Conversation with Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks Caps Exciting Week for YU’s Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought
The week of October 23 marked a new chapter in Yeshiva University’s Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought. On October 26 the center was formally dedicated at YU’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Two days later, throngs of students, alumni, faculty and friends of Yeshiva University filled Weissberg Commons on the Washington Heights Wilf campus to witness a conversation between the director of the Center, Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, and the United Kingdom’s chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks.
As the second in a series of Great Conversations on Religion and Democracy, the event with Lord Sacks—titled “Religion and Democracy in America and Europe”—attracted a capacity audience similar to the first conversation in the series with Senator Joseph Lieberman held at the end of August.
With its formal dedication and growing popularity, the Straus Center now enters its formative stage. Through its undergraduate courses, public events and upcoming publications, the Straus Center will now place a focus on sharing ideas with the faculty and students to discover how it can best move forward the mission of the University.
Prior to the event with Lord Sacks, Yeshiva University President Richard M. Joel acknowledged the presence of “trustee, friend and benefactor Moshael Straus who has made this possible. It is really important that all of us recognize the opportunity and our responsibility to engage in issues and implement what we learn from engaging in issues,” said President Joel.
“The mission of the Straus Center is to cultivate here at Yeshiva the Jewish thinkers and public intellectuals of the future and to further intellectually invigorate American Jewry at large,” said Rabbi Soloveichik in his introduction to the event. “Given these two goals there is no one more perfect to have here today than our guest, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.”
Rabbi Soloveichik and Lord Sacks exchanged anecdotes, observations and insights on the state of religious expression in the public sphere in America and Europe, the nature of contemporary anti-Semitism, and ways in which Judaism and Jewish teachings can enhance and advance the world at large.
Lord Sacks shared a story on this last topic. He described how former British Prime Minister Tony Blair greatly enjoyed studying Tanakh (the books of the Jewish Bible) and on occasion would pose questions to Rabbi Sacks on certain aspects of scripture. One such conversation motivated Rabbis Sacks to write his book The Home We Build Together which went on to influence British policy concerning its multicultural population.
Although the United States falls outside his jurisdiction as chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Rabbi Sacks maintains a strong relationship with Yeshiva, highlighted by his receiving the first ever Norman Lamm prize almost two years ago.
Adam Frohlinger, a current Presidential Fellow, described how eager he was to hear the conversation. “I wanted to hear the chief rabbi speak in person,” said Frohlinger. “The fellowship had Rabbi Soloveichik speak to us yesterday about his ideals concerning religion and democracy and I thought it would be fascinating to hear the perspective of Rabbi Sacks as well. It was phenomenal. The Torah described is not just theoretical. It has a practical application for life.”
Two days earlier, the formal dedication of the Straus Center took place with an intimate crowd of the friends and families of the Strauses and Soloveichiks. President Joel and Moshael Straus both offered remarks and Rabbi Soloveichik delivered a lecture titled “The Colonial Chuppa: A Reflection on America’s Founding.”