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October 21, 2013 / conservadox

Rabbi Sacks speaks

Last Shabbos, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (the recently retired Chief Rabbi of the UK) spoke at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue in the Upper East Side.  He gave a sermon shabbos morning and also spoke at the Saturday afternoon meal.

In the first talk, he discussed Abraham’s attempt to persuade God to spare Sodom if he could find ten decent people there.  Sacks pointed out that God obviously knows how many good people there are in Sodom.  So what’s the point of the whole exercise?  He suggested that the goal was to tutor Abraham (and more broadly, all Jews) in how to behave- not just to passively do what he is told (as Noah does) but to question.  He told a story about himself and his father; he once asked his father a question about Judaism, and his father (who was not particularly learned) said: “I don’t know the answer, but I hope that you learn enough that when you are older you can answer that question.”  All very nice and comforting- though of course, there is a Jewish counter-tradition of shutting up and having faith in what you are told. (In fact, the Artscroll machzor goes through the list of Yom Kippur prayers and suggests that we should repent for not having “faith in the sages.”) 

In the afternoon he spoke about his adventures in Britian.  He noted that when he started as Chief Rabbi, 25 percent of Jewish children went to day school (a figure far higher than in the USA).  By contrast, today 70 percent of Jewish children go to day school, apparently because of the Chief Rabbinate’s efforts to get government support.   I think most European countries have some some of support for private education.  By contrast, in the USA public schools are basically a sacred cow; efforts to support private schooling are politically radioactive, and thus occur only in exceptional circumstances (e.g. voucher systems limited to the poor). 

In our country, health insurance is heavily regulated by the state but largely private (except for people who are destitute and/or under 65) and education is largely government-controlled; in Europe the reverse is the case.  Who has better results?  Well, if you like low life expectancies and low academic achievement, the USA is doing great!  

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