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Rabbi Sacks

Rabbi Sacks

Cycles of Civilization

marriage, Rabbi Sacks, religion No comments

My blog today is the reproduction of part of a speech given by Rabbi Jonathan Saks in July this year.

Jonathan Henry Sacks, winner of the Templeton Prize in 2016, was the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth from 1991-2013, and as such was a member of the House of Lords. He is now the Distinguished Professor of Judaic Thought at New York University and the Professor of Jewish Thought at Yeshiva University, and the Professor of Law, Ethics and the Bible at King’s College London.  I heard him speak at the Humanum Conference at the Vatican in 2014.  Here is an excerpt from his recent New York speech:

 —- We are entering one of the world’s great ages of desecularization and it is the rise of non-Western cultures that will shape the 21st century.


The end result is — as Rabbi Soloveitchik and Alasdair MacIntyre and others warned us decades ago — that if you lose religion from the mainstream of society, you will lose the sanctity of marriage.


You will lose the bond of community and you will lose the social covenant that says e pluribus unum: we’re all in this together.


One thing is clear.


Religion is not about to die.


The religious have bigger families and stronger communities.


They’re going to grow in numbers and confidence in the course of the 21st century.


But the secular West is in real trouble.


It’s re-enacting a scenario played out many times in the course of history, in Athens and Rome in antiquity, and Renaissance Italy.


The same thing happens each time.


A culture or civilization at the very height of its affluence and its creativity finds that people are becoming more individualistic. They become more hedonist. They become more skeptical of religious beliefs, and that causes a loss of social cohesion, social energy and social ideals.


No one said it better than a great American historian, Will Durant. As a young man he wanted to be a priest but actually became an atheist[1]. So listen to what this atheist says — and it’s unbelievably powerful. After his huge study of the story of civilization, he says:


“What happens at a certain point in history is that the intellectual classes abandon the ancient theology and, after some hesitation, the moral code allied with it. Literature and philosophy become anti-clerical. The movement of liberation rises to an exuberant worship of reason and falls to a paralyzing disillusionment with every dogma and every idea. Conduct deprived of its religious support deteriorates into epicurean chaos and life itself shorn of consoling faith becomes a burden alike to conscious poverty and to weary wealth. In the end, a society and its religion tend to fall together like body and soul in a harmonious death. Meanwhile, among the oppressed, another myth arises and gives new form to human hope, new courage to human effort and, after centuries of chaos, builds another civilization.”


You can view the whole speech at . This excerpt begins at minute 46.

With an eye to the child – the future of us all.

Pat Fagan


[1]Fagan insert:   But in his last days Durant  received the last sacraments of the Catholic Church.:  see New York Times :


Monogamy and Inequality

Humanum conference, inequality, monogamy, Rabbi Sacks No comments

The natural order of sexual relationships is ingrained in the very creation of the world: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him’…For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2: 18 & 24).” 

From the moment of creation, man and woman shared an inimitable complementarity—man was created for woman, woman was created for man. Sexual monogamy was the pre-ordained moral standard. However, man and woman transgressed this norm and initiated a culture of polyamory (having more than one romantic relationship simultaneously). In his presentation at the International Interreligious Colloquium of the Complementarity of Man and Woman hosted by Pope Francis, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks explained how this deviation gave rise to societies clad in inequality. “Polygamy,” he said, “is the ultimate expression of inequality because it means that many males will never have the opportunity to have a wife and child.” In a polygamous society wealthier and more prominent men will accrue the majority of eligible women, thereby denying those of lower status to the fundamental right to an intact family. Because marriage is scientifically linked to better educational, economic, behavioral, and health outcomes, sexual mores that allow the rich to marry at the expense of the poor will exacerbate social inequalities.

Some have argued that the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament implicitly supports polygamous relationships by praising men like Abraham and Jacob who had multiple wives. However, Rabbi Sacks pointed out that overt tensions between Sarah and Hager or Leah and Rachel instead teach the destructiveness of polygamy rather than condone it. This is further proven by the Tenth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife [singular]” (Exodus 20:17). Notably, polygamy is never once explicitly approved of in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus reiterates God’s moral mandate: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man separate” (Matthew 19: 4-6).

Today, serial polyamory is on the rise, and many sexual partners have jettisoned the idea of marriage altogether. As Rabbi Sacks predicted, this has yielded great social inequalities. In 2012, the poorly and moderately educated were 35 percent less likely to be married than the college educated. In 2011, roughly three fourths of federal and state welfare assistance went to single parent families, most of which were led by women who gave birth out of wedlock. Neighborhoods with more single parents, an indicator of sexual non-monogamy, tend to have higher crime rates and more problematic behavior among children.

Sexual monogamy also provides a number of benefits in addition to the social ills it prevents. “[The family] is where we first take the risk of giving and receiving love,” said Rabbi Sacks. Beauty and life do not exist in any one entity in itself, but rather in the unity. By uniting man and woman into a lifelong marriage, the pre-ordained institution for the sexual act, the two complementary halves unite into one and better reflect the complete nature of God the Father.

Non-monogamous relationships vitiate God’s perfect order with structural injustices—they victimize innocent members within the family and impose disorder on society. If left as is, families not built on monogamy will accelerate America’s road to serfdom.