File Size: 3809 KB
Print Length: 384 pages
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Rabbi Sacks’ new book is titled Essays on Values: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible (2016). It includes a foreword by former Senator Frederick I. Lieberman. Unfortunately, it does not include an index. But an index or two would enhance the value.
If you like truth in advertising, then I suggests that the key title and the caption accurately advertise the fact of this book. That consists of readings/commentaries on choices from the Hebrew Scriptures, with special attention to discussing ethics -- and social and political history and philosophy. At times, Rabbi Sacks’ comments require close etymological and grammatical analysis of certain Hebrew words, which I always find informative and instructive.
As I say, Rabbi Sacks always starts with a selected passage from the Hebrew Bible. He explicates its wording and usually tells us how it has been interpreted in several ways over the centuries by various Jewish interpreters. But then he gives his creative interpretation. His creative interpretation is obviously fun to read. You will probably not get bored by his creative interpretations.
But stand forewarned. Rabbi Carriers often describes Rambam also to Ramban.
Rambam is Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, or Maimonides, 1135-1204 (page 4).
Ramban is Rabbi Moses ben Nahman, or Nahmanides, 1194-1270 (page 15).
Rabbi Sacks’ accessible new publication Essays on Ethics is probably not in risk of being a best-seller in the United States.
The, oh my, Rabbi Carriers will not be popular with the political-correctness crowd.
Inside Rabbi Sacks’ estimate, the bonds of collective devotion were “weakened by the individualism of the sixties and further damaged by the ill-thought-out multiculturalism of the 1980s” (page xxxiv). We might wonder such a well-thought-out multiculturalism would be.
Rabbi Sacks also states, “Community is the idéal to individualism on the one hand and overreliance on the state on the other” (page 143). He credits Alexis de Tocqueville with coining the term “individualism” (page 296). (Individualism in the pejorative sense should not be baffled with individuation and personality. )
Rabbi Sacks also says, “In Judaism, it is as a community that individuals come before Lord. For all of us the key relationship is not I-Thou, but We-Thou” (page 143).
But Rabbi Sacks states that “the love of Lord is particular. It is an I-Thou personal relationship” (page 22).
Later in his book, Rabbi Sacks states, “One of the aftermaths of Marxism, persisting an ideal movements as postmodernism and postcolonialism, is the idea that there is absolutely no such thing as truth. There is just power. The prevailing ‘discourse’ in a society represents not the way in which things are, but the way the ruling power (the hegemon) wants things to be. All reality is ‘socially constructed’ to progress the pursuits of one group or another. The result is a ‘hermeneutic of hunch, ’ through which we no longer listen to what anyone says; we basically ask what interest they are trying to advance. Truth, it is said, is merely the mask worn to undercover dress the quest for power. To be able to overthrow a ‘colonial’ power, you have to create your own ‘discourse, ’ your own ‘narrative, ’ and it does not matter whether it is true or false. All that concerns is that individuals believe it” (page 242).
Now, Aristotle wrote a famous treatise ethics known as the Nicomachean Ethics. But I want to discuss his treatise on civic rhetoric. In it he discusses three different varieties of civic rhetoric: (1) deliberative rhetoric in legislative devices, (2) forensic rhetoric in courts of law, and (3) epideictic rhetoric in public ceremonies involving personal and civic values (such as funeral orations).
Both Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Rabbi Sacks’ Essays on Values involve epideictic rhetoric about personal and civic ideals.
I should also say that the Hebrew Scriptures at times features certain passages that biblical students refer to as law suits, because the passages seem to be conducted as claims and counter-claims in a court of law (Aristotle’s forensic rhetoric). Of course the Hebrew Scriptures famously features the Mosaic law, as it is called. Incidentally, Moses is not primarily portrayed in the Hebrew Bible as a charismatic speaker, but he becomes an efficient loudspeaker down the road.
Make no error about it, Rabbi Sacks is British. But he has not neglected to study our American cultural heritage – especially the Calvinists in New England.
In his new book The Kingdom of Speech, Tom Wolfe, who holds a Ph. Deb. in American studies from Yale, lists John Calvin as one of the six most influential persons in world history.
The particular Calvinists in New England came from East Anglia. During the time, Ramist dialectic dominated the curriculum at Cambridge University in East Anglia. Peter Ramus (1515-1572), the French logician and academic reformer and Protestant martyr, was a French Calvinist.
The American Jesuit cultural historian and theorist Walter J. Ong’s family ancestors and forefathers left East Anglia on a single ship that brought Roger Williams to Massachusetts Gulf Colony in 1631.
Virtually all the college-educated men in New England in the seventeenth century were Ramists.
When Harvard College was founded in 1636, Ramist dialectic dominated the curriculum.
Rabbi Sacks says, “The early on settlers were Puritans, in the Calvinist tradition, the closest Christianity came to basing its politics on the Hebrew Bible” (page 92). Elsewhere he characterizes them as steeped in the Hebrew Bible (page 290). No doubt they were steeped in the Hebrew Bible.
Rabbi Carriers notes in passing that the Gutenberg printing press emerged in Western culture in the mid-fifteenth century (pages 65 and 81).
But Rabbi Sacks really does not happen to advertisement explicitly to Ong’s greatly researched book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Artwork of Discourse to the Art of Reason (Harvard University Press, 1958).
Rabbi Sacks also does not happen to advert explicitly to the Jewish Harvard sociologist David Riesman’s widely known book The Lonely Masses: Research in the Changing American Character (Yale University or college Press, 1950). In it Riesman discusses three wide character types: (1) outer-directed (also known as tradition-directed), (2) inner-directed, and (3) other-directed. He favors inner-directed types, and is skeptical about the then-emerging other-directed types.
Nevertheless, Rabbi Carriers uses the terminology outer-directed and inner-directed (page 179).
Because Rabbi Sacks is conspicuously a Brit, I want to quote among the most memorable comments he makes: “England is, or was until recently, a tradition-based society” (page 92). That fell to all those British colonists in New England and elsewhere to make American culture famous for producing inner-directed people. He credits this remarkable development to the Puritans’ fascination with the Hebrew Bible.
Rabbi Sacks attaches outer-directed types with pity cultures, and inner-directed types with guilt cultures. About the whole, the ancient Hebrews portrayed in the Hebrew Bible pioneered sense of guilt culture – amid a sea of shame cultures in the ancient world.
Now, Rabbi Sacks explicitly says, “Jewish thought is counter-philosophical” (page 167) to distinguish it from the Western philosophical tradition of thought.
Rabbi Sacks states, “The Jewish mystics, among them Rabbi Shneur Zalman, spoke about two spirits that each of all of us has – the pet soul (nefesh habehemit) and the Godly soul. About the one hand we are physical beings. We are part of character. We have physical needs: food, drink, shelter. We are born, we live, we die. ”
He then quotes a passage from Ecclesiastes 3: nineteen about our animal character.
“Yet we are not only animals. We have within us immortal longings. We can think, speak, and communicate. We could, by works of speaking and hearing, reach out to others. ”
I have here quoted from page 154.
Rabbi Sacks also mentions “what the Jewish mystics called the nefesh habehemit, the animal soul” parenthetically on page 13.
Despite the fact that Rabbi Sacks claims that “Jewish thought is counter-philosophical, ” I learned within my studies of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy at Saint Louis University, where I took English programs from Ong, how to distinguish the specifically human soul from the infra-human soul of the human animal – a differentiation that parallels Rabbi Sacks’ distinction. Methinks he doth protest too much about how counter-philosophical Jewish thought is.
For example , Rabbi Sacks discusses Rambam’s “two quite different ways of living the moral life”: the way of the saint and the way of the sage (page 223). “The sage follows the ‘golden mean, ’ the ‘middle way’ [between the extremes]” (page 223). Rabbi Sacks says, “This is very similar to the vision of the moral life as arranged out by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics” (page 223; also see webpage 246). True enough. However, because Aristotle is a philosopher, the parallel between Rambam’s way of the sage and Aristotle’s vision of the moral life does not exactly support Rabbi Sacks’ claim that “Jewish thought is counter-philosophical.
I can attest from the courses in Aristotelian-Thomistic viewpoint that I took at Saint Louis University that St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was a medieval Aristotelian in whose vision of the meaningful life also included the golden mean between the extremes.
Before the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in the Roman Catholic Chapel down-sized Thomism, many American Catholic undergraduates at Catholic colleges and universities in the United States researched Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy as part of the required primary curriculum and studied Aristotelian-Thomistic ethics.
In conclusion, if Americans today are thinking about the thought of a Brit born and raised in the tradition-based society of England, they might fascinated with Rabbi Sacks’ creative interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures and political thought in Western culture., Rabbi Carriers is obviously wonderful in his insights and also this book outdoes even his stellar report. Each chapter corresponds to a chapter in the Torah. A perfect publication for discussion around the Sabbath table as well as for individuals who are not religious but are concerned with leading an ethical liefe.., A crucial work Rabbi Sacks, the writer of " To Recover a Fractured World:, The particular Ethics of Responsibility. " Together, a reader can find a world-class course on serving humanity and creating a difference., very insightful, Fixed some puzzles for me personally and (as a Christian) restored my flagging interest in the OT., Superb, inspiring, brings Bible integrity to today for anyone., Excellent read! From the educational and a provocative source., Brilliant and universal as always. Use it when I teach.
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