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Last Updated: Friday, 10 June 2005, 23:16 GMT 00:16 UK
Profile: Dr Jonathan Sacks
Dr Sacks: Chief Rabbi since 1991
Dr Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, has been knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

Dr Sacks was born in 1948 and married in 1970. He and his wife Elaine have a son and two daughters.

He studied philosophy at Cambridge and Oxford Universities and gained his PHD at Kings College London before undertaking further theological training at Jews College London.

In the early 1970s, Dr Sacks lectured in Jewish and moral philosophy before becoming the principal of Jews College and Professor of modern Jewish thought.

The post was created in honour of Sir Immanuel (Lord) Jakobovits, one of the major thinkers within Jewish society in the 20th century.

He became Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations in 1991, a year after he delivered the BBC's annual Reith lectures.

Before taking this post he had been Rabbi at Golders Green and Marble Arch Synagogues, London.

Now he regularly contributes to the BBC (in particular BBC Radio Four's Thought for the Day) and national newspapers.

In September 2001, the then Archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey, conferred on him a doctorate of divinity in recognition of his decade as Chief Rabbi.

Community renewal

Dr Sacks has sought to use the post to renew and unite British Jewry. The community declined in the late 20th century and is divided along many theological lines.

In our interconnected world, we must learn to feel enlarged, not threatened, by difference - that is what I have argued"
Dr Jonathan Sacks

The greatest challenge facing the community is how to prevent further decline through marriage outside of the faith.

Today considerable efforts are being invested into encouraging the younger generations to have a stronger sense of Jewish community and identity - although there are again divisions in how best to achieve this.

Dr Sacks last book, The Dignity of Difference, caused a major storm when other leaders in the community objected to his interpretation of faith in a multicultural society.

Published a year after the events of 9/11, Dr Sacks said the only route to peace would be through each of us learning how to respect and rejoice in each other's differences, whatever our convictions or heritage.

Dr Sacks' thesis was that there was one God and one heaven - but many versions of truth on Earth.

Recognition of this would allow members of orthodox faiths such as his to better understand communities with other beliefs.

It marked a shift too far for some ultra-orthodox Rabbis who said it was incompatible with Judaism to suggest the faith did not contain absolute truth.

Amid wide community pressure, Dr Sacks said he would clarify his position and a revised version of the book was later published.

This move prompted an angry response among those who had supported his thesis and he was accused of backing down rather than defending his call for tolerance in a multi-faith modern world.

Geoffrey Alderman, the respected Jewish commentator, remarked later "never had a British chief rabbi been brought so low".

But during the height of the uproar, Dr Sacks argued his book's radicalism was not in that it had departed from Judaism - but that it had explored answers to modern crises from firmly within an orthodox faith.

"The Dignity of Difference is not and was not intended as a theological treatise. It is a plea - the most forceful I could make - for tolerance in an age of growing religious extremism," he said at the time.

"I see in the rising crescendo of ethnic tensions, civilizational clashes and the use of religious justification for acts of terror, a clear and present danger to humanity.

"For too long, the pages of history have been stained by bloodshed in the name of God. Allied to weapons of mass destruction, extremist religious attitudes threaten the very future of life on earth.

"In our interconnected world, we must learn to feel enlarged, not threatened, by difference. That is what I have argued in my book."

Despite the uproar over that book, he remains a prolific writer, publishing three more works since the row.

His latest book, To Heal a Fractured Wound, investigates the ethics of responsibility - and the role that a faith has in closing the divisions between groups that its followers may have opened. The book argues that individual interpretations of ethics and responsibility are not enough and we have a responsiblity to recognise that it is not enough to seek personal fulfillment - we have a responsiblity to each other that goes beyond the self.

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