Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Illustrious Litvishe Roots of UK Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, רב יעקב צבי זקס ז"ל

 Last מוצאי שבת we learned of the passing of the renowned רב יעקב צבי זקס, aka Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, in the UK. Accolades and הספדים poured in afterward from around the globe, from non-Jews as well as Jews.

But who was this man that brought forth such a torrent of tributes and emotions? And what were some of the great Jewish influences on him?

In terms of decisive influences, some pointed to his רבי, R. Nachum Rabinovitch z"l. Others mentioned Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik of Boston & New York, z"l, who he met as a young student. Lubavitchers, of course, mentioned his meeting with their Rebbe. Lord Sacks himself, in an interview, mentioned the great effect the six day war had on him.

But before all of those, he had a family which raised him. Who were they? His father, was born in Kielce, Poland. His mother, ליבא, Libby Frumkin Sacks, born in the UK, came from a renowned Litvishe family. She was a granddaughter of the famous R. Aryeh Leib Frumkin ז"ל (Hebrew Wikipedia entry here), a well-known Litvishe תלמיד חכם, mechaber of ספרים, and activist. At her funeral, her בכור, Lord Sacks, mentioned how proud she was of this zeide. So it was not a fact that was unknown to the young יעקב צבי. This ר' ארי' לייב פרומקין, son of R. Shmuel Kelmer, was himself in turn a descendant of the חכם צבי, לבוש, של"ה, מהר"ל מפראג, ולמעלה בקודש, as well as having family connections to other gedolim, such as R. Yisroel Salanter, זכר צדיקים לברכה.

So even though he went to general schools as a child, he still knew well whence he came, and when he got older he was עולה לגדולה, went to learn תורה הקדושה on a higher level, and became a Rav with progressively greater השפעה on קרובים ורחוקים as years went by.

As we are taught by Chazal, תורה מחזרת על אכסניא שלה, Torah returns to where it is hosted.

תהא נפשו צרורה בצרור החיים


  1. I take exception with the implication of your blog regarding Rabbi Sacks. It seems as if you're trying to "kosherize" him by saying that he had Litvish roots. Rabbi Sacks was a great man, a Talmid Chacham, beloved by all who knew him, Jew and Gentile alike so I see no reason to try and classify him. I'm a Lower East Sider and Rav Moshe's approach was to dispense with labels. If you're a good Jew, you're a good Jew, whether you're Ashkenaz, Sefardi, Modern, Chassidish or Yeshivish.

    1. Mr. Litvak is merely encouraging us Litvaks to be proud and keep our heads up high, despite all the smearing- by seeing what the Litvishe world produces.

      That is the goal of this blog.

    2. יישר כחך Old Litvak!

      Rabbi Sacks z"l was a modest man and didn't go around trumpeting his own יחוס at every opportunity. The effect of that was, though, in my perception, that many people thought that he was like some sort of total newcomer to Yiddishkeit, who arrived with no background at all, and was a total creation of Chabad Lubavitch. Which of course is incorrect.

      Even though Rabbi Sacks himself presumably felt that it was generally unseemly to call attention to his own yichus during his lifetime, nevertheless, after his passing, when he is being described, defined, and put into historical perspective, I feel that it is quite in order for others in the know to do so.

    3. Thanks for the follow up comments. I may have been off base in my initial remarks. It just seemed as if Rabbi Sack's incredible accomplishments were being minimized, but I see that this certainly wasn't your intention and so I apologize. Some time back Mr. Litvak called me an Ish Emes, and such a person must be willing to acknowledge the truth. As for Mr. Litvak's reference to Chabad, I just came upon a pamphlet prepared for Russian speaking Jews. It features a picture of Rabbi Sacks on its cover. I think it's a safe guess that the publication wasn't paying homage to Rabbi Sacks' illustrious Litvak forebears.

  2. Thanks for your comment, but I don't entirely get it. R. Sacks z"l was, as so many people are today, a product of various backgrounds and influences (of course, every person is, but in some cases it is more apparent than in others). However, I had been wondering about his background before knowing of the connection to R. Frumkin z"l. Knowing now of that background makes it easier for me to understand him and his great life.

    Would you similarly object if someone said that Rav Dovid Feinstein z"l was a descendant of ר' אברהם אחי הגר"א, בעל מעלות התורה? Such things are just facts, are they not?

    בשורות טובות

  3. I hear your point. What I was trying to say is that before going into Rabbi Sacks's background, you should have made it clear that he was a great man in his own right.