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Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (1948-2020): In Memoriam

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) November 15, 2020: As I write this essay here in Duluth, Minnesota, on the shore of Lake Superior, Covid-19 is spreading at an alarming rate in the state and elsewhere in the country - indeed, and elsewhere around the world - with no signs that President Donald ("Tweety") Trump (born in 1946) is tracking the number of diagnosed cases, the number of hospitalizations, or the number of deaths due to Covid-19. Rather, every sign signals that he is still living in his preferred fantasy world - the fantasy world that he himself creates and that his most ardent supporters are addicted to (yes, in addition to becoming addicted to substances, we can become addicted to another person and his addiction-inducing words).

As I write this essay, President-Elect Joe Biden (born in 1942) has won Arizona and Georgia, bringing him to a total of 306 votes in the Electoral College - the same number of Electoral College votes that Tweety won in 2016. But Tweety has not yet officially conceded the election - and he could still do even further destructiveness in his time remaining in the presidency. At the present time, he is still complaining about an alleged conspiracy that supposedly somehow rigged the 2020 election against him - which his most addicted supporters are cheering on.

As I write this essay, former President Barack Obama (born in 1961) has published the massive first volume of his projected two-volume massive memoir titled A Promised Land. According to reviewers in the New York Times, the first volume stops in May 2011.

In any event, the title sounds biblical. Yes, to be sure, our American Protestant ancestors were fond of biblical imagery from colonial times onward.

In addition, African-American slaves and their descendants, including the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), often invoked the biblical imagery of the Israelite slaves' escape from their slavery in Egypt under the leadership of the tongue-tied Moses.

Unfortunately for Moses, he himself did not enter the promised land. Rather, the leadership role for that phase of the Israelite journey fell to Joshua.

I guess that former President Obama's title, with its indefinite article "A," is meant to remind us that he, like Joshua in the Hebrew Bible, did lead our country into a promised land -- the promise being expressed in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the promise re-affirmed in President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in 1863.

Now, over the years, the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (1948-2020), in his role as public intellectual, liked to celebrate how our American Protestant ancestors in colonial times borrowed the idea of a covenant from the Hebrew Bible.


As a gentile, I first heard of the late Rabbi Sacks when I read a column by David Brooks (born in 1961) in the New York Times about his 2015 book Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence. I liked that book. Subsequently, I read a few his other books, including his first new 2020 book Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times and his second new 2020 book Judaism's [Fifty-Six] Life-Changing Ideas: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible.

All of Rabbi Sacks' books that I have read are deeply informed and remarkably accessible. His publications in English are an international treasure available to all the people in the English-speaking world today.

After Rabbi Sacks died recently, I read the obituary about him published in the New York Times by Columbia's Ari L. Goldman (born in 1949). From it, I learned of the 2013 book Jonathan Sacks: Universalizing Particularity, edited by Hava Tirosh-Samuelson of Arizona State University (born in Afikim, Israel) and Aaron W. Hughes of the University of Rochester (born in Edmonton, Canada) (Leiden and Boston: Brill).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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