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British chief rabbi calls for European ‘covenant’

LONDON (JTA) — Britain’s chief rabbi called for a “covenantal relationship” of cooperation and closer social bonds in Europe in light of the global economic crisis.

Sir Jonathan Sacks, speaking Wednesday to the European Parliament meeting in Strasburg, said that dialogue lies at the roots of European civilization, but is not enough on its own. He praised the dialogue between Christianity and Judaism, but said “dialogue may not be enough” since "dialogue can’t always keep us together if other forces drive us apart." 

In citing the need for "covenants," the chief rabbi evoked biblical covenants such as the one by which the 12 tribes of Israel agreed to form one nation. He said in a covenant, "two parties come together to achieve what they can’t achieve alone."

Later he said, "We need to focus not just on rights but also on responsibilities" since "rights without responsibilities are the subprime mortgages of the modern world." By contrast, "covenants lead us to think about reciprocity."

Sacks contended that "Europe needs a new covenant and the time to begin is now," in the midst of the economic crisis.

He also told the Parliament that when he and other British religious leaders visited Auschwitz Thursday,  they had felt keenly "what happens when people lose mutual respect."

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