TV review: Rosh Hashanah: What is the point of religion?

By Simon Round, September 27, 2011


If Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks's career had taken a different turn, he would have made a wonderful broadcaster. As listeners to Radio 4's Today programme will know, he has a deep, mellow, reassuring speaking voice.

Once a year, he gets to use this talent in his New Year broadcast (think of it as a rabbinical version of the Queen's speech). This time, he chose a huge subject for a 30-minute programme - the very point of religion. Although polemical, this was no sermon - Lord Sacks was asking questions as well as offering answers. His view that religion can make a society healthier and more cohesive was broadly backed up by his guests, academics Robert Putnam and Maurice Glasman, but did not go completely unchallenged. Glasman's view was that family and social cohesion, while important facets of religion, could be found in civil society, too. American sociologist Putnam felt religion was important but that "belonging was more important than believing".

Indeed, the programme was less about belief and more about how the moral and communal values underpinning religion can be a huge positive force for the family and the wider community. At a time of economic hardship and social unrest, there is a huge appetite for answers to social breakdown. And Lord Sacks's contribution was well-considered, thoughtful and (impressive in a rabbi) not overtly preachy.

Last updated: 11:23am, September 27 2011