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Chief Rabbi recants after 'heresy' claim
By Terri Judd
27 September 2002
The Orthodox Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, has been forced into an embarrassing climbdown after being accused of heresy by more conservative elements within the Jewish community.
Dr Sacks was summoned to a closed-door meeting with other religious leaders after suggesting in an apparent appeal for interfaith understanding in his new book, The Dignity of Difference, that no one creed held all the answers.
Yesterday it was revealed that Dr Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations, had agreed to rewrite passages in the book after hearing the "concerns". He conceded, in a statement from his office, "that one or two sentences might be misunderstood, and [I] will make the appropriate amendments in the next possible edition".
The row is Dr Sacks' latest clash with sections of the Jewish establishment, coming just a month after he angered many rabbis and other members of the community by saying the situation in Israel was forcing the Jewish state into postures that were "incompatible in the long run with our deepest ideals of the faith".
According to today's edition of the Jewish Chronicle, the section of the book that had caused the latest controversy reads: "God has spoken to mankind in many languages: through Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians, Islam to Muslims."
Dr Sacks also wrote: "No one creed has a monopoly on spiritual truth; no one civilisation encompasses all the spiritual, ethical and artistic expressions of mankind ... In heaven there is truth; on earth there are truths ... God is greater than religion. He is only partially comprehended by any faith."
He added: "Each of us within our traditions must learn to listen and be prepared to be surprised by others. We must make ourselves open to their stories, which may profoundly conflict with ours."
Rabbi Yossi Chazan, minister of one of Manchester's largest Orthodox congregations, publicly questioned in a sermon whether the Chief Rabbi's views amounted to heresy before privately seeking support from other traditional rabbis.
On Wednesday, Dr Sacks flew to Manchester with the head of the London Beth Din (religious court), Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, to explain himself before a private meeting with local rabbis.
Responding to claims that his book had gone too far in its plea for interfaith understanding, Dr Sacks emphasised that it had been intended for a wider, non-Jewish readership. However, he conceded that it had been a mistake to allow excerpts to be published in the Rosh Hashanah (New Year) issue of the Jewish Chronicle.
Last night, however, a prominent Orthodox interfaith activist insisted there had been "nothing objectionable" in the extracts. Rabbi David Rosen told the Chronicle that they represented "venerable Jewish ideas, wonderfully presented".
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