One People? Thinking about Jewish Unity (L’Eylah)

April 10, 1990
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Jewish unity remains a perplexing subject, despite the attention it has received in recent years, Rabbi Sacks here explores some of its fundamental premises. The article is an adaptation of the first Louis Mintz Memorial Lecture delivered at London University's Institute of Education on 13th December 1989.

What then shall we do? First, let us always treat other Jews with respect.

There is an extraordinary prayer we say every morning at the beginning of Shacharit. 'Not because of our righteousness do we lay our prayers before You... What are we? What is our life?... We have no strength, no value, no achievements. Even the greatest must admit that 'most of their deeds are desolate and the days of their life are empty before You'. It is a prayer that verges on despair.

And then comes a momentous 'aval', a transfiguring 'but': 'But we are Your people, the children of Your covenant.' And if that 'but' applies to me as a Jew, it applies to you as a Jew. Even if, God forbid, we believe that another Jew is nothing, that 'most of his deeds are desolate' and that his lifestyle is an affront to everything we hold true, he or she is nonetheless a member of Your people, a child of Your covenant and must be as precious to me as to God.

The Jews today with whom we disagree carry with them our indivisible history, the history of generations of Jews who survived the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and yet chose to remain Jews. Every Jew today is heir to a succession of tragedies and miracles, deliverances and affirmations unparalleled in human civilisation. And if sometimes we must categorically reject his or her beliefs or deeds, which we must, nonetheless we know that when we stand in the presence of a Jew, any Jew, we stand in the presence of a fragment of the Shechinah. Let us never dishonour that fact.