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Four Ways to Look at the Wicked Child

Posted on Thursday, April 03, 2014 by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks held a conference call exclusively for our constituents yesterday, to give them some deep material for their Passover seders. In a close reading of the “Rasha” (the wicked child), Rabbi Sacks explored 4 different interpretations and ideas. Rabbi Sacks has agreed to answer questions posted by April 7, so please post them below once you listen to the recording.

Click below to listen:


 A global religious leader, philosopher, author and moral voice for our time, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is currently the Ingeborg and Ira Rennert Global Distinguished Professor of Judaic Thought at New York University and the Kressel and Ephrat Family University Professor of Jewish Thought at Yeshiva University. He has also been appointed as Professor of Law, Ethics and the Bible at King’s College London. Previously, Rabbi Sacks served as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth between September 1991 and September 2013, only the sixth incumbent since the role was formalized in 1845.  Click here for more information about Rabbi Sacks.


Rabbi Sacks actually read your blog comments and answered your questions in a recording, which you can access by clicking this link:

Posted on Friday, April 11, 2014 at 9:09 AM by Angie Atkins

In R. Sacks' third reading, based on the YT, the word avodah promotes the notion of hard work, that freedom requires sweat and diligence and perseverance just as liturgy requires concentration and intentionality. He then challenges those movements of the last 200 years that have "made Judaism easier." I heard in this a critique of many streams of modern Jewry, including Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and even perhaps Modern Orthodoxy itself, insofar as it too seeks to integrate modernity with tradition to a degree. I find this a sweeping criticism that perhaps may be unfounded and perhaps unnecessarily divisive. I say this not just because I am a Reform Rabbi, but because there is a visible trend ever since the medieval period to make Judaism easier.

Just look at the Rambam's streamlining and simplification of Jewish law in the Mishneh Torah. Why did he feel the need to do this? And later, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch simplified and edited the Shulchan Aruch, which itself was a streamlining of several earlier sources. Why all these efforts to make Jewish law (and practice) easier to comprehend? Put bluntly, why such efforts to dumb down Jewish law and jurisprudential reasoning?

Perhaps what has happened in the last 200 years, which Rabbi Sacks points to, has been going on for at least a thousand years. These modern streams of Judaism manifest this older—and theologically profound--impulse to make Judaism ever more comprehendible, adaptable, and actually livable for the/any contemporary age. Should we not applaud all these efforts? Sure, more and better can be done.

Just because something is "hard work" (avodah) does not make it either meaningful (to the individual) or valuable (to the preservation of the community or the tradition itself). On the contrary. Making something meaningful and valuable is itself hard to do. I think these streams of modern Jewry—as well as Rambam and Ganzfried and the like—are trying in their various ways to do just this.

Posted on Monday, April 07, 2014 at 7:40 AM by Jonathan Crane

Thank you Rabbi Sacks. You articulately argue for subordinating the needs (Freud-urges) of the individual as a requirement of community and specifically the community of Judaism. Yet, the Passover story would be a pretty bad story if one individual had not bucked the trend, taken great risk including putting his own community at risk and led us out of Egypt. Why didn't we have any other Moseses before Moses? Can communalism be the contradiction to leadership? And finally is Moses only the great leader we respect because we are telling the story after knowing the outcome. (sorry that's more an one question)

Posted on Thursday, April 03, 2014 at 2:49 PM by David Rudis

Rabbi Sacks, thank you so much for the privilege of learning with you yesterday. A question that my family struggles with every year is how to unite our diverse seder participants in a conversation that is compelling, contemporary and relevant to the lives of all generations around the table..... Thank you.

Posted on Thursday, April 03, 2014 at 1:05 PM by Jane Scher

If more avoda, leads to greater adherence and devotion (ie. pessach and yom kippur being most recognized participation in Jewish world) how does one explain the explosion of Christianity once the jewish laws and restrictions were lifted. In particular circumcision.

Posted on Thursday, April 03, 2014 at 12:35 PM by rosy