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The Chief Rabbi - 'every one of us share the same image: God's image'

The Chief Rabbi

Monday 16th November 2009

Lord Sacks of Aldgate, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Great Britain and the Commonwealth, gives his speech on multi faiths and the community.

Read a transcript of the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks' reflections, or click download on the right to listen [5Mb]

Your Grace, friends. Thank you Indarjit as always for your wisdom and your warmth. On behalf of all of us may I thank first of all our host, your Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to you Guy Wilkinson and the Lambeth staff for hosting this event and to so many others. And we thank you, your Grace, for your personal leadership of so many interfaith matters in this country and we salute you.

May I express our thanks to Harriet Crabtree and all involved in the Inter Faith Network for bringing this about. And of course again, with Indarjit may I say how lovely it is to see here and Brian Pearce here, whose own smile is the best advertisement I know of for good feeling between the faiths. Thank you Brian for all you did.

And finally to thank the Secretary of State, John Denham, who has shown an outstanding depth of understanding and engagement with this issue. And we thank you for your commitment and your concern.

And finally to all of you for being here today.

Friend's it is hard to make peace between faiths. As you probably know it is sometimes hard to make peace within faiths. Do you have the same problem we do or is it only Jews?

I will never forget the occasion when as a Rabbi I tried on the eve of our holiest day, the Day of Atonement, that night. It's a day of forgiveness and reconciliation and two members of the congregation had been estranged for 25 years and hadn't spoken. And just at that holy moment I thought it was a great occasion to bring them together and finally, reluctantly, they agreed and met in the middle of this synagogue and they shook hands and one said to the other "I wish you all you wish me." And the other one returned to me and said "You see? Again, he's starting with me!"


It's hard, but goodness me, it's necessary. Why is it necessary? We know why: Because the good news about faith is it creates community. It turns a lot of 'I's into a 'we', that's the good news. The bad news about faith is that it often divides between communities, because for every 'Us,' there is a 'Them,' the people not like us. And that means the power and the danger of faith go hand in hand.

What makes Britain unusual, and I'm sure many of you have found it, is this: I travel a lot around the world and I think the degree to which we work together collectively, the friendship between faiths has no parallel in any country I've visited. And the closesness of that friendship has made a significant difference to the tight climate of tolerance in this country. There is work yet to be done.

Everywhere I look, from local supermarkets to University campus', I am beginning to see the politicisation of our public space: bans, boycotts, sit-ins, protests and various other forms of intimidation. The taking of conflicts which are a long way away from here and importing them into Britain, dividing community from community, Instead, what we should be doing which is exporting our example and experience of coexistence and mutual respect from Britain to conflict zones elsewhere. I think that the situation today is very dangerous and that is what inter faith week is about – showing that there can be another world.

I would like to see if we could out of this wonderful inter faith week, begin to think about an ongoing programme of events throughout the country, celebrating our shared citizenship, our collective responsibility for the future of freedom in this country and our shared commitment to the common good.

I believe, and I hope not controversially, that we should include within this embrace, secular humanists who are respectful to faith, even if they cannot always share it.

All the great challenges of the 21st century have one thing in common. Whether we look at violence or terror or global warming or economic recession or political instability, these are not zero-sum gains in which one side wins and the other side looses. The truth is: from violence, from terror, from instability, from climate change, we all lose. Our destinies are interconnected and our faiths are intertwined.

Friends, I believe God is bigger than religion, because not all of us shares the same faith but every one of us share the same image: God's image. So in these dangerous times, let us work together for the good of this country and for the good of the world. Because though we may not share a faith we, and our children, and our grandchildren, will certainly share a fate. May God bless us all. Thank you.

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