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The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations Paperback – March 24, 2003

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Editorial Reviews


“A brave plea for universal values.”—David Goldberg, The Guardian
“The Dignity of Difference stands far above the many other books about globalisation, both for what is has to say and for the grace with which it says it. In this most prophetic work, Rabbi Sacks has written a guide for the perplexed of our time.”
—Daniel Johnson, Daily Telegraph
“The Dignity of Difference is a profound book that forces believers to think.”
—Ziauddin Sardar, The Independent
“It is a splendid book. In the light of September 11, it is timely, sensible, well-written and thoughtful.”—Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The London Times

“Aims to define nothing less than a basis for religiously sensitive civilisation.”
—Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, The Jewish Chronicle

"Americans will be taken with his incisive and clear writing style...he provides some much-needed spiritual uplift in this post-9/11 world, and his work is accessible to informed lay readers." —Library Journal

"This book is far more interesting for its discussion of faith and philosophy than for its determination of concrete politics. Perhaps this is the task of rabbis, to explain and guide rather than to rule and legislate. Jonathan Sacks writes well; every sentence counts, but the space behind the grandiloquence always leaves room for interpretation. It is this ambiguity which wins him as may admirers as detractors."
—The Jerusalem Post, 6/9/02.

'The Dignity of Difference has a central and compelling vision: the magnificence and inspiring human diversity of our world … The Chief Rabbi has made a convincing case for respecting people of different faiths and creeds.' —Jewish Chronicle

'The book "has a bold and important thesis" said Lord Habgood, especially in how it addresses relations between different faiths' —Church Times

"It is odd that a leading orthodox Rabbi should be at the forefront of a campaign to use religious difference as the catalyst for world peace ... in a brave polemic which is bolstered by feverish intelligence." -The Herald (Glasgow) (The Herald (Glasgow))

"Once in a rare while a book comes along that is so powerful and so earth-shattering that we want to get atop the highest mountain and shout out its praises...WE MUST ALL READ THIS BOOK....the most profound and deeply moving argument in favor of religious humanism I can think of."—David Shasha, Center for Sephardic Heritage

"Sacks does not offer much help in determining how religious people are to grapple with such theological questions. His brilliant service is in showing us that we must."—Paul F. Knitter, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, July 2003

"It is a profoud meditation on human diversity and religious differences....It is a timely book for both believers and non-believers alike that has a profound sense of history running through it."—Limited Edition, April 2003

"The Dignity of Difference is an important contribution to our understanding of the impact of globalization on the world in the aftermath of September 11…the book should be required reading for those concerned with the present struggle between Islam and the West and the promises, but also the potential threat, that market globalization represent." — Jewish Book World, Spring 2005 (American Jewish Archives Journal)

"wonderful book...bold and controversial" -Commonweal
(Commonweal, January 2007 Commonweal)

Mentioned in The Observer
(Oliver Marre Observer)

"Unlike most other religious leaders, Mr Sacks has a wonderfully unbigoted attitude; he thinks and writes with great eloquence supported by an amazingly broad range of sources and reading." - Journey

"It is odd that a leading orthodox Rabbi should be at the forefront of a campaign to use religious difference as the catalyst for world peace … in a brave polemic which is bolstered by feverish intelligence." -The Herald (Glasgow) (Sanford Lakoff)

"wonderful book...bold and controversial" -Commonweal
(Sanford Lakoff Commonweal)

Mentioned in The Observer
(Sanford Lakoff Observer)

About the Author

Sir Jonathan Sacks is Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth. He is the author of numerous books, including Celebrating Life, From Optimism to Hope, The Persistence of Faith and The Dignity of Difference, for which he won a Grawemeyer Award in Religion.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic; 2 edition (March 24, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826468500
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826468505
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

A global religious leader, philosopher, bestselling 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 is also 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.

Described by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales as "a light unto this nation" and by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as "an intellectual giant", Rabbi Sacks is a frequent contributor to radio, television and the press both in Britain and around the world. A visiting professor at several universities in Britain, the United States and Israel, Rabbi Sacks holds 16 honorary degrees, including a Doctor of Divinity conferred to mark his first ten years in office as Chief Rabbi, by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey.

In recognition of his work, Rabbi Sacks has won several international awards, including the Jerusalem Prize in 1995 for his contribution to diaspora Jewish life and The Ladislaus Laszt Ecumenical and Social Concern Award from Ben Gurion University in Israel in 2011. Rabbi Sacks was named as The Becket Fund's 2014 Canterbury Medallist for his role in the defence of religious liberty in the public square. He was knighted by Her Majesty The Queen in 2005 and made a Life Peer, taking his seat in the House of Lords in October 2009.

The author of 25 books, Rabbi Sacks has published commentaries to the daily Jewish prayer book (siddur) and has completed commentaries to the Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Pesach festival prayer books (machzorim) to date. His most recent book, Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence, which tackles the thorny issue of religious extremism and violence committed in the name of God, was published in June 2015 and was a bestseller in the UK. It is set to published in the United States in October 2015. His book The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning, published in July 2011, received widespread praise for articulating a way for religion and science to mutually coexist.

A number of his books have won literary awards, including the Grawemeyer Prize for Religion in 2004 for The Dignity of Difference, and a National Jewish Book Award in 2000 for A Letter in the Scroll. Covenant & Conversation: Genesis was also awarded a National Jewish Book Award in 2009, and the Koren Sacks Pesach Machzor won the Dorot Foundation National Jewish Book Award for Modern Jewish Thought and Experience for 2013. His Covenant & Conversation commentaries on the weekly Torah portion are read by thousands of people in Jewish communities around the world.

Born in 1948 in London, Rabbi Sacks attended Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, receiving honors in philosophy. He continued his studies at New College, Oxford, and King's College London, where he earned his doctorate in 1981. The same year he was ordained at Jews' College and at Yeshiva Etz Chaim, both in London. He served as the rabbi for Golders Green synagogue and Marble Arch synagogue in London. Before taking the post of chief rabbi, he also was Principal of Jews' College, the world's oldest rabbinical seminary.

In 1970, Rabbi Sacks married his wife, Elaine, and they have three children, Joshua, Dina and Gila and several grandchildren.


Tradition in an Untraditional Age (1990)
Persistence of Faith (1991)
Arguments for the Sake of Heaven (1991)
Crisis and Covenant (1992)
One People? (1993)
Will We Have Jewish Grandchildren? (1994)
Community of Faith (1995)
Faith in the Future (1998)
The Politics of Hope (1997)
Morals and Markets (1999)
Celebrating Life (2000)
A Letter in the Scroll (2001)
The Dignity of Difference (2002)
The Chief Rabbi's Haggadah (2003)
From Optimism to Hope (2004)
To Heal a Fractured World (2005)
The Authorised Daily Prayer Book: new translation and commentary (2006)
The Home We Build Together (2007)
Future Tense (2009)
Covenant and Conversation: Genesis (2009)
Covenant and Conversation: Exodus (2010)
The Great Partnership; God, Science and the Search for Meaning (2011)
The Koren Sacks Rosh Hashana Mahzor (2011)
The Koren Sacks Yom Kippur Mahzor (2012)
The Koren Sacks Pesach Mahzor (2013
Lessons in Leadership (2015)
Covenant and Conversation: Leviticus (2015)
Not in God's Name (2015)
The Koren Sacks Succot Mahzor (2015)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Rabbi Jason Miller on January 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
As an International Relations major in college, I spent four years debating and writing about Samuel Huffington's warning of a "clash of civilizations." Then, it seemed that globalization and the United States' increasing role as the hegemonic superpower of the world were discussions limited to academia. In the years since, our world has become much smaller, we have been introduced to the "axis of evil," terrorism has penetrated our own borders, and a vocal anti-globalization effort has gone mainstream. Now, the chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth has proposed that we borrow values from Judaism to avoid the clash of civilizations, seeking an alternative to religious coexistence through his notion of the ethics of globalization.
Much of the Jewish media's coverage of Sacks' book has focused on his criticism of Israel's stance in the current conflict with the Palestinians. However, looking past this critique (only a short section of the book treats this subject), one finds a novel argument about how people of different nationalities and faiths can coexist in the new world. Sacks argues that religion does not have to lead to a clash between rival civilizations, but rather can be used to generate tolerance. In our politically correct society, we often look for ways to put our differences aside and search out our commonalities, and we feel the need to be all-inclusive in our dialogue efforts. Sacks challenges us by asking whether this "dialogue" is doing any good, or if we would be better served to embrace our differences. Monotheism doesn't mean there's only one way to God, he argues, rather, it's the belief that the unity of God creates diversity.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book because I had heard some controversy about it, and took it upstairs for bedtime reading. Mistake! I couldn't put it down, and, reading on sleeplessly found my emotions deeply touched by what this man has to say. His vision is as beautiful as it is complex, being that he is himself an Orthodox Jew speaking about the unity and diversity of religion. Yet, as one, he is uniquely qualified to beg all peoples of deep faith to find a way to see a spark of the divine in each other, even in the stranger's eyes. The inspiration and urgency of his writing, which seems to have erupted from his pen after 9/11, is profound. I checked around the web and found that this book is reccommended on liberal and conservative websites, and had favorable reviews from many, including a several Christian and one Moslem reviewer. Alas, as he mentions in his foreward, only hostility and lack of understanding gets media attention today....So I imagine that this wonderful book will continue to be mainly neglected here in the US, where its eloquence and vision is truly needed. I intend to remedy this by buying as many copies as I can afford and giving them to friends and family, on the condition that they promise to read it. But not at bedtime!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Justin A. Wild on October 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
I am an American who teaches overseas, and I think that this book clearly illustrates the problem facing our various countries today: as the author states, we "narrowcast," meaning that we seek out those who are like us, communicate with those individuals, and then pronounce ourselves correct without ever truly seeking a diverse opinion.

The political faultlines we walk today are a perfect example of what happens when we stop talking to each other and only desire positive feedback. This book, however, is not for any standard reader: it appeals, I believe, more to moderates than someone of a strident ideological background. If you blindly follow an extremist path in a political party or religion, I think this book could radically change your mind about said path, but you need to approach the book with as open a mind as possible.

I write this only a few days before the next U.S. presidential election, which has been the ugliest since I came of voting age in '92. I wish both candidates and their quislings would read this fine book.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
A stunning stunning book.
Beautifully written. Inspirational and accessible, incredibly thought-provoking and sometimes challenging. Overall it's the best book I've read in a long while. It takes the world we know we live in, and causes us to think really carefully about how the pieces fit together, and how we are each one of those pieces.
Like Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, this is a book that will be passed on from reader to reader in the next few years.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michael Lewyn VINE VOICE on March 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is less one complete book than it is a set of essays on a wide range of topics- sometimes insightful, sometimes less so. Generally, I found the book to be most persuasive when it explains the appeal of traditional religion, less so when it sets out an independent argument for the way things ought to be. A few of the issues covered:

*The growth of religious fundamentalism. Rabbi Sacks writes: "The power of conservative religious movements has been precisely the fact that they represent protests against, rather than accommodations to, late modernity." In other words, right-wing religion is successful because it appeals to the dissatisfied; the satisfied by definition aren't going to be as motivated to switch religions or even to invest as heavily in their own.

*The value of religion generally. Why are religions so much more successful in attracting adherents than, say, philosophical systems with similar visions of the good life? Sacks points out that religions don't just have points of view, they "embody [their visions] in the life of the community. They make it vivid and substantial and prayer and ritual, in compelling narratives and collective acts of rededication." By contrast, a philosophy without ritual, or even a religious movement that lacks a lot of ritual, may not seem as "vivid and substantial" to some people. I completely agree; I grew up Reform and have moved towards a more ritual-oriented form of Judaism, and the reason I find traditional Judaism more appealing has less to do with ideology than the felt reality that the latter seems a bit more, well, "vivid."

*The value of religious diversity.
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