Tribute: Rabbi Lord Sacks’ piercing intellect and gentle compassion shone

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Tribute: Rabbi Lord Sacks’ piercing intellect and gentle compassion shone

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner reflects on talking Talmud with the former chief rabbi when they both served as heads of their respective movements

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner

The Talmud that Rabbi Lord Sacks (z”l) loved so greatly, teaches us that when a leading scholar dies, we must tear our garments as we also do for our closest kin when they die.

The external tear, a ‘keriyah’, contains that wonderful possible double reading in English of a tear in clothing and the tears that flow naturally from our eyes when we feel the pain of loss.

My tears flowed when I heard that our national and international intellectual giant and patriarch, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (z”l) died on Shabbat – the timing of his death on a shabbat, traditionally marking the death of a tzaddik, a righteous person.

I was blessed as when Rabbi Sacks and I served as heads of our respective denominations, we used to talk Talmud – neither of us being particularly dedicated to small-talk.

His piercing intellect and gentle compassion shone through.

He taught us all through his endless capacity to think and to explain, his learning from past faults and instead to build strong relationships across boundaries.

Rabbi Sacks promoted the depth of wisdom of Judaism through the lense of the universal.

He articulated and related Jewish ideas to all and his strong but soft voice was greatly loved and revered on national media and I know from many comments especially within the BBC, how much journalists, presenters and anchors loved working with him.

He showed the world the genius that our Judaism offers, no matter how people identify themselves.

He cared about wider society, and he sought its improvement through his writing, his position in the House of Lords and his connection with the individuals that he encountered. He knew the job of a rabbi is to change the status quo through love, learning and courage.

Rabbi Sacks had also had a boisterous side which he delighted in showing. It was a true pleasure to join him as he rumbustiously lead ma’oz tzur with such gusto and joy every year at the Downing Street Chanukah event – fist punching the air with joy, bringing to life the mitzvah of ‘taking joy in your festivals’..

Personally, our family will always be indebted to Rabbi Sacks for his kindness to my parents (z’l), co-leading both of their funerals and bringing his compassion into our mourning.

My heart is with the Sacks family – Lady Elaine, Joshua, Dina, Gila and their wider family.

It is fitting that for this exceptional brain and soul, all of us should make a tear in our clothes.

A leader such as him, who elevated the British Jewish community globally, who crossed the boundaries of communities and ideologies, should be mourned universally.

Yihe zichro baruch, his memory will continue to bless our lives.

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