By Rabbi Zvi
September 17, 2010
The Chief Rabbinate in this country is a fascinating institution. To some extent it is a mini-version of the Pope's fiefdom, setting as it does one person at the head of a whole network of places of worship, the pinnacle of a whole institution. The Chief Rabbi has the ear of the powerful. The current incumbent boasted the ear of no less a person than Gordon Brown, and he uses his position to act as a one-man lobby to the powerful and influential people in our society. He cultivates and (on his own admission) advises those who rule and have power over the rest of us.
So when the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, writes an Op Ed in the Times it is always worth reading. Being so very influential, holding so very many links to those at the top of the pyramid, he is our supreme communicator. Nobody writes like him, or gives the Today Programme Thought for the Day as well as him. I wonder if you have read his most recent Times article:
This is something new! The Chief Rabbi advising the Pope! I know he gets on well with other Churchmen, but the Pope! And what is he really saying? The great and influential Lord Sacks, recently enobled, with a seat in Parliament, arguing for a religious leader to speak from a position of no power? Forgive me my chuckles, but one wonders where the good Lord (Sacks) makes his reality checks.
Perhaps he (rightly) feels powerless in his own fiefdom, where religious decisions are taken by his Dayanim, and to much of the Jewish community (particularly the Charedim) he is considered an irrelevance. But like the Pope he is feted by the Non-Jewish world and lionised by those outside his religion. They listen to him - and that is power. Rabbi Sacks' article is really the cri-de-coeur of a caged canary, singing beautifully but unable truly to fly. Without the ability to make policy independently about things like Conversion and decide for himself whether he can write a book like the Dignity of Difference without being forced by a foreign Rabbi to make revisions, he is not truly powerful within the community which really matters to him - so he feels powerless. Yet to the outside world he has the ear of the powerful, and positions of power; and his powers of patronage are clearly displayed, he is by no means without power in the synagogues whose rabbis he is in charge of. His cognitive dissonance is an internal problem, and must be very frustrating to him. The one thing he wants more than ever is to make a real difference in his own community, and he can't do that. Like the Queen, he is a prisoner in a gilded cage - theoretically in charge, but with no real ability to decide what is most important. So he now constructs a world as he sees it, not one which the rest of us recognize, but the world of the Powerless Pope.
Why be so surprised? This latest article is the second in which we detect a cri-de coeur about what might have been. He's already claiming credit for an institution whose events he won't attend
(about www.Limmud.org ). Perhaps he's working his way up to claiming responsibility for the Creation of the Universe? After all, a particularly frum person once termed his predecessor the L-rd Jakobowitz. Who'd want to be the Chief Rabbi? or the Pope?