In honor of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s sixty-fifth birthday and his retirement from the position of Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, a collection of thirteen original essays by outstanding scholars in various disciplines are presented to him in this volume. In his public lectures, presentations in the media, weekly essay appearances on the internet, and in twenty-eight volumes that he has either authored or edited beginning in 1990, Rabbi Sacks has served as a most prolific and profound spokesman to both the Jewish and non-Jewish world, in England and abroad, articulating a vision that he describes as “Torah VeChachmah.” In one of his lyrical explanations of this conception of the sophisticated interaction between traditional Jewish ideas and overall wisdom associated with the classical and contemporary world, he writes, “Chochmah is where we encounter God through creation; Torah is how we hear God through revelation.”
The four sections of Radical Responsibility reflect the main foci of Rabbi Sacks’s thought and writings: Jewish Ethics and Moral Philosophy; The Pursuit of Justice; Religion and Contemporary Society, and Leadership. While most of the essays’ authors are well-known scholars who work primarily in Jewish fields, for example, David Schatz, Joshua Berman, Binyamin Lau, Moshe Habbertal, Michael Broyde, Menachem Kellner, Jacob J. Shacter, David Berger and Aviva Gottlieb-Zornberg, it is notable that four academic luminaries who have made their mark in other areas, Alasdair MacIntyre, Michael Walzer, Charles Taylor, and Ronald Heifetz, associated respectively with the fields of moral philosophy, political philosophy, classical philosophy, and leadership studies, are also represented. Each section of the book begins with an essay composed by one of these men, all individuals who have significantly influenced Rabbi Sacks’s thought, and who in turn wished to demonstrate their respect for and appreciation of the Chief Rabbi by participating in this tribute.
As Rabbi Sacks has done in his own work, bringing into conversation the worlds of Jewish and general thought, each individual essay, as well as each group of essays can be read as articulations of a similar outlook, i.e., comparing and contrasting Jewish thought, texts, and law, on the one hand, with the realms of philosophy, social science, politics, legal studies, and psychology on the other.
It is particularly moving to see how many of the authors’ essays cite key passages from Rabbi Sacks’s writings as jumping-off points for their own thoughtful explorations, in effect making Radical Responsibility a manifestation of the Talmud’s metaphor for the giving of the Torah in Shabbat 88b — with every utterance, sparks flew in different directions, inspiring diverse thoughts and ideas in all those who were present. I am sure that readers will have a similar experience upon reading this stimulating collection.