In tribute to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ impact on the spiritual and intellectual life of our community, TraditionOnline’s The BEST project is presenting weekly columns dedicated to aspects of his thought and teaching. We have invited our readers and writers to consider what things “out there” in worldly culture make them think and feel. What aspects of western thought and literature inspire us to pursue lives as more fully engaged thinking religious beings?
Reading R. Sacks’ many books and listening to his lectures, one is not just impressed by his original insights and striking formulations, but also awed by his ability to integrate so many disparate sources. To read his work is to experience a well-guided tour of Matthew Arnold’s ideal of “the best that has been thought and said.” Throughout his writing, Rabbi Sacks quotes broadly from Torah sources. Yet, he also reaches deeply into classical and contemporary writers on philosophy, politics, and society, including popular research in psychology, ethics, economics, and sociology.
In looking to add to The BEST project, we have “raided” Rabbi Sacks’ “bookshelves.” Reviewing the endnotes, bibliographies, and indexes of his books, we collected a list of titles and writers that he called upon to develop and argue his ideas. Challenging our writers to not simply profile these works, we asked them what Rabbi Sacks was doing in “importing” these thinkers and writers into his “Thought Beit Midrash.” His readers can observe how each work uniquely enriched his own thinking and the beautiful tapestry of meaning that he was able to weave. Over the coming weeks our writers will explain not only why these works are “The BEST,” and worthy of our attention in and of themselves – but what Rabbi Sacks was driving at in drawing from their wisdom and presenting their ideas to his readers and students worldwide.
The series launches tomorrow with Harvey Belovski’s exploration of Sigmund Freud’s Moses and Monotheism. In the coming weeks, we look forward to submissions from Michael Harris on Alasdair MacIntryre’s After Virtue, Joe Wolfson on Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, Ben Crowne on Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, Tamra Wright on B.J. Fogg’s Tiny Habits, Raphael Zarum on E. Nelson’s The Hebrew Republic, Johnny Solomon on Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz on John Donne’s Meditation XVII, Daniel Rynhold on Spinoza’s A Theologico-Political Treatise, Helena Miller on John Dewey and Horace Kallen, Dan Friedman on Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society, and more. While Rabbi Sacks’ loss has been felt worldwide, there can be no doubt that Anglo-Jewry has suffered this tragedy most sharply. We are comforted in the upcoming opportunity to share the teaching and writing of so many distinguished British scholars, thinkers, rabbis, and educators as we assess the legacy of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks zt”l.
Chaim Strauchler, on behalf of the TRADITION Editorial Board
The Rabbi Sacks Bookshelves Project is presented in cooperation with the London School of Jewish Studies.