Santa Fe Jewish Book Council Lifetime Achievement Award To Robert D. Sacks
On December 3, 2016 the Santa Fe Jewish Book Council honored Robert D. Sacks for a lifetime of achievement in the area of Biblical scholarship at Congregation Beit Tikva in Santa Fe. This Award was given as a part of the celebration of National Jewish Book Month in Santa Fe. As People of the Book, we honor those who produce the knowledge in books that enlighten us and lead us to more understanding of our world and spirituality. Dr. Sacks is a person with an incredible range of knowledge and scholarship from the Bible to Socrates, from Shakespeare to Newton.
Robert Sacks was born 1931 in Akron, Ohio, where he would spend Saturdays with his grandfather in an old synagogue that stood on grounds now occupied by the United Disability Service. His family wanted him to attend Brandeis, the newly established Jewish university, but it did not have the capacity for a person with cerebral palsy, and his choice was to attend St. John's College, Annapolis, where he received his B.A. in 1954. From there he attended The Johns Hopkins University, completing his Ph.D. in 1961.
In the intervening years he studied with Leo Strauss, first at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem and later at the University of Chicago. In 1957 he enrolled at the Ecole des Langues Orientales Viventes in Paris, where he admits to spending many of his days at the Cafe de la Rue Tournould. Sacks has taught at St. John's College since 1960, at both the Annapolis and the Santa Fe campuses. He has been a visiting faculty member at Middlebury College in Vermont and St. Mary's College in California. Robert Sacks is the author of: A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (Edwin Mellen Press, 1990) and The Book of Job with Commentary: A Translation for Our Time (Scholars Press, 1999, reprinted 2016 by Green Lion Press), Beginning Biblical Hebrew: Intentionality and Grammar.
Warren Zev Harvey, chair Department of Jewish Thought The Hebrew University of Jerusalem says of Sacks’ book on the Hebrew language, “The most delightfully eccentric and daringly philosophic Hebrew grammar since Spinoza’s Compendium of the Hebrew Language.” Leon R. Kass Professor in the Committee on Social Thought at The University of Chicago says, “Robert Sacks has produced a truly remarkable exploration of Hebrew grammar, not only illuminating for students of the Hebrew language but wonderfully suggestive for students of language and logos as such. An outstanding achievement.”
In The Book of Job Sacks writes:
“God had seemed to make each thing in nature, including Job himself, with such perfection, love, and care. For the most part everything seemed to him to be so full of love and life, and yet in this case everything had gone so wrong. It was all so crazy and mixed up.
“This is, perhaps, Job’s deepest insight into the nature of his own feelings and thoughts. Job knows that like all men he has surely made some mistakes in his life, and perhaps more than most men, he knows that he has always been the one to suffer on account of them. But the present situation is different and beyond such reasonable bounds.
“Job feels that he is beginning to lose his struggle with the outside world, the world of Eliphaz and the rest of them, as well as with the world of pain. In order to come to terms with the noise of all of these accusations, and remain part of that outer world, his only source of human relationship, he finds himself beginning to believe in his own guilt even though he knows that he is not guilty. He lives with this contradiction only by taking his mind away from that which is best in him and seeing only his own frailties.”
In this insightful study of Job, the classical story of suffering and regaining strength, Robert Sacks gives to each of us thoughts for understanding our own frailties and weaknesses and the strength that we can find within ourselves.
Howard Fisher, a colleague from St. John’s College, who has known Dr. Sacks since the 1960s in Annapolis, and Janet Dougherty, another colleague of many years at St. John's spoke about his scholarship and ideas.
The members of the Santa Fe Jewish Book Council thought the most appropriate recognition for Bob would be a circle of trees planted in his name in Israel that would live and grow and benefit the generations to come, as Bob Sacks does with his life.
Mr. Sacks had written a statement about his life’s work, and Mr. Steven Ovitsky, the Executive Director of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, read the statement.
The organizing members of the Santa Fe Jewish Book Council, Gloria Abella Ballen, Camilla Mandler, Nurit Patt, Pat Shapiro, and Ron D. Hart thank Mr. Sacks (in the mode of St. John’s faculty, not Dr., not Professor, but Mr. Sacks) for giving voice to compelling stories, creating beautiful word images, and providing information to enlighten our thoughts.