According to a new autobiography by the Duke of Sussex, the beloved late Chief Rabbi of the UK, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, spoke to him “with the quality one often encounters in truly wise people–forgiveness.”
By United with Israel Staff
In 2005, the UK’s Prince Harry was caught wearing a Nazi uniform to a “fancy dress” party when photos of the incident were published in a UK newspaper.
The incident led to widespread condemnation and, according to the royal’s new tell-all autobiography, a stern discussion with his father, who was then Prince Charles.
Prince Harry was also sent to speak with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who passed away in 2020, succumbing to cancer after beating the disease during two previous bouts. At the time, Rabbi Sacks was serving as the Chef Rabbi of the United Kingdom.
According to Harry’s account in his new book, excerpts of which were published by the Jewish Chronicle, Rabbi Sacks “didn’t mince his words.”
“Pa sent me to a holy man. 51. Bearded, bespectacled, with a deeply lined face and dark, wise eyes, he was Chief Rabbi of Britain, that much I’d been told,” recounted the Prince. “But right away I could see he was much more. An eminent scholar, a religious philosopher, a prolific writer with more than two dozen books to his name, he’d spent many of his days staring out of windows and thinking about the root causes of sorrow, of evil, of hate.”
Prince Harry continued, “He didn’t mince words. He condemned my actions. He wasn’t unkind, but it had to be done. … I’d arrived at his house feeling shame. I now felt something else, a bottomless self-loathing. But that wasn’t the rabbi’s aim. That certainly wasn’t how he wanted me to leave him. He urged me not to be devastated by my mistake, but instead to be motivated. He spoke to me with the quality one often encounters in truly wise people–forgiveness.
Prince Harry’s inspiring 2005 encounter with Rabbi Sacks echoed the experiences of countless other people who met him throughout his life, from dignitaries at the highest levels of public life to regular citizens who interacted with him in informal settings.
“I didn’t know him well but he was kind enough to host my wife and me for a Shabbat meal one time in his official residence,” recalled an English businessman who immigrated to Israel and preferred to remain anonymous when he shared his story with United with Israel in 2020, when the Chief Rabbi passed away
“My late father was undergoing a 10-hour operation on Shabbat in a hospital that was a two-hour walk from our house,” the guest of Rabbi Sacks told UWI. “Rabbi Sacks was the only observant person we knew in the area near the hospital and he kindly hosted us for lunch, so we only had to walk once on Shabbat and could visit the hospital in the morning and afternoon.
“I found Rabbi Sacks to be charming and down to earth, despite being incredibly intellectual,” he added.
After Rabbi Sacks’ passing, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed him as “a spiritual leader and thinker who had many students.”
The prime minister added, “His insights about the heritage of the Jewish people and antisemitism will stand in our generation and for generations to come.”
To that end, Rabbi Sacks took a strong stand when antisemitism spread in the UK’s Labour Party on Jeremy Corbyn’s watch.
“Under his leadership, and the semi-respectable sheen of anti-Zionism — let’s have a Rainbow Nation with Hamas! — the poison spreads,” wrote Rabbi Sacks in The Spectator in 2019. “The libel that the Jews are the enemy of everything holy (formerly Christ, now socialism) has returned.”
In a 2018 interview with The New Statesman, Rabbi Sacks warned that Corbyn gave “support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate, who want to kill Jews and remove Israel from the map,” adding that the Labour leader used “the language of classic pre-war European antisemitism.”
A 2020 investigation by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission “found that the Labour Party committed unlawful acts” with regard to antisemitic activity among its ranks. Corbyn was disciplined due to his rejection of the report’s findings.
While Rabbi Sacks remained dedicated to battling the forces of antisemitism in the UK, and around the world, he also promoted forgiveness for those who mended their ways.
“He assured me that people do stupid things, say stupid things, but it doesn’t need to be their intrinsic nature,” recalls Prince Harry in his new book. “I was showing my true nature, he said, by seeking to atone. Seeking absolution. To the extent that he was able, and qualified, he absolved me. He gave me grace. He told me to lift my head, go forth, use this experience to make the world better.”
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