By: Shaul Elson  | 

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks to Teach at Yeshiva

Since he stepped down after 22 years from the position of Chief Rabbi of Great Britain in September, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has remained tight-lipped on the specifics of his post-retirement plans. In an interview with London-based Jewish News back in August, Rabbi Sacks explained that for the next few years, he hopes to “inspire and recruit a new generation of young leaders for the Jewish world.”

It seems that Rabbi Sacks will begin this mission, at least in part, at Yeshiva University.

In an October 29 letter to students and the wider YU community, President Richard Joel announced that Rabbi Sacks had been appointed the Kressel and Efrat Family University Professor of Jewish Thought at Yeshiva. “It has long been our desire to welcome [Rabbi Sacks] into this next stage of his life by having him work at Yeshiva University to both inspire the next generation of Jewish leadership and to be a voice to the Jewish people and world for our timeless values,” President Joel wrote.

Along with his professorship at YU, Rabbi Sacks will serve as the Ingeborg and Ira Rennert Global Distinguished Professor of Judaic Thought at New York University. According to his website, Rabbi Sacks will spend three months of the year in New York, balancing these two commitments.

In September 1991, Rabbi Sacks was appointed the sixth Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, a position he held until September 2013. Under his leadership and through innovative community projects he spearheaded, Anglo-Jewry has been reinvigorated. At the same time, Rabbi Sacks established himself as a world-renowned scholar and philosopher. He has written over 25 books, is a frequent contributor to the London Times, and gives a regular BBC radio broadcast.

A number of Rabbi Lord Sack’s books – The Dignity of Difference, A Letter in the Scroll, and Covenant & Conversation: Genesis – have won literary awards. Rabbi Sacks also provided the translation, commentary and introductions for the wildly popular Koren Hebrew-English Siddur, as well as several Koren Hebrew-English Machzorim. Rabbi Sack’s most recent book is The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning. 

Rabbi Lord Sacks earned first class honors in Philosophy at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge; he pursued post-graduate studies at New College, Oxford and King’s College, London, earning his doctorate from the latter in 1981. Rabbi Lord Sacks received rabbinical ordination (Semicha) from Yeshivat Etz Hayyim, London, and from Jew’s College. From 1984-1990, Rabbi Sacks served as Principal of Jew’s College.

In his letter, President Joel mentioned some of the honors Rabbi Sacks has received. In 2005, Rabbi Lord Sacks was knighted by Her Majesty The Queen and made a Life Peer, taking his seat in October 2009 at the House of Lords as Baron Sacks of Aldgate in the City of London. In addition, Rabbi Lord Sacks has been a visiting professor at several universities in Britain, the United States, and Israel, and holds 16 honorary degrees. To mark his first ten years as Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Sacks was named an honorary Doctor of Divinity by then-Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey.

The details of Rabbi Sack’s position at YU have not been finalized yet, but according to staff members in the Presidents’ office and the Dean’s Office at Yeshiva, Rabbi Sacks will be co-teaching an undergraduate class with Rabbi Meir Soleveichik on Judaism and democracy. The class will be based on several of Rabbi Sack’s books, including The Politics of Hope.

The details surrounding the exact nature of Rabbi Sacks’ academic involvement in Yeshiva are perhaps complicated by peculiar constraints. According to NYU News, the dual professorship will last for three years. As currently scheduled, it appears that Rabbi Sacks will spend six weeks at Yeshiva, six weeks at NYU, and six weeks of shared time. In total, Rabbi Sacks will spend 18 weeks a year teaching. At NYU, Rabbi Sacks is slated to teach a six-week course titled “Major Issues and Problems in Modern Jewish History: Jewish Leadership in a Secular Age.”

Rabbi Sacks is no stranger to the YU community. He was awarded the Yeshiva’s inaugural Norman Lamm Prize, he has lectured at Yeshiva numerous times, wrote a well-received afterword for the 20th anniversary edition of Torah Umaddah, the magnum opus of former YU President and Chancellor Norman Lamm, and holds an honorary degree from Yeshiva.

The possibility that Rabbi Sacks will stay with Yeshiva University past his three year commitment, or that he will come to fill a larger role in the University in the future – like Rabbi Goldwicht, who remains at yeshiva 25 years after he began a temporary position - seems slim. In his August interview with Jewish News, Rabbi Sacks reiterated that he plans on staying involved, albeit in a less public fashion, with the London community. “I am not going to abandon the community,” he said. “Most of my time will be spent in London.” Additionally, it seems unlikely that Rabbi Lord Sacks will settle in too snugly with one organization. In the interview, Rabbi Sacks expressed his wish to take his efforts “global.” In the future, he said, he hopes to be “writing, teaching, broadcasting and speaking on a more global forum. There’s a hunger around the world for the message that we’ve been delivering of a Judaism that engages the world.”