Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on Powerful Books, Mystics, Richard Dawkins, and the Dangers of Safe Spaces (#455)

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“Win the respect of people you respect, and you can forget the rest.”

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (@RabbiSacks) is an international religious leader, philosopher, and respected moral voice. He was the chief rabbi of the UK and Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013 and the recipient of the 2016 Templeton Prize, in recognition of his “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” Rabbi Sacks has been described by HRH The Prince of Wales as “a light unto this nation” and by former British prime minister Tony Blair as “an intellectual giant.” He is an award-winning author of more than 30 books, including Not in God’s Name. His new book, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times , recently became a bestseller in the UK and is now available in North America.

He is a frequent and sought-after contributor to radio, television, and the international press and a renowned public speaker, and he has degrees from both Cambridge and Oxford universities, as well as 18 honorary degrees. He was knighted by HM The Queen in 2005 and took his seat in the House of Lords in October 2009. Born in 1948 in London, he has been married to his wife Elaine since 1970. They have three children and several grandchildren.

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear an episode with someone on the other side of the spiritual spectrum? Check out my latest conversation with Sam Harris here, in which we discuss mindfulness as a way to conquer fear, the future of psychedelics and empathogens as therapy, quarantine mushroom trips, worthwhile nonprofits to support during this pandemic, and much more.


Connect with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube


  • Why is Rabbi Sacks known for wearing yellow ties, and how did he bypass the “no ties” policy when preparing to give his TED talk? [06:41]
  • Rabbi Sacks explains in further detail why he considers noise-canceling headphones “the most religious objects” he’s come across. [11:12]
  • A purchase of perhaps less than $10 that has made a positive contribution to Rabbi Sacks’ life. [15:40]
  • On the sadness of Jewish music and the profound effect it’s had on Rabbi Sacks since he was a toddler. [16:35]
  • Why Rabbi Sacks considers it such a blessing that he married someone so unlike himself half a century ago. [19:52]
  • From thousands of available accounts of the Holocaust, here’s what Rabbi Sacks finds particularly inspiring about The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger. [21:06]
  • What adventure and improbable phone conversation set young Jonathan Sacks on the path to becoming Rabbi Sacks, and who was the Lubavitcher Rebbe? [24:45]
  • What’s the difference between a rabbi and a rebbe, and how does a mystic see the universe? [33:41]
  • Why was there a public outcry for Rabbi Sacks’ resignation in response to Dignity of Difference, the book he wrote reflecting on the events of 9/11? What was the minimal change he made to make things right with the naysayers and ensure there would be a second edition? [37:47]
  • Why winning the respect of people you respect — and forgetting the rest — is such an empowering life lesson. [43:18]
  • “It’s not about you” — the value of altruism over ruthlessness from the personal to the societal. [46:22]
  • The problems common to societies too centered on the notion of I over We, and how a Jewish perspective might help those of us who feel like we’re currently experiencing an irreversible tailspin into the abyss. [54:24]
  • What is cultural climate change, and what can we do to fix it? [1:01:14]
  • On cancel culture, free speech, and why Rabbi Sacks believes there’s “nothing less safe than safe space.” [1:10:39]
  • The lesson we could all learn from an important cornerstone of Roman law: Audi alteram partem (Listen to the other side). [1:14:50]
  • The constant challenge of maintaining the delicate balance between I and We. [1:18:54]
  • How long did Rabbi Sacks date his now-wife before proposing marriage? [1:22:10]
  • A Passover tradition that demonstrates the value of empathizing with the enemy. [1:23:13]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:26:20]


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