Torah For Today: Boris Johnson and Sir James Dyson
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Torah For Today: Boris Johnson and Sir James Dyson

 Rabbi Naftali Schiff takes a topical issue and delves into Jewish texts for an Orthodox response

Boris Johnson and James Dyson
Boris Johnson and James Dyson

In just 160 characters, text messages can only express so much. Sometimes this will suffice, but there are occasions when messages shot out on social media may not be as nuanced as the fountain pen of yesteryear. 

Last week, the prime minister made the headlines after he sent text messages to Sir James Dyson, reassuring him that his employees would not have to pay extra tax if they came to the UK to make ventilators during the pandemic. 

The leaked texts between Boris Johnson and Mr Dyson are being scrutinised in Parliament. Did Boris brashly overstep the mark or do what was necessary and instinctive for a leader while under fire on the battlefield to save lives at the height of a pandemic? What does the Torah say about this?

It goes without saying that no one is above the law and government officials on all levels must be subject to both the letter and the spirit of the law. This is a core value that underpins both western democratic systems and the Jewish legal tradition, without which we face anarchy and chaos. 

That said, it is crucial leaders be empowered and given licence to do that which is necessary to lead.

There are times when leaders are faced with tough choices, ones which will very possibly save or cost lives. 

Undoubtedly, we have been waging a war over the past year, thank God not a war against another creed country or people, but nevertheless fighting together with all of humanity against a deadly disease. 

Under such situations, knowing that if they do not make brave, bold and sometimes immediate decisions, leaders are faced with real-time dilemmas.

It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the specific rights and wrongs in this case, but there is an important principle at play here. 

In extraordinary times, leaders must be allowed to lead. That is what we chose them to do. They need to make courageous choices and be accountable for them but, equally, they must never be paralysed into inaction for fear of over-excessive scrutiny and legalistic repercussions.

Leadership walks a long and lonely road. There’s no quick fix, but neither can our judgement of the challenges and complexities of frontline leadership be too rigid to stifle leaders from being bold.

  •  Rabbi Naftali Schiff is the founder and chief executive of Jewish Futures

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