The late Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, Lord Immanuel Jakobovits (1921-1999), was a prophetic voice in a secular age. Former British Prime Minister Margaret (Baroness) Thatcher described him as a “giant among men”.
Lord Jacobovits was highly critical of those Jewish community leaders – including some rabbis – who applauded the secularisation of society. Sydney writer and Orthodox Jew, Mark Braham, looks at some words Jakobovits uttered more than 40 years ago – words which are, if anything, more relevant than ever for today’s world.
In an address to the Convention of the Rabbinical Council of America (June 27, 1963), the then Rabbi Jakobovits, spoke on “Jewish-Christian Relations”.
Referring to the situation in America, he said: “By invariably taking sides with the libertarians in controversies on the role of religion in public life, the Jewish “defense” agencies create a popular image of the Jew as a protagonist of secularism.
“This is as inconsonant with current religious trends in America as it is inimical to Jewish interest. Jewish religious life could only flourish in a deeply religious society, and the acknowledgement of God in all areas of life by all men remains Judaism’s most cardinal tenet.
“Whatever the justification for Jewish fears in the past, the Jewish religious community must now reconsider its position in the light of the situation as it is today, not as it was in the Middle Ages or at the time of the Founding Fathers.
“In the gigantic struggle, which will determine human as well as Jewish survival between the forces of morality founded on religion and the crass materialism fed by godlessness, there can be but one legitimate choice for Jews if they are not to renounce their prophetic heritage as the people who were told, ‘Ye are My witnesses.’
“Through these mutual concessions – Christians abandoning their claims against the Jewish people, and the Jews abandoning their dogmatic resistance to manifestations of religion in public life – much bitterness and suspicion would be eliminated. The stage would be set for coordinated action on the great issues facing our age.
“The voice of religion thus strengthened as a mighty force could then effectively address itself to the moral evils gnawing at the roots of our society: the lust for power, success and pleasure, corruption in government, marital faithlessness, and other vices threatening man’s security.
“Such a voice unencumbered by mutual fears could create an altogether new climate of human dignity and idealism. Religion would no longer be a mere regimen of worship but a universal discipline to regenerate the moral excellence of men and governments joined in serving each other as partners and not as rivals seeking predominance.”
Prayers at public schools
Rabbi Jakobovits, in the same address, noted: “A survey soon after the Supreme Court decision on (banning) prayers at public schools was said to indicate that no fewer than 80 per cent of all Americans disapproved of the decision, as did virtually all State governors …”.
He had made his views clear publicly in a letter to the New York Times (July 4, 1962):
“Lest it be thought that all rabbis concur with the recent statement by the New York Board of Rabbis praising the Supreme Court decision on prayer at public schools, I wish to express my dissent from, and utter dismay at, this strange alliance between teachers of Judaism and the spokesmen of atheism or secularism who secured and applauded the verdict.
“As spiritual leaders of the people that gave birth to the immortal vision of the days when ‘the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’, we can scarcely, I submit, be jubilant about outlawing the acknowledgement and worship of God from any area of life, least of all from schools, which pre-eminently fashion the outlook of our future citizens, without making a travesty of Jewish thought and history.
“For many centuries devout Jewish parents have taught their children, long before they could read or even speak properly, to include in their simple morning prayers the verse from the Hebrew Bible: ‘The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord’, so as to instill in them the conviction that knowledge or education without a religious foundation is worthless.
“The United States is now probably the only country in the world outside the Iron Curtain to brand as an offence the public acknowledgement of God in schools. How can rabbis, heirs to the Prophets of Israel, rejoice over this?
“Freedom cannot be maintained without religion, just as the brotherhood of man requires the Fatherhood of God. A generation of heathen hedonists, worshiping the idols of happiness and material success, will be unable to evoke the herculean strength necessary to contain the mighty tide of godlessness in the defence of liberty.
“Furthermore, even statistics show that only children reared in a wholesome religious atmosphere are likely to develop the maximum immunity to the scourges of juvenile delinquency corroding our society and undermining its security.
“‘The wall of separation’ between state and church must be constructed with ample gateways to prevent the divorce of education from religion if that wall is not to lay siege to our civilisation and starve it to death.
“These are purely my personal views, but I have no doubt that they are shared by many of my colleagues, whether they are members of the Board of Rabbis or not.”
When the time came to appoint a new Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, following the death of the previous incumbent, there is not doubt Rabbi Jakobovits’s courage and public stand on such issues as “Jewish-Christian relations” was a telling factor in his appointment. In this vital area, he was the Jewish counterpart of Pope John Paul II.
Britain now a Godless society
“It is no accident,” wrote Tamar Pinsky recently, “that a glance at any daily newspaper proves that all the evils of a Godless society have been let loose in Britain.”
In his article attacking US federal judge John Jones’s ruling that members of a Pennsylvanian school board had violated the American constitution when they insisted that, prior to biology lessons that taught Darwin’s theory of evolution, pupils should listen to an explanation of intelligent design, Pinsky quoted a number of famous Jews on the subject.
Rabbi Avi Shafran defended intelligent design, saying that it “goes to the essence of society: how we educate our children”. He asserted: “Belief in the Creator is probably the most important aspect of any ethical, moral-minded parent’s concern in educating his children.”
And another speaker on evolution: “The eye, to this day, gives me a cold shudder”, since it’s an “organ of extreme perfection”. Thus wrote Charles Darwin, who had his misgivings.
Jewish biochemist and Nobel Prize-winner, Sir Ernst Chain, wrote: “These classic evolutionary theories are a gross oversimplification of an immensely complex and intricate mass of facts and it amazes me that they are swallowed so uncritically and readily and for such a long time by so many scientists without a murmur of protest.”
Celebrated lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) wrote: “When a butterfly has to look like a leaf, not only are all the details of a leaf beautifully rendered, but markings mimicking grub-bored holes are generously thrown in. ‘Natural selection’ in the Darwinian sense could not explain the miraculous coincidence of imitative aspect and imitative behaviour, nor could one appeal to the theory of the ‘struggle for life’ when a protective device was carried to a point of mimetic subtlety, exuberance and luxury far in excess of a predator’s power of appreciation.”
Tamar Pinsky warns: “The corollary to denying evolution theories is acknowledging the power of the Divine Creator, a step too far for many people who would then be saddled with obligations and responsibilities they would prefer to do without. What we have instead is a nation and a generation in crisis.
“This (Britain) is a society where the separation of Church and State has become absolute (for Church, read religious beliefs) and secular morality, if you can call it that, reigns supreme.” (Jewish Tribune, January 26, 2006).
The Noahide Laws
The Noahide Laws (Noachian Precepts) are the seven laws given to Noah and those who survived the Flood. They are binding on all mankind and have underpinned civilised and healthy societies since that time.
One of the laws prohibits incest and homosexualism. Alex Strom writes: “Some weeks ago my esteemed Rov, Rav (Rabbi) Elchonon Halpern, asked me if it was indeed true that Parliament has passed a law legally recognising civil unions other than marriage.
“When I confirmed to him that was so, I was taken aback by a look of anguish and disbelief. When I tried to reassure him that the law had financial rather than moral implications, Rav Halpern’s reply was one of bewilderment. ‘You don’t understand,’ he told me. ‘This is probably the first time that a law has been passed which contravenes one of the seven laws given to the sons of Noah.’
“… The more I think about Rav Halpern’s reaction the more I realise unfortunately how desensitised we have become into accepting much of the moral slippage around us.”
The Noahide Laws cover idolatry, murder, theft, blasphemy, promotion of justice and cruelty to animals. Strom points out that the “one duty of the Noahide Laws that seems inviolate is the one designed to protect the welfare of animals. This is not as strange as it first seems, given the greater sympathy frequently displayed by wicked people over the centuries towards animals above the sanctity of human life.”
Dutch politician Pym Fortuyn was murdered by an animal rights activist. Hitler’s best friend was his dog.
Idolatry? Mourners packed the streets to pay their last respects to George Best, footballer, drunkard, adulterer and wife-beater.
Murder? Three balanced meals a day, free medical treatment and colour TV. Early release for good behaviour, to rape and murder again.
“By eroding these fundamental codes,” writes Alex Strom, “Parliament is unwittingly destroying the very fabric on which society is built.” (Jewish Tribune, January 26, 2006).
Where is the “mighty force” envisioned by Chief Rabbi Jakobovits – a voice that “could effectively address itself to the morals evils gnawing at the roots of our society”? The obvious vehicle would be the Australian Council of Christians and Jews which, with its international associates, could have provided such a voice. But as their membership, even leadership, includes Jews and Christians who do not even accept the validity of the Noahide Laws, the association has rendered itself impotent to do other than publish learned articles for internal perusal.
The association, to be of any real value as a voice envisioned by Jakobovits, must restrict its membership to Jews and Christians who, for example, recognise that practitioners of homosexuality defy the God-given laws imposed on all mankind. This would restrict Jewish membership to the Orthodox.
- Mark Braham