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The Ethics of Responsibility

by Jonathan Sacks

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2005
ISBN: 0-8052-4241-4
Publisher: Schocken

The Chief Rabbi of Great Britain summarizes Jewish social ethics.

Judaism, Sacks reminds us, enjoins people to be co-creators with God, partners with the deity in bringing about the work of creation. The heart of the book is Sacks’s six-chapter sketch of the central tenets of Jewish ethics: justice, charity, love, sanctifying God’s name (i.e., “bring[ing] God’s presence into the world by making others aware that God’s word sanctifies life”), repairing and perfecting the broken parts of creation and pursuing peace. In a salutary critique of contemporary individualism, Sacks underscores the communal nature of Jewish ethics. We must look out for our neighbors and our communities, not just ourselves, he avers. Parts of this book are rewardingly erudite, wending from Rabbi Akiva to Iris Murdoch, bringing together Maimonides and Dylan Thomas in the same paragraph. Other sections, such as one in which Sacks suggests that even the most seemingly insignificant good deed can have terrific consequences, are hokey and unoriginal. The last third of the text, supposedly devoted to the difference that Jewish social ethics make in the way we live, is disappointingly abstract. Despite the author’s insistence that we have never needed Judaism’s ethics of responsibility more than now (an unnecessary bit of bravado that rings false), he makes little attempt to spell out in practical terms the ways it can be brought to bear on the current world scene. Somehow, the currency and winsomeness of the author’s columns in The Times of London are missing here.

<\b>Learned, but predictable.