Chief Rabbi's maiden speech in House of Lords

By Jessica Elgot, November 27, 2009
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The Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has made his maiden speech in the House of Lords.

The Chief Rabbi told the House how Judaism values education, and suggested that secular schools could learn from the value Jews have always placed on learning.

He said: “If there is one insight above all others to be gained from Jewish history it is that freedom depends on education. To defend a country you need an army but to defend a civilisation you need schools. Abraham was chosen, says the Bible, so that he would teach his children to practise righteousness and justice.

“Moses commanded, in what has become the most famous of our prayers, ‘You shall teach these things diligently to your children.’ In ancient times the Egyptians built pyramids, the Greeks built temples, the Romans built.”

What extraordinary things happen here. When somebody speaks, other people listen. When people disagree, they do so politely.

Lord Jonathan Sacks

He expressed his dismay at visiting an affluent school where a pupil, asked to define the word “economy”, replied that it was where other people would sit on an aeroplane.

During the short speech, Lord Sacks also described his own educational background, and how he had learned from his PhD supervisor, the atheist philosopher Sir Bernard Williams.

He stressed the need for tolerance in discussion, praising the House of Lords for allowing all of its members an equal voice, in comparison to the House of Commons.

“What extraordinary things happen here. When somebody speaks, other people listen. When people disagree, they do so politely. What special gifts these are in this age of clashing soundbites, diminishing attention spans, angry voices and gladiatorial politics,” he said.

Lord Sacks was awarded a life peerage in July this year, and took the title Baron Sacks of Aldgate.

Read the Chief Rabbi’s speech in full here.

    Last updated: 5:04pm, July 6 2010