Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on Powerful Books, Mystics, Richard Dawkins, and the Dangers of Safe Spaces (#455)

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“Win the respect of people you respect, and you can forget the rest.”

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (@RabbiSacks) is an international religious leader, philosopher, and respected moral voice. He was the chief rabbi of the UK and Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013 and the recipient of the 2016 Templeton Prize, in recognition of his “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” Rabbi Sacks has been described by HRH The Prince of Wales as “a light unto this nation” and by former British prime minister Tony Blair as “an intellectual giant.” He is an award-winning author of more than 30 books, including Not in God’s Name. His new book, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times , recently became a bestseller in the UK and is now available in North America.

He is a frequent and sought-after contributor to radio, television, and the international press and a renowned public speaker, and he has degrees from both Cambridge and Oxford universities, as well as 18 honorary degrees. He was knighted by HM The Queen in 2005 and took his seat in the House of Lords in October 2009. Born in 1948 in London, he has been married to his wife Elaine since 1970. They have three children and several grandchildren.

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#455: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on Powerful Books, Mystics, Richard Dawkins, and the Dangers of Safe Spaces
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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

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Want to hear an episode with someone on the other side of the spiritual spectrum? Check out my latest conversation with Sam Harris here, in which we discuss mindfulness as a way to conquer fear, the future of psychedelics and empathogens as therapy, quarantine mushroom trips, worthwhile nonprofits to support during this pandemic, and much more.

#433: Sam Harris on Psychedelics, How to Cope During a Pandemic, Taming Anxiety, and More
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SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

Connect with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

SHOW NOTES

  • Why is Rabbi Sacks known for wearing yellow ties, and how did he bypass the “no ties” policy when preparing to give his TED talk? [06:41]
  • Rabbi Sacks explains in further detail why he considers noise-canceling headphones “the most religious objects” he’s come across. [11:12]
  • A purchase of perhaps less than $10 that has made a positive contribution to Rabbi Sacks’ life. [15:40]
  • On the sadness of Jewish music and the profound effect it’s had on Rabbi Sacks since he was a toddler. [16:35]
  • Why Rabbi Sacks considers it such a blessing that he married someone so unlike himself half a century ago. [19:52]
  • From thousands of available accounts of the Holocaust, here’s what Rabbi Sacks finds particularly inspiring about The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger. [21:06]
  • What adventure and improbable phone conversation set young Jonathan Sacks on the path to becoming Rabbi Sacks, and who was the Lubavitcher Rebbe? [24:45]
  • What’s the difference between a rabbi and a rebbe, and how does a mystic see the universe? [33:41]
  • Why was there a public outcry for Rabbi Sacks’ resignation in response to Dignity of Difference, the book he wrote reflecting on the events of 9/11? What was the minimal change he made to make things right with the naysayers and ensure there would be a second edition? [37:47]
  • Why winning the respect of people you respect — and forgetting the rest — is such an empowering life lesson. [43:18]
  • “It’s not about you” — the value of altruism over ruthlessness from the personal to the societal. [46:22]
  • The problems common to societies too centered on the notion of I over We, and how a Jewish perspective might help those of us who feel like we’re currently experiencing an irreversible tailspin into the abyss. [54:24]
  • What is cultural climate change, and what can we do to fix it? [1:01:14]
  • On cancel culture, free speech, and why Rabbi Sacks believes there’s “nothing less safe than safe space.” [1:10:39]
  • The lesson we could all learn from an important cornerstone of Roman law: Audi alteram partem (Listen to the other side). [1:14:50]
  • The constant challenge of maintaining the delicate balance between I and We. [1:18:54]
  • How long did Rabbi Sacks date his now-wife before proposing marriage? [1:22:10]
  • A Passover tradition that demonstrates the value of empathizing with the enemy. [1:23:13]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:26:20]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

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13 Replies to “Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on Powerful Books, Mystics, Richard Dawkins, and the Dangers of Safe Spaces (#455)”

  1. Hey Tim! I have been a follower of yours for many years. I’m always impressed by the vast spectrum of guests you have on your show. With that said, I would never have imagined the Lubavitcher Rebbe being discussed on a show of yours.

    I come from a long line of followers of the Lubavitch sect and my parents were actually directed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to establish a synagogue in the 80’s in the south. Have lots of interesting stories myself and enjoyed hearing from Rabbi Sacks.

    Loved listening to this conversation and your podcasts in general. Keep up the good work!

  2. Wow Tim, what an incredible conversation. I have long been a fan of both you (The 4-Hour Workweek is on my desk in front of me) and Rabbi Sacks (his book is on my nightstand). I never thought your two worlds would join in a podcast.

    I grew up in a Lubavitch community and a follower of the Rebbe. Rabbi Sack’s story is amazing but it is a common story that you hear from many Lubavitch Chassidim. The Rebbe was a once-in-a-generation-leader who had a deep love for all humans, he was also a genius who studied in the top Universities. He could therefore relate to all people who came to him for advice and blessings.

    Rabbi Sacks’ current message is so needed in this divided time. His insight into the delicate balance between individualism and community (aka “I” versus “we”) is brilliant.

  3. Would you ever have Mark Gober on your podcast? He’s the author An End to Upside Down Thinking and An End to Upside Living and host the Where is My Mind podcast? He has a unique view on the idea of what it means to be conscious and he would make for a great guest to your show.

  4. I respect the rabbi, and enjoyed the podcast. However his statement regarding “75 years of peace” after WWII reveals his Anglo-American bias. It is surprising to note his lack of awareness of the reality of life in the rest of the world. Those chickens are coming home to roost in the rabbi’s own lifetime, and will no doubt challenge his worldview… Perhaps even allowing him to see who the real contemporary pharoahs have been!

    The point about safe spaces was very insightful.

  5. Hi Tim,

    On this podcast, you asked Rabbi Sacks what can we do, given our individualistic nature, to heal the country and overcome our divisions. (I’m paraphrasing)

    If I may offer a potential solution – lead by example and role model good behavior. Reach out to leaders with opposing political views, listen and truly strive to understand where they’re coming from, and work collaboratively to find common ground. Make all of this visible and very public. Encourage others to follow in your footsteps and ask them to build communities in similar ways… grass roots, bottoms-up and using the same approach / ways of being. Publish their successes, cheer on small wins, recognize emerging leaders that have adopted and engage in good behavior.

    My rationale is that humans are tribal by nature and we tend to emulate others in our tribe (esp our leaders). If this is true, then we’ll need leaders who consistently reach across the aisle and build bridges and communities (instead of engaging in zero sum game, scorched earth politics like we’ve seen over the past two decades). Hopefully over time, this will start to influence our culture (and us as individuals), and that in time we will see the change we wish for.

    I too am saddened by what’s been going on and how we seem to be in this irreversible downward spiral. But you have to remember this didn’t happen overnight. It took us four years of lies, manipulation, divisive rhetoric, etc. to get here. And we had a ‘leader’ that engaged in these behaviors and made them part of our cultural norm.

    There are so many really smart, incredibly successful people on both sides of the political aisle and I’m sure they’re equally dismayed with the current state of affairs. It’ll take some work but if you have the time and desire, perhaps the proposal laid out above can help. If you need someone to pitch on pro bono, please reach out. I’d be happy to help. And full disclosure – I’m not looking for anything from you… no favors to ask and I have nothing to sell you.

    ps – I’ve been eagerly listening to your podcasts lately. I find that your choice of topics and the tone of your interviews to be soothing, and it’s certainly helped me get out of my own headspace. It’s a refreshing change from the tactical self-improvement topics you used to cover (though they were great as well).

    I hope you’re doing well and that these events aren’t putting you too much on edge.

    Warm regards,

    Peter

  6. Hi Tim, thank you for this awesome conversation. Rabbi Sacks is an incredible fount of wisdom, humour and humanity. The conversation reminded me in many ways about the wonderful essay from Charles Eisenstein, “building a peace narrative” which you can find on his website. To quote from it: “Instead, we start by listening. What is my part? How shall I be deployed? Where am I to be and what is mine to do? What calls to my care? And from that place, maybe we become able to speak that world story, to speak that invitation, or maybe we just carry it in ourselves and act from our deep-seated knowledge of it.”

  7. I really enjoyed and appreciated this podcast with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. The idea of “safe space” brought back my experiences at Marquette University during theology classes, led by Jesuits. There were students from many different faiths, cultures, and experiences. Although it was hard to find even two people who viewed things the same, our views were respected by the instructor and other students.

  8. Tim. I am a relatively new listener to your podcast. It has been a tremendous discovery on my end. Im not sure that you actually have the time to read these posts but I needed to relate that your interview with Rabbi Sacks was one of my favorite interviews. Sadly he just recently passed away and we lost such a tremendous spiritual guide. That interview will remain etched in my brain and it was done just in time. My, how life is like a fleeting dream.
    Excellent work!