Click to search by Category

Videos & Audio

Rabbi Sacks in conversation with Professor Fania Oz-Salzberger, hosted by Makom

Categories

In late November 2013, as part of the Jewish Agency’s Assembly, Makom hosted a fascinating conversation between Rabbi Sacks, and historian and writer Professor Fania Oz-Salzberger. Hosted by Yonatan Ariel, the conversation turned out to be a highly-enjoyable and intelligent meeting of two very different intellectuals – one orthodox, one secular; one male, one female; one British, one Israeli.

With thanks to Makom Israel for their kind permission to post this video.

To download this conversation as an MP3 audio file, please click here 

TRANSCRIPT

Yonatan Ariel:

Shavua Tov to you all. Shavua Tov indeed. I suspect that you might think that what divides these two wonderful people is that this is a man, and this is a woman. This is British, and this is Israeli. This is Orthodox, and this is secular. But I’m here, I believe, to tell you that even if those things exist, what really, really, really divides them when you scrape everything else away, is that this man is a Cambridge man, and that this woman is an Oxford woman. And that the division between Cambridge and Oxford will continue until the end of time.

Thank you for joining us, and welcome to the Makom Salon. Fania and Amos begin their book, Jews and Words, with the following. “How odd of God to choose the Jews” said William Norman Ewer. And the response was, “It’s not so odd, the Jews chose God.” And then they go on to write, “The Jews chose God and took His law, or made God up and then legislated. What did come first we may not know, but eons passed and they’re still at it; listing, reasoning, …and leaving nothing undebated. So the first question, Fania, who is a Jew?

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

I am so delighted to be here, thank you for the invitation. This Jewess [indicates herself] is somebody who has been fighting long and hard with her own father, about many ideas in this book, which is all about kids arguing with their parents as part of Jewish continuity. And one of the things we fought about, and that’s a secret, and I hope it remains within these walls is on the definition of who is a Jew as appears in the book, which is his definition. I love it, but I think it’s not totally up to scratch. His definition is whoever is meshuggeneh enough to say that he or she is Jewish is a Jew. I think we need to put a little more thought into that. I totally agree you have to be meshuggeneh, But I think you also have to be a reader of a very particular and profound kind. A Jew is somebody who is not only Jewish by extraction, but also a member of the wonderful ongoing club of Jewish textuality.

Yonatan Ariel:

Rabbi Sacks?

Rabbi Sacks:

Sorry. Can I begin please by- Listen, I didn’t get to make an introduction. So, can I say what a privilege it is, first of all, to be sitting next to Fania, a really, really outstanding writer and thinker. And if you haven’t read hers and Amos’ book yet, Jews and Words, please read it, It’s absolutely wonderful. Secondly, I can’t tell you what a thrill and a joy it is to hear that you’re a former Chief Rabbi. I can’t tell you there is no greater happiness in life than relinquishing communal office. And thirdly, just a little correction, I studied at Oxford as well. So that I couldn’t actually lose on Boat Race day. I hedged my bets.

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

He’s from new college, I’m a Lincolnite. That’s the difference.

Rabbi Sacks:

So, it’s quite clear that God chose the Jews, and the Jews chose God, because each of them wanted someone to argue with. And we’ve been at it for a very long time. Our name, which we will read in next week’s parsha, comes from that wrestling match at night, and Jacob is told he will no longer be called Jacob “ki im Yisrael ki sarita im Elokim v’im anashim vatoochal”, “You have wrestled with God and with man and prevailed” (Gen 32:29). And I think that is part of the definition of what it is to be a Jew. We have wrestled with God and He has wrestled with us. And though each of us has sometimes been disappointed in the other, it is a relationship of great love. And to be Jewish is to be able… Jews don’t have conversations, we have arguments, we have wrestling matches. And that is part of what it is to be a Jew, to be arguing with God.

And here, obviously I am a Rabbi, and here I would say that to be a Jew is not just to use words or to love texts because the truth is many other people love words and love texts. I think to be a Jew is: where did the ancient peoples see the revelation of God? In the sun, the moon, the rain, the lightning, in forces of nature. Other people worshipped Holy places. Other people worship Holy people. But in Judaism, revelation is holy words. That is our faith, that we are related to God through this particular set of holy words that we call the Torah on which we have been adding commentary after commentary after commentary ever since we first received it.

And to me, to be a Jew is to be open to the word that addresses you. Are you with me? An ordinary book you can put back on the shelf. You’ve had a wonderful read, and to read Fania’s books or her father Amos’ books, magnificent. And you read them, and you are moved by them. But you put them back on the shelf and they are lifeless. Whereas our words, God’s word, the Torah, you put it back on the shelf, it shouts back at you. Do you know what I mean? That word doesn’t leave you alone. So to be a Jew is to hear the word that summons you.

Yonatan Ariel:

Thank you very much. I want to push onwards by saying, if you look at the entirety of human history, choose three events that have been the most seminal events for the development of the Jews.

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

Including the Hebrews? Obviously for me, or at least for me, it is obvious that the first momentous event in Hebraic or Jewish history is the signing, the canonising, of the Tanach. This is where our library line began. Because, you know, Rabbi Sacks rightly said that it’s not enough to be textual and love books in order to be Jewish. There’s something more to it. I hope that in a little while, we can talk, not just about argumentativeness, but also about humour, self-humour, and irreverence. So let’s not miss out on that one.

But when we talk about textuality, what was unique about the Jews, differing from any other textual nation, including the ancient Greeks, and including the ancient Romans, is that we did not just create books and put them on the shelves. Our books also taught us that we have to teach them to our children. Our books, the Tanach and the Talmud and the prayer books and the Haggadah and the machzor, which Rabbi Sacks has written so beautifully about, have inbuilt mechanisms instructing you how to use them, which is why the Romans are dead and their books are in the library, and we are alive and kicking and our books are alive and well.

So it’s not only about textuality. It’s about a written library that is lying on your family dinner table every night for the children to access. No other premodern culture in the world had that on such a regular basis for every Jewish boy and many, many Jewish girls as we did. So the canonising of the Bible, of the Tanach, would be the very first event for me.

The second one, of course, is the loss of sovereignty and the end of the Second Temple. The loss of sovereignty is a momentous event for Jewish history. And my third event, which would make choice very hard because it is very recent, is the whole of the 20th century taken together. Zionism, migration, Shoah, the State of Israel, what we have become today. Because the 20th century, more than any other century, including the previous two events that I’ve mentioned has been the ultimate game-changer, and will prove to have been the ultimate game-changer, hopefully for the best in Jewish history to come.

Rabbi Sacks:

I absolutely agree with Fania about teaching the Word to your children. And Elaine and I have had extraordinary experience, let me just share this with you. We decided for various reasons we needn’t to go into, that we needed to make friends of the successive Archbishops of Canterbury. So we invited them for Shabbos, just their family and our family. The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, who was a Welshman and therefore could pick up a tune, was a professor of theology and therefore could read Hebrew. So we taught him how to sing Yah Ribbon, and Yom Ze LeYisrael. I must say to sit there with an Archbishop of Canterbury singing Yom Ze Leyisrael, I said afterwards, I looked to Heaven and said, “Mashiach, why didn’t you come? You really missed something there.”

But the thing that really shakes them and has shaken the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who had Shabbos with our wonderful, wonderful Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub, is the way you’re sitting around a tabl – and we did this, and Daniel did it with his kids – you just say to the kids, “Say the D’var Torah.” And that just shakes them. They’ve never seen anything like it. That a child without preparation can say words about that week’s Word. Justin Welby had just spent that Shabbos with our Israeli Ambassador and he came to me and he said, “You know what? Their youngest son, he just gave the best sermon I’ve heard in years. I’ve delivered it twice myself without attribution.” So v’shinantam levanecha is absolutely it.

I would say the three great moments were: Number one, when God says to Abraham lech lecha me’arzecha”. You know, Abraham is the first person to be able to hear the word of God, and it sets him off on a journey that has so far lasted the better part of 4,000 years and we are still on it.

I once said – you know, there’s a phrase in I Kings Chapter 19, that great encounter between God and Elijah on the mountain when God is not in the earthquake or the wind or the fire, but in the kol d’mama daka. And I translate kol d’mama daka as a Voice you can only hear if you’re listening, because it really means there’s silence. The sound of a slender silence. So it’s a voice you can only hear if you’re listening. And somehow God had been calling to humanity for so long, and Avraham is the first person who can hear it. So that was the decisive moment where we could first hear the Word of God.

The second, the occasion on Mount Sinai, where, in this unique event in history, no other religion ever claimed this, where God was heard by an entire people. The Word shared. “Lo ra’eetem kol temunah zulati kol” You didn’t see any image. You just heard a Voice. And even Sigmund Freud, at the very end of his life, lonely, exiled from Vienna is sitting there in Swiss Cottage, 20 Maresfield Gardens, writing the end of Moses’s Monotheism, is moved by a sense of pride in his people, saying that when Jews chose the Word, the thing you could hear over the thing you could see, the spiritual over the physical, they made the right choice.

And thirdly, of course, the destruction of the First Temple. The sort of first trauma that allowed us to survive as it were the other traumas. The Babylonian Exile, where somehow in Bavel, far away from Israel, they were saying “eich nashir et hashir Hashem al admat nechar” “how can we sing God’s song in a strange land?” (Psalms 137:4) And it is there that they rediscovered the Torah, that even though we have lost the land, we still have the Word. And when Ezra and Nechemiah came back and shared the Word with everyone here in Yerushalayim, and began creating the religion of the book, the people of the book. The people who – Heinrich Heine called the book, the Torah, ‘the portable Homeland of the Jew’. We were the people who were at home in the Word, even when we were no longer at home in the world. So those for me are the three great moments

Yonatan Ariel:

I want to bring us forward to this era. Every era in human history has, in quotes, “gods”, the dominant paradigm through which most social and political life is understood. What do you think is the “god” of our era? And given the fact, you mentioned us Hebrews as being counter culturalists, should the Jews be counter-cultural to the dominant paradigm of age or should we be maximising what it is? Do you want to go first this time?

Rabbi Sacks:

Absolutely. No doubt about where the god of our era is, it is the Self, the “I”. I said the icons of our age or the iPad, the iPod and the iPhone. We had, instead of Moshe Rabbeinu coming down from the mountain with Two Tablets in his hand, we had the late Steve Jobs come down from the mountain with the two tablets, iPad 1, iPad 2. We even have a thing called a Wii, is that right? Spelled with two I’s. What kind of “we” is it that has 2 “I”s? So I think we are the most individualistic age ever. And that is very creative in some respects, but it also means we’re not very good at creating the “We”, at creating relationships.

And as for your second question, should we be counter-cultural? I mean, in truth, you can’t be a Jew without being counter-cultural. We are the world’s contrarians. Where do people travel from rich countries to poor countries or poor countries to rich countries, from low civilisations to higher, from high to low. The highest civilisation in Abraham’s day is Mesopotamia. Where is Abraham going? He’s leaving Mesopotamia. The highest culture in Moshe Rabbeinu’s days, is the Egypt of Ramses II. Everyone wants to go to Egypt of Ramses II. Moses wants to go in the opposite direction. If the world is going one direction, we’re always going the opposite direction. To be a Jew is to be an akshun, you know? The Torah calls us “a stiff neck people”, an um k’shei oref, And I can tell you now from experience that if you have a stiff neck, you find it extremely difficult to bow down. So, we may find it hard to bow down to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, but we will certainly not bow down to anything less, least of all the zeitgeist, i.e. what everyone else is doing.

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

Jonny, can I argue with him? Okay, but wait ‘til you hear what I have to say. Let me begin with an insult: Rabbi, you remind me of my father.

[Audience Laughter]

Rabbi Sacks:

Oy!

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

As we were sitting, my father and I, and writing Jews and Words, and I was using this little thing, which happens to be-

Rabbi Sacks:

It’s an iPad 2. I know, that’s an iPad.

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

Forget the boy’s photos, but it’s an iPad. And I love it. Let me say that to the microphone.

Rabbi Sacks:

So do I, to be honest, but I sneak onto it. Isn’t it great?

Fania:

Now, to be a little more serious. You mentioned the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, as one of the epic moments of Jewish history for you. For me, it was the signing of the Tanach because this is the difference between the believer and the non-believer both being, in their way, good Jews. Of course, giving the Torah on Mount Sinai – I love the scene because it was the first book in history that went into its second edition within two hours of the first.

[Laughter]

Of course, the first was broken, but never mind that. So, what a publishing house! We have a few episodes in the Book about that. But, you know, that’s one of my big fights with my father, not just about the definition of who is a Jew, but he thinks the internet is Satan incarnated with an I, Incarnated, whereas I believe that the internet is a kind of a latter day Talmud, a huge labyrinth of words and ideas, which if you only learn a little bit how to navigate, and not get lost in the Pardes, then you can find every wonderful thing that mankind has ever dreamed up on the internet.

So we go on like that. My dad and I, he says the internet is Satan, and it’s the end of the Book as we know it. And I say, this is a continuation of the very first books in history, because we, mankind not just the Jews, have now come around full circle from tablet to tablet, from scroll to scroll.

Now I also have a confession to make, you know, as the Rabbi said that he maybe likes iPads after all. My confession is that in our home, the kids are allowed to bring a book to the dinner table. It’s part of an old Jewish tradition. It’s okay. What happens when they start, as they did a couple of years ago, bringing this to the dinner table. It’s like, “Mom, this is a book.” So this is where we have to draw a couple of lines. I do not think that our era has a “god”. Strangely enough, although I’m not a believer in gods, I think that the metaphor has been overused recently. I don’t think that people who are consuming goods today, of which you have written so very eloquently, whether these are electronic goods or other goods, really do believe that this is an ersatz god, a kind of a new replacement of the old gods. For me, God is still the God in whom I do not believe, but with whom I’m very happy occasionally to talk and to argue.

Rabbi Sacks:

Really, you know, that is so right. I mean, I was saying this as a joke, and you should never ever use a joke on the internet, because this thing about Steve Jobs ran and ran and ran. The truth is I love the internet. I really do. And I have argued that Judaism came into existence in a revolution in information technology. The first great revolution, which was the birth of civilisation, was the birth of writing, which began in Mesopotamia a little time before the birth of Avraham, and continued through Egyptian hieroglyphics. The alphabet, writing, has been invented independently seven times in history, including the Indus Valley script, Chinese ideograms, Linear B and so on.

The second revolution, however, brought the Jewish people to where it was, and that is: Any ideogram or cuneiform or hieroglyphics involves a large number of symbols. Even the most stripped down, demotic hieroglyphics have 450 symbols. So that means not everyone can learn them. And when that happens, you have a literate elite, and the masses who are illiterate; you have a hierarchical society. So the great second invention in information technology was the alphabet. And the first alphabet was proto-Sinaitic, hence alphabet. Aleph Bet, although, through the Greek, Alpha Beta. So Hebrew was, as it were, almost at the birth of the alphabet. The first alphabetical writing I think it was discovered by Flinders Petrie, it’s proto-Sinaitic, 1903 in the Sinai desert in Serabit by the Turquoise Mines. And when you have the whole of human knowledge reducible to 22 symbols, you can, for the first time, imagine a society of universal literacy, v’chol banayich limudei Hashem (Isaiah 54:13), and hence have a non-hierarchical society in which every single human being has inviolate, non-negotiable human dignity, because we’re able to develop our knowledge.

And I think that was crucial. Because the question is why then, why there? If God wanted to reveal Himself, why then and why there? And I think the best answer I could find is that that is where the alphabet was born.

The internet is a further revolution in making information accessible to all. And I see that as an essential part of human dignity and all I believe is, I know we contributed a little bit to the internet through people like Sergei Brin and Mark Zuckerberg.

I’ve never met Sergei Brin or Mark Zuckerberg, but Sergei Brin once described himself as coming from one of those secular Russian Jewish families where they expected even the plumber to have a PhD. And Mark Zuckerberg, well, that’s a Jewish thing, isn’t it? You have a row with your girlfriend who’s studying at a Boston University and you go and invent Facebook and bring down half the Arab governments in the Middle East. So yeah, it’s a kind of Jewish thing. So I think the internet is honestly something we should be developing as a process of sharing the word more widely than it’s ever been shared before.

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

I will just share the word that Rabbi Sacks is on Twitter, and I’m going to befriend you if I may.

Rabbi Sacks:

Please! Wow. Is that a proposal? Dan, explain that to me. I’ve got somebody who understands these things from my office sitting there. Let us tweet together. Yes!

Yonatan Ariel:

One of the most remarkable changes of the last hundred years has been the emergence onto the public stage of women. We’re now, blessedly in my view, in the situation where we have a woman on the Supreme Court, a woman at last who’s leading the Bank of Israel, professors, diplomats-

Rabbi Sacks:

American Federal Reserve Bank.

Yonatan Ariel:

Yeah, as well. And women Rabbis in certain denominations. I’m also one of the people who thinks the world is not quite working the way it’s supposed to and that we, all of us, are implicated in its repair. And you might say that, as much of the world has been created by men, would it not look better if it was recreated by women? And therefore the question would be, what is your deep hope for the potential for women in the Jewish public arena over the next decade or two?

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

Our book is full of them. And people always ask me when I lecture on this book, “Do you and your co-author really think that women have such an important role in Jewish history?” And we answer, “Yes.” There is a whole chapter about them, but of course women being women, (the chapter is called ‘Vocal Women’), refuse to remain in one chapter, so they’re all over the place.

The more I look at Jewish history from ancient Israel into the 21st century, the more I believe that everything including scholarship and perhaps primarily scholarship, rabbinical scholarship, would have been utterly impossible without the active, vocal, opinionated participation of women.

We have a quarrel, a big quarrel, with parts of Israeli ultra-Orthodoxy, and I’m being very cautious here. It is not every Orthodoxy. It is ultra-Orthodoxy, and it is parts, but I have to say large parts thereof, about the visibility of women in our society. About the vocal horizons of women in our society. It is not so easy to be an Israeli woman nowadays in parts of Jerusalem, but also in parts of many other towns and cities in this country.

I think that something deep shall have to change. Actually, I think that something profound is already beginning to change within the ultra-Orthodox communities in this country and beyond. Women have always had direct access to Jewish textuality. That’s the beauty of it. That’s the difference we were talking about. This is the book on the dinner table, whether it was the Tanach or the machzor or Tseno Ureno, there was always a book on the table. The smart girl always had access to the written texts.

And therefore ever since the 16th century… (Before the 16th century, we do not really have reliable historical data on literacy in Europe or in the Muslim world. From the 16th century, we do.) And the rise of Jewish literate women, the curve of Jewish literature women, (which is by the way more than being alphabetic. It is being literate, being capable of reading serious texts), the curve of Jewish female literacy rises way above and way beyond any other culture, including Protestant and Catholic Europe.

So, by the time the universities opened up, beginning with the German universities of the late 19th century, before Oxford and Cambridge by the way, both to Jews and to women, it did not take two generations. It did not take one generation. It did not take half a generation before you had Hannah Arendt in Heidelberg, because Hannah Arendt was ready and her mother was ready and her great-great-grandmother was ready for university education. They just didn’t have the access, but they already had the literacy, the intellect, the intelligence, the broad horizons. It was all there.

The future of women in this country, including the ultra-Orthodox parts of society will have to change, hopefully peacefully, in the direction of full and vocal partnership.

But Jonny, just going back to what you said in the beginning of this phase, I would not leave it with the women alone. I like it when men and women do it together, after all.

Rabbi Sacks:

Total agreement here. I have to say that you read Tanach, you read Torah, you read Sefer Bereishit. It’s a book about strong women. Sarah is a better judge of the character of the children and the family than Avraham is. Rivka, Rachel, these are strong women. But I think it’s at the beginning of Sefer Shemot-

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

You have to add Leah as well. I would not leave Leah out.

Rabbi Sacks:

And Leah, who is extraordinary… You know, we were reading in Shul this morning about the birth of her children in Parshat Vayetse. And I weep when I read this: she calls her first child Reuven, saying, “Now my husband will notice me.” But clearly he doesn’t, because she calls the second one Shimon, “Maybe my husband will listen to me.” But clearly he doesn’t, because she calls her third one Levi, saying, “Now my husband will accompany me.” And finally with Yehudah she gives up. She says, “ze bamodeh et haHashem. “I just thank Hashem.” I have four boys. I haven’t won my husband, but I have four children now.

And I think to myself, Shema Yisrael, Jacob why weren’t you listening? She was crying out to you in the names she gave her children. “V’einei Leah rakut” (Gen. 29:17). Because she cried a lot. And you know, I hear Leah’s tears throughout all of this. And she remains a strong woman, there’s no question. I think politically we turn to Sefer Shemot, and then we see some really remarkable figures. Who, after all, saves Moshe Rabbeinu? Pharaoh’s daughter. I mean, the daughter of – This is ‘Hitler’s’ daughter, the daughter of the man who initiated the decree that all male Jewish children should be killed in the first place. His own daughter sees a child and says, “miyaldei haivrim ze”, this is a Jewish child.” And she looks after him, she protects him, she adopts him, she gives him the name. The only name he is known as in the Torah. And there’s the most wonderful rabbinical thing, because the Torah doesn’t give us her name, but there is in Divrei HaYamim the reference to a Bitya or a Batya, Bat Pharaoh.

And the Rabbis said, (‘Batya’ means ‘God’s daughter’, and the Rabbis put this together and said), her name was Batya because God said to her, “This child, even though he wasn’t your son, you adopted him as your son. You, even though you are not My daughter, I, God, will adopt you as My daughter.” Batya, God’s daughter.

But to my mind, the real heroines here of the narrative are two quite small characters, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Two midwives called Shifra and Puah. If you, and of course I’m sitting next to an expert so I very humbly say this and I’m probably wrong. But if you read the political literature about civil disobedience, refusal to carry out illegal orders, you’ll find it attributed to Henry Thoreau in the 19th century. Actually, Shifra and Puah are the first recorded instances in all of literature of civil disobedience. They refuse to carry out Pharaoh’s immoral order.

And the interesting thing is the Torah actually is deliberately ambiguous: were these Jewish women or were they Egyptian women? The Torah calls them “m’yaldot haivriyot” (Ex. 1:15), which could mean ‘the Jewish midwives’, or it could mean the midwives to the Jewish women and they could be Egyptian, and Abarbanel says they were Egyptian (See Midrash Tadshe, Ozar ha-Midrashim [Eisenstein], p. 474).

So the Torah is saying: you want moral courage? Look to women. And therefore the fact that in our time we’ve seen the emergence of Jewish women as leading thinkers, writers, leading figures in Jewish life to my mind is one of the most wondrous things about our time, and I can identify specifically what they bring and what we so badly lack.

We find twice in the Torah, once in Malachi’s description of the Priest and once in Proverbs’ description of the Eishet Chayil, the phrase, “Torat-” something or other, an abstract noun. Of the Priest, it says Torat Emet, the law of truth was on his time, but of the Eishet Chayil, it says Torat chessed al lishona. Many years ago I read an article that I’ve never been able to find since, about the phenomenon that Hebrew for 2000 years was a language spoken almost exclusively by men. Women spoke the vernacular, Yiddish, Ladino. Hebrew was a masculine-only language, and only in our time has it become a language where the feminine voices are heard. And if I were to say what that brings to Hebrew and to Judaism, it’s Torat Chessed, the law of loving-kindness.

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

I know Johnny wants to continue, but just a little bit to add on to the D’var Torah and also a political statement. My add-on to the D’var Torah is that the infant Moses was saved, actually, if we really start counting, by six brave women. Shifra and Puah who set the tone by resisting the command to kill the baby. Sister – Miriam, Mother – Yocheved. The maidservant of Pharaoh’s daughter was also a brave woman. She’s the one who pulled him out [of the river], and she’s the one who didn’t tell anyone and helped keep the secret. And Pharaoh’s daughter herself. We are talking six brave women here. Now, where was father, Amram? We have an answer in the book, you know? He was in the pub.

Rabbi Sacks:

Beit Midrash, Beit Midrash.

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

Ah, excuse me. So you know, of the few not-so-good husbands… the Tanach has a few not so good husbands, Yaakov is one of them. Amram, not my favourite guy, is another. The best husband in the Tanach is the one married to the first woman who ever took her three-year-old kid and brought him to Shul. The woman is Chana and the husband is Elkanah. Elkanah is the best husband in the Tanach. The only one capable of looking at his miserable wife who has no children of her own and saying to her, “Chana, lama tivki v’lama lo tochlei v’lama yerae l’vavech, halo anochi tov lach me’asarah banim? (I Samuel 1:8) .” So, “Hannah, why are you crying? Why are you not eating?” He noted that. “And why is your heart…” I’m just improvising my translation. “Why is your heart unhappy?” And then he goes on to say the husbandly, thing “I’m better to you than TEN sons.” Oh, come on!

[Laughter]

But he was still observant enough to know this. She was sad and not eating. And I’m sure he also remembered what she wore that day. So that’s the husband Elkanah.

My political, now, just a tiny add-on about strong women, Judaism, ultra-Orthodoxy, Jerusalem, in order to pull us slightly out of our comfort zone. In the Wailing Wall, in the Western Wall, in the Kotel these days, we are witnessing a clash between women and women: the women of the Kotel, Nashot HaKotel, on the one hand and ultra-Orthodox girls usually bussed there from the seminaries collectively by the word of the Rabbi, demonstrating against them, and of course far outnumbering them. What I would like to see, as a lover of a good argument, is not the end of that clash. I would like to see knowledgeable women on both sides pulling a chair next to the Kotel, sitting down and discussing the differences. This has not happened yet. I hope that it shall.

[Applause]

Yonatan Ariel:

Those of you that would like to ask a question, please lift your hand up and there’ll be a piece of paper coming around. Jot it down, and people will collect them in for the period of time when we get to that in a few minutes time.

I want to pursue the idea of machloket, of argument. Both have spoken about this and the significance of it. It just seems as though that in our times, if you look around in the newspapers of the last few months, there has been a difficulty over the notion of machloket. Think about the examples in New York, a new Rabbi, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, was installed as the new President of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. The Open Orthodox rabbinic school. And apparently, from all of the press coverage, has got into hot water with the Orthodox over the way he chose to conduct the installation with a panel of people from various different denominations.

In Britain, the new Chief Rabbi has decided to go to Limmud, and that has whipped up, as a result, all sorts of kickback against that decision with an attempt to try and say, “No, not everything is an appropriate stage for debate, for the argument.”

Here in Israel on numerous matters, Fania just mentioned one, Nashot HaKotel, I think it would be reasonable to add to this list the boycott of the cultural centre in Ariel, where people are a certain side of the political spectrum and say, “No, we won’t go there. We won’t enter into that debate. We refuse. There are people with whom we should not conduct the debate.”

Wise people, caught as you have been in various different swirling arguments over the course of your adult lives, what is the wise way for the Jewish people at this time to proceed on these matters?

Rabbi Sacks:

Arguments, me?

[Chuckles]

Rabbi Sacks:

Sorry. I asked that because I had that for about 20 of the 22 years, and I really do weep when I see this.

You know, there’s this wonderful phrase, machloket l’sheim shamayim. Hillel and Shamai argue l’sheim shamayim. They have a wonderful argument, of course, it’s a Gemara in Eruvin, daf yud gimmel. They debate for three and a half years whether it’s better to be born or not to be born and after three and a half years, they come to the conclusion, “You know what? It’s better not to be born. But how many people are so lucky?”

[Laughter]

Then the Rabbis gave Moses and Korach, or Korach and his band as the example of machloket shelo l’sheim shamayim – argument not for the sake of heaven. So what is the difference between one or the other? And I think 14th century, Provence Meiri gave a very beautiful explanation. He said an argument for the sake of victory is an argument not for the sake of heaven. An argument for the sake of truth is an argument for the sake of heaven. So when you argue for the sake of truth, if you win, you win, but if you lose, you also win because to be defeated by the truth is the only defeat that is also a victory. You grow, you now know the truth.

In the case of an argument for the sake of victory, if you lose, you lose, but if you win, you also lose. Moshe Rabbeinu actually prayed in the case of Korach for the ground to open and swallow Korach up, as every politician has done for his opponents ever since. And what happens? Does that end the argument?

If you look in the Torah, you will see the next day the people come and say to Moses “atem hamidem et am Hashem” (Num 17:6). “You killed God’s people”. That doesn’t end the argument. The biggest single show of force ever did not end the argument, it only deepened it.

You cannot impose truth by force. So when I see Jews attempting to use politics to establish their version of the truth, I see a machloket shelo leshaim shamayim, not for the sake of heaven by which we are all diminished. And I ask myself, how do those people who like me are Orthodox Jews or believing Jews or indeed Jews like Fania and Amos who believe in Jews and words.

We all believe in argument for the sake of heaven. How is it that we so rapidly and readily turned to this really non-Jewish thing of using force and bans and all the rest of it, public opinion, when we should be sitting down exactly as Fania says, and conversing and stating our case as cogently as we can and listening to the case of those who disagree with us? That and only that is the Jewish way.

Yonatan Ariel:

Are there any Jews that you wouldn’t debate with?

Rabbi Sacks:

The only Jews I wouldn’t debate with those who deny my right to be. Those are the people I don’t debate with. Otherwise, I will converse with anyone.

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

Such a pleasure to fully agree with every word you said, but I still have a few things to add.

Rabbi Sacks:

You have to disagree, you have to. It’s the Jewish thing.

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

No, no, no. This time I’m simply adding on. Firstly, apropos Hillel and Shammai. I don’t know how many of you are following the very interesting rift that is taking place in front of our very eyes. In the ultra-Orthodox Litai Lithuanian rabbinical section in Jerusalem and B’nei B’rak, where several heirs to the throne are fighting it out these days. I will not mention names, but I will just say that about two or three days ago, one of the big Rabbis said of his rival, the other big Rabbi, “He is not even Beit Shammai, Hu raui l’skila. Raui l’skila in English is, ‘deserves to be stoned’ and he didn’t mean stoned in the good sense, he meant stoned in the bad sense.

[Laughter]

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

So not even Beit Shammai are the people who are stepping out of the time-honoured, age-old Jewish tradition of fighting it out verbally, argumentatively, rationally, which is the only way to do it. Now I have to introduce very quickly the momentous figure of the Jewish grandmother. I think she ought to be represented here alongside the Rabbis and possibly towering above them. You see the Jewish grandmother is a hefty double-portion of the Jewish mother.

We all have one. You know what I’m talking about? Some of you may know the joke already, but please bear with me, especially those who have read the last chapter of the book.

So our Jewish granny is actually walking on the beach with her toddler grandkid in arms when a big wave comes and snatches the little boy from her arms disappearing under the water. Granny looks up to heaven and said, “Oy vey Ribono Shel Olam. (Riboinni Shel Olam in Yiddish, I don’t know the Ladino.) How could you do that to me? I was a good Jewess all my life. I prayed, I did all the mitzvahs just right, how can you take my grandson away like that?”

Not a moment passes and another big wave comes along returning the child into her arms, safe and sound. Granny looks up to heaven and says, “He was wearing a hat!”

This is the Jewish theology of chutzpah. This is what we call in our book ‘irreverent reverence’ and that’s the way I like it and that’s the way it ought to be. Arguing, not just against each other, not just within our comfort zones, but also beyond them. Arguing against the rabbi, arguing against the Almighty and perhaps occasionally even arguing against granny herself.

Yonatan Ariel:

There are voices in our world, some hostile, but certainly not only so, who claim that Israel has lost, or is losing, its moral compass. Is it? In what ways is it, or is it in danger of so doing and what might we do to fix it if it is so losing its way? Rabbi Sacks.

Rabbi Sacks:

Every time I read an article in the Israeli press, or a book in which Israelis reflect on themselves, or that extraordinary film About the heads of Shin Bet, The Gatekeepers, I’m astonished at the kind of reflective self-criticism that Israel engages in.

Israel has had in a sense, its security challenged, even its right to exist challenge for every day of its 65 years of existence. And what happens to a country like that is it becomes very defensive, aggressive defensive, and somehow rather, Israel has not done that. It has not silenced that internal conversation, which is sometimes very painful and agonising, but I am very moved by it.

You know, I must say this about Fania’s father, Amos Oz, that he has always been willing to say the difficult thing, and I feel that he’s a little reincarnation of his namesake, the biblical Amos who doubtless, were he to come to Earth today would be dismissed as a smolani like all the other smolanim, but the fact is that moral voice, that question, “are we doing the right thing?” is something that never leaves Israel.

I’ve just read a book of Israeli soldiers reflecting on their role. And it’s serious. I don’t know where you would find this reflective morality, this willingness to criticise yourself, in any other people. Of course, if you’re a Jew if you do this in public, in chutz la’aretz, they shmise you and fair enough because your life is not on the line. But in Israel where the people whose life is on the line, there they are having this extraordinarily active conscience. Now, I just think that sitting as I do in the safety of London, I have to say just how much I admire this aspect of Israeli society, and I have to say I don’t know any other people in the world quite like it.

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

I think that news of Israel’s pending demise are highly exaggerated. I grew up here as did my parents. I’m a third generation Israeli, born to four grandparents who were chalutzim, making Aliyah in the 1920s and 30s. I think I know some chunks of this society quite deeply, perhaps better than others.

I am deeply worried about some things that are happening around me, but I do not think that the end is nigh. The tremendous power and creativity of Israeli society is astounding. And I will say something else as a historian, touching now on the 20th century. If you take the 20th century as a chunk, and you take every European country we know, with the possible exception of Britain and Switzerland, not very many other exceptions, the number of Jews killed by Jews for political reasons in the land of Israel ever since the year 1900 is far less than in any European country whose citizens killed each other. From 1900 until today, perhaps 30, perhaps 40 if you stretch it, Jews were killed by fellow Jews in this country on political or ideological grounds. If you take in all the disagreements, all the gaping differences, secular, Orthodox, right, left, Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion, you name it, no more than 30 perhaps, if you stretch it, to 40.

Compare this to any other European country, the possible two exceptions I mentioned, and you will see to what extent we have been screaming at each other, cursing each other, disagreeing with each other, wishing every strange death upon each other, but not actually being violent to one another.

This does not mean that this is a perfect society. I’m deeply worried about our political culture. I’m deeply happy about our legal culture. These things are very interestingly balancing each other out, but I do believe that this society is here to stay, that it is strong, that it is powerful, that it is creative, and that it is, at the end of the day, also deeply ethical.

Yonatan Ariel:

Rabbi Sacks wrote this book, future tense. Jews, Judaism and Israel in the 21st century. And at the end of chapter eight he writes, “Zionism phase one gave back to Jewry what it lacked in dispersion; sovereignty and a state. Zionism phase two must reappropriate what Jewry had even when it lacked a state, namely a profound sense of responsibility to the weak, the poor, the socially marginalised, the neglected and unheard. That is the challenge for a new religious Zionism. To build a society worthy of being a home for the Divine Presence by honouring the divine image in all its citizens.”

Reappropriate that it seems to imply that it’s not there yet at the moment. What’s needed to spur it onwards?

Rabbi Sacks:

What I meant was quite simple and really quite obvious. That there is a difference between state and society, medinah and a chevra. I wrote a book of political theory about this saying that, the social contract creates a state but the social covenant creates a society. And most of Judaism is focused on society not the State. We had the State, we had lots of Kings and some of them were good and many of them were not so good, but the politics of Israel historically, and today is one thing. The way we structure a society is another and it is quite simple. On the one hand, after the Shoah, after July 1938, Evian, in which 34 countries come together, knowing that something horrendous is about to happen to the Jewish people and decide to do something about it, and what happened is, 34 countries including America, Britain, Australia, and Canada close their doors.

And at that moment, Jews know that there is not one square inch on the surface of this entire planet that they can call home in the Robert Frost sense of ‘the place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in.’ At that moment, the state of Israel became a moral necessity. A place Jews could call home, where they could defend themselves.

But there is one other dimension of Zionism, there always was. That in all these thousands of years where we have been scattered across every country in the universe, in all those places, even where Jews achieved great distinction and great achievements, there only ever was one place on Earth where they could do what every people has a right to do, namely construct a society in accordance with their own highest ideals.

Israel was the only place where Jews were a majority and where they could shape their own destiny in the light of their sacred texts and their sacred dreams. And that I think is Zionism part two. The creation of the state of Israel was part one, the creation of the society of Israel is part two and that will only happen when secular and religious start talking together more respectfully and acknowledge their co-responsibility for creating a society of tzedek umishpat chessed v’rachamim, of justice and equity and love and compassion. That is an utopian ideal, but since when did Jews ever get put off by the fact that we have utopian ideals?

[Applause]

Yonatan Ariel:

What is your favourite Jewish word, and what is your favourite Jewish story?

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

Favourite Jewish word is probably Ken, which is the gentlest “yes” in any language that I know. It also means honesty and truthfulness. So it’s a lot in a little word and there is a lot of Ken in the Bible. Somebody has to count whether we have more Lo or more Ken. Of course, in the Ten Commandments, Lo is slightly more prominent, but I think that Ken is lurking underneath and this is for me, a culture of ken more than it is a culture of Lo.

My favourite story is – I would be getting into very deep waters if I quoted somebody’s story and not somebody else’s. So instead I will tell you my favourite Jewish joke for now. I already told one, I’ll tell another because I think it is relevant to everything we’ve been saying. There’s also a certain slim chance you may not have heard it before, and I know I’m being very presumptuous in front of this room.

So these two American NASA astronauts land on planet Mars, and being American spacemen, you know, they have to conduct experiments. They bring out their tools. They have to see and to examine whether there is any oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars and the best way to do it is obviously, as every child knows, to light the match. So they’re ready with a matchbox and with a match at hand and suddenly they see themselves surrounded by a host of little green Martians. The little green Martians all tell them, “Dear American astronauts from earth, please, please do not light that match.”

“Why ever not?” said the spaceman, “Nothing wrong with that. Do you think something will explode?”

“No. Just don’t light this match, please do us a favour.”

NASA astronauts, being NASA astronauts, ‘know’ the right stuff and all that, of course they light the match and everything is fine and nothing happens. So they asked the little green people, “What’s wrong with lighting the match? Nothing ever happened.”

Say the little green Martians, “Really come on now. Don’t you know it’s Shabbos?”

[Laughter]

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

And this joke, not a story, but a little joke, I think goes a long way to show that we seem to be everywhere these days, which is part of our words. Our words are there ahead of us, but I think we’re going to make it to Mars soon enough too.

Rabbi Sacks:

Favourite Jewish word. Let me begin by telling you the most striking absence that I find of a Jewish word. Some years ago, long time ago, ’95 I had the zechut of receiving the Jerusalem Prize, which is lovely prize that you get here in Yerushalayim on Yom Yerushalayim and then afterwards, the President of Israel gives you a little reception. So we had – at that time, Israel had at that time a rather secular President, I won’t mention his name, and he gave a reception for the prize winners, and he’s looking at the citations.

And he says, in Ivrit thank goodness, so my parents couldn’t understand what he was saying, thank goodness. He says, “I see Rabbi Sacks has been given his prize for his contribution to religious education in the diaspora.” He says “chinuch dati ze yoter tov miklum”, “religious education is better than nothing, but,” and then launches into a massive speech about how [we should] forget these religions schools and education. What you need is nice secular schools, where they teach people to speak Ivrit, and I came back and I said to the Israeli Ambassador, “Now I understand why after 4,000 years, the Hebrew language does not have a word that means ‘tact.’” Am I right?

Would it surprise you to know that Hebrew also does not have a word that means ‘understatement’. Anyway, my favourite word, I don’t know I have so many favourite words in Ivrit, but I think one of the most important words which has never been correctly translated into English at any rate is the verb lada’at, to know. Remember Adam knew his wife Eve and she conceived, which is an impressive feat of scholarship I think. In the Western Hellenistic tradition, knowledge involves detachment. In Judaism knowledge is attachment, it’s intimacy. Only that which you love can you really know. And that is there in that verb lada’at for which there is no English I think equivalent. Right?

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

The total opposite of Plato. Total opposite of Plato coming close, coming closest.

Rabbi Sacks:

Yeah. And I think the history of Western civilisation has been shaped by the fact, and it’s a unique fact, and I’m amazed that I have not read any Christian theologian who’s written about this. Western civilisation was founded on Christianity, and Christianity is a unique phenomenon in the world’s history of religions because the founder of Christianity was Jewish. He lived here in Israel. He read Tanach in Hebrew and he spoke Aramaic. Whenever Jesus is quoted in the New Testament, he’s speaking Aramaic. Yet all, but all of the sacred books of Christianity, every single book of the New Testament is written in Greek. The Christians only read Tanach in Greek in the Septuagint.

So here you have a unique phenomenon in the history of a religion, whose sacred texts are written in a language that the founder of that religion probably couldn’t understand. And the whole of Western civilisation is built on this series of mistranslations. Which made people think they understood Judaism and had transcended it, but they never even understood it from the beginning.

And I give you the simplest example, every single English, including Greek and Latin translation of the Bible until very recently has mistranslated the key phrase and that’s why I wrote a book called Future Tense.

When Moses asks God at the Burning Bush, “Who are you?” He says “ehiyeh asher ehiyeh” (Ex. 3:14) which is translated in English as, “I am what I am, I am that I am, I am how I am,” or my favourite, “I am that’s who I am”.

And any five-year-old [Jewish] kid knows that that’s a mistranslation. God’s name is the future tense. Eyiheh asher – I will be what I will be, or what I choose to be.

And because of that our whole civilisation grew up thinking they understood us and actually not understanding us, because Western civilisation is built on mistranslations.

As for stories, favourite stories, well, somebody just reminded me of one just now, so I’ll repeat it. It actually happened on our honeymoon. I told this at kinus shluchim of Chabad. I happen to mention that Elaine and I on our honeymoon, we decided to go to the Swiss Alps.

I’d never been to mountains before, I thought “let’s just go.” And we went and we arrived in the little village with the most glorious mountains and it was magnificent. And the next morning I opened the curtains and I said to Elaine, “Somebody’s moved the mountains, who took the mountains?” I didn’t realise that when the cloud comes down low on mountains, it comes down really low. We couldn’t see any mountains anywhere, but this is where we’ve come on our honeymoon. And so I said, look we can’t the visibility maximum two, three feet, but we have to go and climb mountains.

But of course, if you’ve got zero visibility, how on earth are you going to climb a mountain and find your way back? So we spent the whole of our honeymoon climbing in zero visibility, singing Chabad niggunim, on the grounds that if a Jew is lost anywhere Chabad will find them.

Yonatan Ariel:

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg once said, “It does not matter which denomination you’re a member of, as long as you’re embarrassed by them.” Of what are you embarrassed by your own camp?

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

By my own camp? Meaning what the seculars, the lefties, or the Israel?

Yonatan Ariel:

Seculars, liberals, Zionist left.

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

Yes you know I’m also a kibbutznik. I have to put this on the table. It’s very important because as you might perhaps have gathered in the kibbutz they really knew how to teach the Tanach, they really did. But going back to the Rabbi Yitz’s question. What embarrasses me most in my camp, my camp so-called, is despair. I’m embarrassed by trendy Tel Aviv despair, by saying, Oh, we’ve lost it. Oh, we’ve lost the country. Oh, we’ve lost the Israeli society. Oh, there’s nobody to talk to right of Yair Lappid, or Yair Lappid himself for that matter.

Despair embarrasses me not only because despair is anti-Jewish and I believe it is deeply anti-Jewish, but also because despair makes people small and ugly. Hope and I dare say also optimism, politically I’m an optimist because you have to rationalise. Personally I am a hopeful person because that’s emotional.

Hope I think is uplifting and even practical. And a good Palestinian friend who happens to be one of the most moderate Palestinian leaders this side of Jerusalem, recently told me that hope is an instrument, and indeed one of the very best. I totally accept that and I feel deeply embarrassed every time anyone representing the liberal left is saying that it’s time to despair, to shut out the lights and to go to Ben Gurion Airport and find another place, perhaps Berlin. And I say, “I love flying to Berlin for many reasons. I wrote a book about Israelis in Berlin, but having said that my life, my hope and my optimism belong right here.”

Rabbi Sacks:

The Rabbinic tradition was intellectually fearless. And what I find extraordinary today is that, you know, there are people who feel threatened by the simplest scientific discovery, whether it’s the age of the universe or the evolution of life or what have you. And all of a sudden you are getting religious or even humanistic interpretations of Biblical narrative. There’s been a closing of intellectual horizons. And almost, dare I say it, fundamentalism. When was fundamentalism ever a Jewish option? Fundamentalism, thinking that you can just open a text and read it literally, is, in Jewish history, something you associate with the Karaite. So you don’t associate it with the Rabbinim who believed that with every Torah SheBichtav there’s a Torah Sheba’al Peh, and out of the Word of God for all time, we are endlessly searching for the Word of God for this time.

And how did this tradition that embraced Moses Maimonides, Dan Yitzchak Abarbanel, Yehudah Halevi – who said if Aristotle, it wasn’t just the Rambam in The Guide but Yehudah Halevi in The Kuzari who said if Aristotle is right, matter is eternal, then we will accommodate that, we will reinterpret Torah and so on. These were fearless, fearless open minds. And what happened to the closing of the Jewish mind? That is the thing I worry about most.

[Applause]

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

Maybe I can carry on, on behalf of my father, occasionally I do have to quote him out of politeness and so on, he famously said once that he has never met a fundamentalist with a sense of humour. So you know, we Jews, we have to choose each other age old irreverent reverence, self-humour, biting argumentativeness or it is a kind of a Neo-fundamentalism that we see here and there.

And I fully agree that fundamentalism cannot flourish because as Yehuda Amichai once wrote, “min ha’adama sheba anachnu tzodkim lo yitzmachu prachim,” wherever we are justifiably right, flowers will not grow. Flowers will not grow. You have to be able to differ and differ very deeply, and differ very broadly, and revel enjoy differing.

Rabbi Sacks:

And if I may also quote Fania’s father, Amos and I once did a dialogue together and he opened with the following sentence, which illuminates and illustrates all of Fania’s points. He said, “I’m not sure that I’m going to agree with Rabbi Sacks about everything, but then on most things, I don’t agree with myself.”

[Laughter]

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

Which takes us to the joke of the one Jew, two synagogues on a desert island, which you all know by now. Yes.

Yonatan Ariel:

The final question: The Jews as a people in the last 60-70 years have re-achieved remarkable things as a collective. Established and secured the state of Israel brought mass immigration, freed Jews from countries that have distress, memorialised the Shoah and the richness of Jewish life that was. And to a large degree, marginalised antisemitism at least in the Western democratic countries in its traditional form. Which leads me to the question, the Jews in all their diversity today, what should the Jewish people as a people do next?

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

Now will this answer be our famous last words? Or are you giving us another round of famous last words?

Yonatan Ariel:

You could have more famous last words after this.

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

What should the Jewish people do next exactly what we are doing now. Talk, argue, decide, and take some action. But of course, read books and not famous last words, but almost, what a Jewish people really ought to do next is to take their grandchildren, their grandsons and their granddaughters, and figure out ways to make them love books. If you do that, we have a future. If you do not, we do not.

Rabbi Sacks:

I don’t know – does anyone here know what Morris dancing is? Do you know this? There’s English custom with bells and flags and it’s a very old – now I say this because there is a brilliant scholarly broadcaster in Britain called Andrew Marr, BBC’s political correspondent, he’s written the history of Britain and so on and so forth. He’s not Jewish, and he’s a huge admirer of Jews. He wrote the following, he says, “It is difficult to think of any field of human endeavour in which Jews have not excelled except rap music and Morris dancing.” So as soon as he said this, there was an American singer, I don’t know if you know of him called Mattisyahu who became a huge hit as a rap singer. So I said, Andrew there’s only one thing left for the Jewish people to do, which is to achieve excellence in Morris dancing. So that’s clearly our next agenda item.

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

Actually, Rabbi, I had a fellow student in Oxford, the Rhodes scholar from South Africa, Jewish of course, who did extremely well in Morris dancing.

[Laughter]

Rabbi Sacks:

Oh, right. Okay. Right. So what are we left with to do? I don’t know actually. That’s it we’ve done it. I suppose I should say “Agree on something,” but that will never happen. And therefore, why don’t I just add as a footnote to what Fania has rightly said.

Why don’t we challenge all those wonderful Jews who believe that they know the Jewish Book better than anyone else, each one of them to create a chevruta a one-to-one learning partnership with somebody who has not yet been given the keys to unlock this wonderful Book, and let us have Hillel and Shammai meet together over the pages of the Talmud so that we become once again, the People of the Book.

[Applause]

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

Very, very briefly, because these are such wonderful words to finish with, but I must say the following thing, and this time I’m serious. When the book came out last year, a Rabbi, a very Orthodox Rabbi in America wrote that my father and I being secular Jews are like cut flowers in a vase. I think some of you may know the metaphor because it was invented by an earlier Rabbi. We seculars are cut flowers in the vase. We might look beautiful for a short time, but then we must wilt and wither because we are flowers in the vase. We have no rules. We have no grounding.

Let me tell you on behalf of five generations of my family who have been secular Jews, my boys being the sixth already, we are not going anywhere. We are not going anywhere. And the kind of dialogue, the reason why I’m so enjoying the dialogue with a liberal Orthodox, wonderful, intellectual, great guy called-

[Laughter]

Rabbi Sacks:

It’s a good job, I am a former Chief Rabbi.

Fania Oz-Salzberger:

I know, I know. The reason why the dialogue is so enjoyable is that here is a message from secular Israel, from the heartland of the kibbutz, and make no mistake, the kibbutz is alive and the kibbutz is around in our genome. Saying that secularity, Jewish culture, Jewish belonging, we atheists of the book, we are here to stay and we are your – and I think you know, I don’t even have to tell you this, but – we are your natural chavruta, we are your natural partners. We non-fundamentalists together are the future of the Jewish people.

So it is in a way a message of toning down the angst. I think that the Jewish people is going to survive with its full gamut, colourful spectrum of women of the Kotel and lefties from Tel Aviv with their trendy desperation and kibbutzniks who are still alive and well. And this ultra-Orthodox rabbi and his opponent ultra-Orthodox Rabbi and the two of us and the whole of you, we are going to continue for another three millennia. And then we shall see.

Rabbi Sacks:

I am sure Fania knows this. You may even quote it in the book, but it is actually the most radical statement I have ever come across in any religious literature. It is a statement, famous statement, in the Talmud Yerushalmi, where God Himself says “hal’vay sheya’azvuni,” “Would that they were atheists, but they studied My Book, because the light in that Book will eventually bring them back to Me.”

[Laughter and applause]

Yonatan Ariel:

You can read more from Fania Oz-Salzberger on the University of Haifa law website. You can read more from Rabbi Sacks at www.rabbisacks.org. Join us again next time. Because next time we’re going to have Elaine Sacks and Ellie Salzberger tell us about what it’s really like to live with these two people.

Shavua Tov.