Sacks must heed Hillel’s advice

By Shmuley Boteach, May 2, 2013

I have always believed that sins of omission are much more serious than sins of commission - that the good things we fail to do are of greater consequence than the sins we commit

I once counselled a woman who caught her husband cheating. The man was utterly broken by his actions and wanted to repent. "Can you find it in your heart to forgive him?," I asked. "Never," she said, "Because he was never a husband in the first place. Had he made me feel loved and cherished, I could overlook a terrible transgression. But since he never made me feel like a wife, why would I forgive this stranger?"

This lesson should be borne in mind as we examine infractions on the part of rabbis and communal leaders. America is abuzz with the scandal of Rabbi Michael Broyde - a leading Orthodox mind - and his confession to having used fabricated identities to engage in online rabbinical discussions. Broyde, who reportedly was a leading candidate to become chief rabbi, was forced to resign from the Beth Din, his reputation in tatters.

Really? That's it. One strike and you're out? No possibility of penitence? No second chance? Is a man then really nothing more than the sum total of his most recent misdeeds, with all his virtue being lost?

In Judaism, no woman is a divine personage and no man is the son of God. Everyone in the Torah is flawed. Moses is denied entry into the Holy Land because he disobeyed a divine command. Yet we Jews do not remember him for his errors, but for the deliverance from Egypt and the 10 commandments.

He has not used his BBC talks to point out its bias

By all accounts, the chief rabbinate of Lord Sacks has been a PR bonanza. He has emerged as one of the most eloquent advocates for Judaism in the English-speaking world and, arguably, its finest writer. Some predicted that his early mistakes, like the Hugo Gryn affair, would sink him. But his imposing presence on the world Jewish stage gives hope that the errors committed by great men can be outweighed by the sheer force of their communal contribution.

Sins of omission, however, are different.

As Lord Sacks's term draws to a close and as he prepares for a new life largely at US academic institutions, it behoves him to correct the most glaring chasm of his leadership, namely, the failure to use his universal prestige to combat the tsunami of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment - really, one and the same - that has erupted in Britain under his tenure. British universities have become cauldrons of Israel hatred, with even students at Oxford - where I served as rabbi - recently voting on whether to ban Israeli academics. And this in the year 2013!

Rabbi Sacks is highly regarded by scholars the world over. That he has failed to go before British students and academics and thunder against the rising tide of antisemitism remains the most mystifying facet and the single greatest failure of his tenure.

That he has allowed the UK campus to become a place where students often fear even to wear kippot is a blemish on an otherwise radiant reputation. That he has not used his regular BBC appearances to condemn the prejudice that organisation regularly displays toward the Jewish state constitutes an act of timidity incongruent with his robust Jewish pride.

And that he has not been prepared to risk his reputation in standing up to peers of the British establishment who speak ill of Israel is a misuse of his unparalleled eloquence.

But it is not too late. He can devote the majority of his remaining time in the UK towards a tour of all UK campuses where he can call on students to live up to the proud history of British Zionism - the legacy of Balfour, Lloyd George, and Churchill. He can remind Muslim students of Sultan Saladin's call for the Jews to return to Jerusalem after the first crusade. And he can use his fluency to verbally eviscerate Israel's enemies with facts and logic.

With so little time left in office, and as the great sage Hillel said, "If not now, when?"

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's latest book is 'The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering' (Gefen Publishing House)

Last updated: 2:45pm, May 2 2013