Rabbi Berel Wein

JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review Nov. 15, 1999 /6 Kislev, 5760

Legacies and remembrances

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE FORMER CHIEF RABBI of the British Commonwealth and a distinguished member of the British House of Lords, Sir Immanuel Jakobovits, was buried recently in Jerusalem. I had the distinct privilege of knowing him personally, first in the US, where he served as the founding rabbi of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue Synagogue, and then later as Britain's chief rabbi.

There are many people who find themselves in positions of influence. Some of them inexplicably ignore the opportunities presented to them by their positions; as such, they are judged to be failures by history and later generations, no matter how popular and seemingly important they may have been in their lifetime.

Others who find themselves in such positions of importance fully exploit the opportunities and challenges that their position and talents afford them and thus are able to make a meaningful - even eternal - contribution to Jewish life.

Jakobovits certainly belongs in this latter category.

I have heard the current Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth Dr. Jonathan Sacks, remark that the chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth has little actual power and yet can be of great influence, while the Chief Rabbinate in Israel has much power but relatively little influence.


Be that as it may, there is no doubt that Lord Jakobovits had enormous influence in the Jewish world. I think that his uniqueness lay in something that he would never have claimed as an accomplishment for himself - his service as a role model, a hero, to younger rabbis and colleagues.

In our times, the divisiveness in Jewish life prevents almost anyone from achieving heroic stature. Anyone who is not in "my camp" is automatically excluded from heroic consideration.

Yet, true Jewish heroes are never just of one camp or one group or narrow interest. They are people of breadth and perception and compassion, who are inclusive and not exclusive. They build bridges and not walls.

Lord Jakobovits, who was a meticulously observant Jew and a fierce defender of Jewish tradition, values and lifestyle, was nevertheless a person whose influence was felt by all sectors of the Jewish people; he was a person of heroic stature in the non-Jewish world as well. Thus, he was an inspiration to other rabbis, who often toil under difficult and painful circumstances.

I was a very young rabbi when I first heard him speak as a guest lecturer in my synagogue in Miami Beach. The lecture, as was his wont, was scholarly, interesting, well-prepared, and well-delivered.

Afterwards, over a cup of tea in my home before we both retired for the night, we talked about the state of the American rabbinate the time. I carried away two important lessons from that conversation that have remained with me all of my life.

The first was his comment, spoken firmly and with passion, that a rabbi must realize that he is working for G-d and the people of Israel, and not for the particular group of people who pay his salary. That is the only way to be an effective and inspirational religious leader.

It enables one to digest all of the daily slights and difficulties of Jewish public service because one is focused on a greater vision of one's role and mission. The rabbi is able to paint on a larger canvas and that alone serves as a source of strength and satisfaction.

His second piece of advice was that a rabbi, above all else, must devote time to his spouse and children. Neglect of the home, even in the holiest of callings and missions, will always bring sad results that may even eventually erase the public achievements that have been accomplished by the sacrifices of time, effort and personal sacrifice.

Rabbi Jakobovits was a man of strong opinions and he voiced them openly, even though they were at the time unpopular. He commented in the 1970s that sending the best and most dedicated of the religious Zionist youth to settle Judea and Samaria would guarantee that Tel Aviv and mainstream Israel would become more and more secular and estranged from both Jewish tradition and Zionist ideals themselves. He early on warned of the problem that ruling over millions of Palestinian Arabs would cause Israel.

He pointed out that the destiny of the State of Israel was that it was to be a special nation, a moral beacon, a champion of humanity and goodness, a foe of corruption and immorality, a lonely beam of holiness in a profane world. If it failed to pursue that course of destiny, he said, it would suffer greatly both in its internal society and in its relationships with the non-Jewish world.

In short, he said that Jews had to always strive to sanctify G-d's name in their personal lives, and that the same standard applied for the Jewish state as well.

Rabbi Jakobovits lived up to his standard. He practiced what he preached. He was a rabbi's rabbi. Whether it was in Jewish public life, in the House of Lords, in the pulpit of the synagogue, at the podium at a lecturer on medical ethics, in the study hall of Torah and Talmud, he was a symbol of what the definition of kiddush Hashem was in the modern rabbinate. As such he was and will remain an inspiration for the countless rabbis who were inspired by his presence on the Jewish scene.

He lives on in the respect and admiration accorded to him by his colleagues in the field of Jewish public service and in the remembrances and legacy that he has bequeathed to those of our generation who knew him and learned from him.

Yehi zichro baruch.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He resides in Jerusalem. You may contact Rabbi Wein by by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


11/08/99: The joy -- and responsibility -- of being a grandparent
10/28/99: Imperfect solutions
10/21/99: 'Holy loafers'
10/07/99: Earthquakes --- 'natural' and otherwise
09/28/99: Beauty
09/17/99: Blessing the children
09/10/99: A good year

©1999, Rabbi Berel Wein