Rabbi Jonathan Sacks—who recently moved on from his post of Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, which he occupied for 22 years—gave the Erasmus Lecture in New York City last Monday night, an annual event sponsored by the journal First Things. Yours truly was fortunate enough to attend, and judging by the energy and passion of Rabbi Sacks’ talk, he is not interested in fading away, but looks rather likely to relish his new freedom and devote it to advocating for the value of faith in the contemporary world. The title of his lecture was “On Creative Minorities,” which would seem to be a yawn-inducing topic before you even get to the fourth or fifth syllable, but turned out to be quite the opposite: it seemed very timely, even urgent, and it was delivered with a spirit, erudition and humor that earned the rabbi a number of standing ovations from the religiously-mixed audience (Catholics, Jews, Protestants, intellectuals, and the usual motley band of dilettantes to which I subscribe).
The term creative minorities has a quite specific origin, but Sacks structured his lecture to introduce that source later, the better to begin, I suppose, with a broader sense of what a creative minority might be. So he began 2600 years ago, with a letter from the prophet Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon, including these verses from Jeremiah 29:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Sacks pointed out that in contrast to Jeremiah’s reputation as a prophet of gloom or doom, he was fundamentally a prophet of hope. And in the lines above Jeremiah is (while speaking for the LORD) giving a hopeful prescription to the exiles from Israel who were a small minority in Babylon: live, increase, pray for that place in which you live, and seek its welfare. Sacks later recommended a similar role for public religious intellectuals today; that is as prophets of hope rather than doom. [Read more →]