case:
“Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Russia, criticized Ukrainian Jewish leaders for condemning Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
“The Jewish community should not be the one sending messages to President Barack Obama about his policy or to President Putin or to any other leader,” Lazar said Monday during a joint interview with JTA and The Jewish Chronicle of London. “I think it’s the wrong attitude.”
Lazar, Chabad’s top figure in Russia, was responding to a question about a March 5 letter to the Russian president from the Association of Jewish Communities and Organizations of Ukraine, or VAAD, following the incursion of Russian troops into the the Crimean peninsula.
“Your policy of inciting separatism and crude pressure placed on Ukraine threatens us and all Ukrainian people,” the letter said.
Lazar criticized the Ukrainians for involving themselves in issues that don’t directly concern the Jewish community.”
For Rabbi Lazar the Jewish identity is in the number of synagogues and Jews visiting them. For Rabbi Lazar it doesn’t matter what kind of “a better world” the Jews are strengthening in the residence-countries even if it is a totalitarian dictatorship of Russia and Russian dictatorial expansionism to neighboring countries. A definition of Jewish identity by Rabbi Lazar doesn’t look as a Torah-based definition.
For Sharansky and Netanyahu the Jewish identity is defined by relationships with the state of Israel – see for example
“… the Netanyahu government and the Jewish Agency for Israel are supposed to announce the framework for what’s being called the Prime Minister’s Initiative, aimed at strengthening Jewish identity in the Diaspora with Israel at the animating core. The initiative is expected to launch in 2015 and after five years, when fully implemented, it will cost $300 million annually — $100 million from the Israeli government, $100 million from philanthropists worldwide, and the rest from fees for services.
Despite the ambitious budget, the initiative is aimed only at four narrow demographics: teens, college students and young adults in the Diaspora, and young Israelis whose “strong sense of belonging and commitment to the Jewish people” needs cultivating. That’s according to a February draft report from the “content team” outlining the overall strategy; how the budget will be allocated and which bureaucracy in Israel will administer it all hasn’t yet been decided.
This strategic intervention could be, as its supporters proclaim, a grand reset button, a powerful antidote to the growing indifference to traditional Jewish life and disengagement from Israel that polls show characterizes more and more younger Jews. It could write an exciting new chapter of modern Zionism, focused no longer on building a state or protecting a state, but placing that state at the heart of a vibrant, connected Jewish global experience.”
So for Israeli politicians the Jewish identity is defined as the strengthening of the state of Israel and of an undefined traditional Jewish life [of Biblical times? of Shtetle times? of first Zionist times?] – not as building a better world for everybody with a potential leading role of the state of Israel in creating a Torah-based better world.
Jewish-wise, I easily identify myself with Rabbi Sacks and have difficulty to identify myself with Rabbi Lazar or with Israeli politicians. So I am eagerly waiting for the definition of Jewish identity the Jewish Agency for Israel is going to strengthen.