Sacks Book Club discusses The Great Partnership

Next meeting: Sunday, June 16, 10 am, Temple Israel

The Rabbi Sacks Tidewater Community Book Club continued its journey of Jewish conversation by reviewing The Great Partnership in collaboration with Temple Israel and the Konikoff Center for Learning of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater. The second in a planned six-book exploration, The Great Partnership explores the relationship between religion, science, and the search for meaning.

The book begins by explaining why so many view religion and science as incompatible. It then makes a forceful case for why religion matters and directly addresses major challenges to faith.

Contrasting accounts of the world are explored with one narrative describing a universe where random chance overwhelmed massive improbability, resulting in the spontaneous formation of life with ever-increasing complexity. There is no purpose or higher meaning; we simply exist in a brief instant of time along the continuum of infinity. Our actions and thoughts are no more than preprogrammed responses from our genetic code of no moral consequence.

An alternative offers a universe called into being from an entity outside it. Under the laws called nature that are understood as science, Homo sapiens became sentient and endowed with free will to make moral choices that have consequences that endow life with meaning. As Sacks says, “The meaning of the system lies outside the system. Therefore, the meaning of the universe lies outside the universe. That was the revolution of Abrahamic monotheism.”

Science and religion are independent realms that complement each other similarly to both sides of the brain. The left brain supports linear, analytical, and mechanical functions that allow information to be processed. The right brain is more integrative and is a source of empathy and emotion. Sacks argues that Judaism represents a right-brain spirituality transformed by the Greek world through Christianity into a left-brain language that made compatibility with scientific progress difficult to integrate. Sacks makes the case that Judaism in its original form complements scientific advancement without serious theological difficulties. Utilizing classic Jewish sources, he discusses how religious faith is not threatened but may even be strengthened by scientific advances that include the universe’s origins and evolutionary biology. Ultimately, “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.”

For some, science alone serves the function of religion. However, science has no space for empathy or to account for human dignity. There is no morality in nature. Moral choice requires understanding the concern of the “other.” Certainly, one does not have to be religious to be ethical. However, Sacks makes a persuasive argument about the risk to morality and relationships needed to sustain a vibrant society when devoid of a noncoercive religious framework. Just as there is bad science, there is bad religion, and Sacks discusses the pitfalls that religion must navigate to remain a force for good.
The search for meaning is made, not discovered, and it is found in the stories told, the prayers said, and the rituals performed. It isn’t necessary to choose between embracing science and pursuing faith.

The next meeting will be in partnership with host Temple Israel at 7255 Granby St in Norfolk. The group will discuss Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence. Participants are encouraged to read the book in advance, but attending without advance reading will still be worth the effort. Is there a better way to start Father’s Day than with some spirited discussion? Join and bring a friend!

For more information or to register, visit or contact Sierra Lautman at