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National Library of Israel gets Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s archive

The late British chief rabbi's personal files will be available to researchers.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his study. Credit: The Rabbi Sacks Legacy.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his study. Credit: The Rabbi Sacks Legacy.

The personal archive of the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks arrived at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem on Tuesday and will be made accessible to researchers.

The archive of the renowned religious leader, philosopher and moral voice include 50 cartons of files, notes, sermons, lectures, correspondence and books.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (1948–2020) served as chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth for 22 years, between 1991 and 2013.

Official records from Sacks’s tenure as chief rabbi are housed at the London Metropolitan Archives.

The National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. Photo by Aviad Bar-Ness.

While the material that arrived in Jerusalem awaits review and cataloging, an initial survey reveals materials on topics close to Sacks’s heart such as engaging Judaism with the world, community building and Jewish education, with more discoveries anticipated.

The Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe supported the acquisition of the archive.

Once cataloged, the National Library of Israel intends to provide extensive access to researchers, according to the terms agreed upon by the Sacks family.

Among the correspondence in the archive is a letter written in April 1998 ahead of Passover. In it, Sacks reflected on a period of disunity within the Jewish world: “The Haggadah is not predicated on a simple concept of Jewish unity. It presents to us a portrait of four children around the table. They are not the same. One is wise, one a rebel, one is simple, and one unable to ask.

“Their perspectives are different. Their voices are not in harmony. But they sit at the same table. They are members of the same family. They tell the same story,” the letter continues.

“We are the people who carried with us the indelible recollection of centuries of suffering, not because we revel in it, not because we see ourselves as victims, but in order to remember that whatever else divides us, history unites us,” Sacks wrote.

Lady Elaine Sacks said, “My dear husband expressed great enthusiasm for the new National Library of Israel, which he had described as ‘the Home of the Book for the People of the Book’. It is fitting that his personal archive will be housed there, continuing his legacy of sharing knowledge and wisdom with the world.”

Sallai Meridor, chairman of the National Library, said, “We are honored to be given responsibility for incorporating the writings and teachings of Rabbi Sacks into the library of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. His legacy will not only serve as a magnet and a source of inspiration but also, through digitization, this important archive will be made available around the world for generations to come.”

An annual event honoring Rabbi Sacks’s enduring impact as a global moral voice will be held at the National Library of Israel on November 21, 2024.

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