MONTREAL – Jews must work with Christians and Muslims in combating anti-Semitism because they simply do not have the numbers to do so alone, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks stressed in a March 14 address at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim.
The former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth said Jews have made “the terrible mistake” throughout their history of believing anti-Semitism is “our problem and we have to fight it on our own…
“I am going to be very blunt. There are 2.4 billion Christians in the world and 1.6 billion Muslims. We are outnumbered [at about 13 million]… If we are left to fight this battle on our own, we will be very vulnerable,” he added.
“Jews cannot and must not be left to fight anti-Semitism alone. The victim cannot cure the crime. The hated cannot cure the hater.”
Jews should not hesitate to say to Christians and moderate Muslims, or those of goodwill of any faith, that they need them to stand with them, he said.
Since leaving the chief rabbi post in 2013 after 22 years, Rabbi Sacks has devoted himself to speaking and writing about spiritual matters and the need for interfaith co-operation. On March 2, he was awarded the Templeton Prize, an annual international award worth $1.6 million that recognizes outstanding contributions to the promotion of life’s spiritual dimension.
Rabbi Sacks believes today’s anti-Semitism is as pernicious as its earlier major expressions: religious hatred in the Middle Ages and racial hatred in the 19th century.
With these types of hatred no longer socially acceptable, Rabbi Sacks said contemporary anti-Semitism takes the form of anti-Zionism, that is, “hatred for their nation state, the right of Jews to have a space where they can defend themselves.”
Just as anti-Semites looked to the church for their moral authority in the Middle Ages and to science in the post-Enlightenment, today’s anti-Semites have co-opted the postwar era’s most trusted guidepost – human rights – to justify their hatred, he said.
Israel has become the most egregious violator of human rights in the eyes of today’s worst Jewish haters, he said.
He congratulated McGill University students and the Jewish community for rallying to defeat a boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) motion put before the undergraduates’ association last month. He urged all Jewish young people to act as “ambassadors of tolerance.”
“We have an obligation as Jews to tell the world about Israel. They do not know what it is… Tell the simple truth… Israel has shown that it has gone from [experiencing] the worst of humanity to looking to the future and believing the world can be a better place,” he said.
“Israel should not be the pariah of the world. It should be a symbol of hope for the world. Let us say that loud and clear.”
Rabbi Sacks’ Montreal visit was hosted by Federation CJA, which is embarking on the celebration of its centenary in 2017. He had a full day while in the city, speaking early in the morning to about 200 students from for Jewish high schools.
Later he met with the Catholic Archbishop of Montreal, Christian Lépine, representatives of Montreal Christian-Jewish Dialogue and a number of professors of religion and political science, as well as leaders of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and its Canadian Rabbinical Caucus.
Rabbi Sacks is also scheduled to speak March 16 in Toronto at an event co-sponsored by Aleh Canada and Shaarei Shomayim Congregation.
Rabbi Sacks’ latest book is Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence.
Federation CJA president Evan Feldman said Rabbi Sacks’ appearance at Shaar Hashomayim was an opportunity “to put aside our religious and cultural differences” and express the fundamental values all Jews share, primarily, that each is responsible for the other and for tikkun olam – repairing the world.
Rabbi Sacks, 68, born and raised in London in a working-class family to a Polish immigrant father, with most of his friends being not Jewish, said he “did not experience one episode of anti-Semitism.” He attributed that to the world’s determination of “never again” after the Holocaust.
That has not been the experience of his children, who since around the turn of the millennium have faced overt anti-Semitism in the guise of denunciation of Israel. “It came as a real shock to me,” he said.
Anti-Semitism is comparable to a virus, he believes. It keeps mutating until the immune system – in this case all the anti-racism legislation, Holocaust education and interfaith dialogue since the war – became helpless to defend against it.
“We have to get non-Jews to understand that anti-Semitism is as much their problem as ours,” just as the persecution and violence against Christians and Muslims is a concern for Jews, he said.
“The hate that begins with Jews does not end with Jews… Any society that has no room for Jews has no room for humanity itself… If it’s not safe to be a Jew on the streets of Europe, than it is not safe to be a European.”