Education is who we are: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z’l

Memorial commemorations were held across the Jewish world this week in tribute to the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on the first anniversary of his passing Cheshvan 20. We would fail our consciences and be untrue to our belief in the pre-eminence of Jewish education as the gateway to celebratory, meaningful and purposeful Jewish life if we too did not reflect on his remarkable impact.

Thus, we reproduce excerpts of the commentary by Rabbi Lord Sacks of Parshat Matot-Masei that we printed in this space in the summer of 2019. His observation on the relationship between the Jewish people and education aptly depicts the belief that has animated our efforts these past six and a half years.

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…The fate of Jewish communities, for the most part, was determined by a single factor: their decision, or lack of decision, to put children and their education first. Already in the first century, Josephus was able to write: “The result of our thorough education in our laws, from the very dawn of intelligence, is that they are, as it were, engraved on our souls.” The Rabbis ruled that “any town that lacks children at school is to be excommunicated” (Shabbat 119b). Already in the first century, the Jewish community in Israel had established a network of schools at which attendance was compulsory (Bava Batra 21a) – the first such system in history.

The pattern persisted throughout the Middle Ages. In twelfth-century France a Christian scholar noted: “A Jew, however poor, if he has ten sons, will put them all to letters, not for gain as the Christians do, but for the understanding of God’s law – and not only his sons but his daughters too.”

In 1432, at the height of Christian persecution of Jews in Spain, a council was convened at Valladolid to institute a system of taxation to fund Jewish education for all. In 1648, at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the first thing Jewish communities in Europe did to re-establish Jewish life was to reorganise the educational system….

It is hard to think of any other religion or civilisation that has so predicated its very existence on putting children and their education first. There have been Jewish communities in the past that were affluent and built magnificent synagogues – Alexandria in the first centuries of the Common Era is an example. Yet because they did not put children first, they contributed little to the Jewish story. They flourished briefly, then disappeared.

…Children come first, property is secondary. Civilisations that value the young stay young. Those that invest in the future have a future. It is not what we own that gives us a share in eternity, but those to whom we give birth and the effort we make to ensure that they carry our faith and way of life into the next generation.

For Jews, education is not just what we know. It’s who we are. No people ever cared for education more. Our ancestors were the first to make education a religious command, and the first to create a compulsory universal system of schooling – eighteen centuries before Britain.

The Rabbis valued study as higher even than prayer….The Egyptians built pyramids, the Greeks built temples, the Romans built amphitheatres. Jews built schools. They knew that to defend a country you need an army, but to defend a civilisation you need education. So, Jews became the people whose heroes were teachers, whose citadels were schools, and whose passion was study and the life of the mind. How can we deprive our children of that heritage?

…In a single generation, nowadays, there is more scientific and technological advance than in all previous centuries since human beings first set foot on earth. In uncharted territory, you need a compass. That’s what Judaism is. It guided our ancestors through good times and bad. It gave them identity, security, and a sense of direction. It enabled them to cope with circumstances more varied than any other people have ever known. It lifted them, often, to heights of greatness. Why? Because Judaism is about learning. Education counts for more in the long run than wealth or power or privilege. Those who know, grow.

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Following Rabbi Lord Sacks’ thought, how can we not do everything in our power to enable as many Jewish children as possible to know their heritage? Rabbi Lord Sacks was profoundly wise and committed with all his heart to a vital, thriving future for his people. His memory will be a blessing for all time.

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In the coming weeks, GAJE will announce the launch of a lawsuit to try to end the Government of Ontario’s funding discrimination against Jewish (and other) independent schools. We are deeply appreciative of the many individuals who have to date joined our cause, who have contributed in helping underwrite the legal effort. Thus far, we have raised half of the amount needed. Please encourage your friends to also join in our effort. If we do not care, who will?

To donate to the cause, please click here.

(For further information, please contact Israel Mida at imida1818@gmail.com)

Charitable receipts for donations for income tax purposes will be issued by Mizrachi Canada. Your donations will be used for the sole purpose of underwriting the costs of the lawsuit.

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Be safe. Be well. Shabbat shalom.

Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education (GAJE)  

October 29, 2021

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