Another Way, Another Time: Religious Inclusivism and the Sacks Chief Rabbinate

Another Way, Another Time: Religious Inclusivism and the Sacks Chief Rabbinate

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Meir Persoff

Series: Judaism and Jewish Life
ISBN: 9781934843901 (hardcover) / 9781936235100 (paper)
Pages: 400 pp.
Publication Date: March 2010

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British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks—now Baron Sacks of Aldgate in the City of London—launched his tenure of office in 1991 with the aim of an inclusivist Decade of Jewish Renewal. Within a few years, fulfilling his installation prediction that "I will have failures, but I will try again, another way, another time," he was attracting calls, from opponents and supporters, for his resignation and the abolition of his office. Reviewing Sacks’ early writings and pronouncements on the theme of inclusivism, Another Way, Another Time demonstrates how, repeatedly, the Chief Rabbi said "irreconcilable things to different audiences" and how, in the process, he induced his kingmaker and foremost patron, Lord (Stanley) Kalms, to declare of Anglo-Jewry: "We are in a time warp, and fast becoming an irrelevance in terms of world Jewry." Citing support from a variety of sources, this study contends that the Chief Rabbinate has indeed reached the end of the road and explores other paths to the leadership of a pluralistic—and, ideally, inclusivist—community.

Meir Persoff, now a freelance writer and editor, edited The Jewish Chronicle’s news, features, arts, Judaism, letters, and obituaries sections during a distinguished 40-year career on the paper. He has written extensively on Jewish topics—notably Jewish art and Judaica—and served on the Jewish Book Council and as president of the Israel-Judaica Philatelic Society. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Life Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, he holds a London University MA (with distinction) in Hebrew and Jewish studies, having specialised in modern Jewish history and the history of antisemitism, and earned his PhD from Middlesex University, London, for his research into the British Chief Rabbinate’s relationship with the non-Orthodox movements. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace for the Middlesex Commission Area in 2001.

[Persoff] has been able to deploy his material against the background of an extensive knowledge of the inner world of British Jewry, gathered over a lifetime reporting and commenting upon it without fear and without favour. Another Way, Another Time will certainly not be the last word on Jonathan Sacks. But all who write on this subject hereafter will need to measure their efforts against the yardstick Dr. Persoff has fashioned, and which he now sets before us.
— Geoffrey Alderman, University of Buckingham
Meir Persoff, in this well-researched volume, examines the record of Sacks . . . and comes to the conclusion that the British Chief Rabbinate has outlived its usefulness. . . . There is probably no one better qualified than Persoff to write such a book, having been at the heart of communal matters in his career at The Jewish Chronicle for more than 40 years and, since his retirement to Israel, having the time to research archive material—and the knowledge of what to look for—not only in England but in America as well. He set out with the aim of proving that the Chief Rabbinate will not—indeed should not—survive. Personally, I hope he is wrong because, among other things, it brings prestige to Anglo-Jewry from the outside world. Having read the book, however, I am beginning to have doubts.
— Hyam Corney, The Jerusalem Post
[Persoff’s] indefatigable journalist’s instinct and connections have served him well in what is undoubtedly the best-researched book on contemporary Anglo-Jewry.
The Jewish Quarterly
Meir Persoff’s Another Way, Another Time is a devastating indictment of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ 20-year tenure [as Chief Rabbi].
Canadian Jewish News
Another Way, Another Time is the first full-scale study of the Sacks chief rabbinate, and the picture presented is devastating. With the aid of copious original sources such as newspapers, correspondence and interviews, British historian and veteran journalist Meir Persoff shows how Sacks’s top priority has been staying in the good graces of the Haredi, or strictly Orthodox, faction . . . Ironically, it is clear from the documentation that Persoff has gathered that the Orthodox circles Sacks strives to placate will never consider him Orthodox enough no matter what he does. . . . Simply put, a man who represents only the most moderate form of Orthodoxy—which used to be, but is no longer, professed by most British Jews—cannot also speak for the entire spectrum of the Jewish community, which today ranges religiously from far left to far right. In that sense Sacks may be an unfortunate victim of history. If so, the book’s title is certainly apt: the position of Chief Rabbi was ‘another way’ for ‘another time,’ but not for the religiously fractured present.
The Jewish Daily Forward
Persoff argues that ‘many (if not most) regard the Chief Rabbinate as divisive, and would not miss it should it cease to exist.’ Building on this statement, by analysing how the inclusivist vision explicitly laid down as a template for the Sacks Chief Rabbinate has repeatedly failed to be implemented, he collates an impressive array of sources to demonstrate how separatism, bitter infighting and a marked failure to cultivate inclusivism have prevailed. He examines the variety of crises that have mired the Chief Rabbi . . . and highlights the Chief Rabbi’s role in recent controversies over conversion, especially as played out in the JFS case.

As Lord Sacks approaches retirement in 2013, Persoff argues against the lasting value of the post. The latest data on synagogue affiliation highlights how Anglo-Jewry is changing. Mainstream Orthodoxy is losing its majority share—indicating the seeming necessity to reconsider the future role of a Chief Rabbi.
The Jewish Chronicle
[Persoff’s] work is essentially a source-book with numerous, substantial quotations that he has carefully combed from a large number of varied archives that will prove invaluable for all future studies of the subject.
— Stefan Reif, St. John's College, Cambride, in the Journal of Jewish Studies
[A]n important book, especially for Anglo-Jewry, because it chronicles and documents its many internal disputes with and around the office of the current chief rabbi. . . . [It] is also a description of a paradigm shift . . . the shift of the Jewish community in Britain away from its once-largely monolithic structure.
— Dow Marmur, Manna
Persoff’s work is presented in a broadly objective, scholarly manner. His quotations from sources are immense. . . . Persoff’s work highlights the rather less positive perception of the current chief rabbi that is held by certain sectors of the British Jewish community. His detailed account of the controversies in which the chief rabbi has been caught up with different elements of the community suggests this is more than just a case of familiarity breeding contempt. Persoff does not claim that it is Sacks’s responsibility that the Chief Rabbinate has outlived its value. It is an outcome of the office that, for all Sacks’s lofty statements, he has been unable to reverse.
— Miri Freud-Kandel, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East
[The book’s] major achievement is to gather abundant primary source material, much of it taken from contemporary printed material (e.g. The Jewish Chronicle, Manna and other Jewish journals) and from archival collections at the London Metropolitan Archives and the Hartley Library at the University of Southampton. In addition, the author was given access to the private papers of Rabbis Immanuel Jakobovits, Louis Jacobs, and Sidney Brichto. . . . The sources presented by Persof . . . are balanced. . . . Persoff has provided abundant documentary evidence about how fraught with pitfalls the position is for a new Chief Rabbi today.
— Marc Saperstein, King’s College London, in the Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, November 2013

Table of Contents

Foreword, by Geoffrey Alderman

1. With Open Arms
2. Beyond the Limits
3. Leading by Example
4. The Culture of Contempt
5. The Search for Survival
6. The Stanmore Accords: Interlude. From First to Second
7. The Indignity of Difference
8. The Crucible of Judaism
9. The Dynamic of Renewal
10. Rites and Wrongs
11. The Stanmore Discords
12. The Mirage of Unity
13. The Pull of Pluralism