Every so often, however, there is a reminder that the love and adoration of masses can be a fickle things. A few years ago, for example, Rav Sacks was criticized for allowing his beis din to make a decision regarding the status of certain types of converts when it came to attending Jewish schools. As opposed to making an enlightened decision that would have accepted any standard, the beis din held its ground and disqualified non-Orthodox candidates. The reaction from Rav Sack's followers at the time followed one of two threads. Some were supportive and blamed his Chareidi beis din for forcing him into the exclusionary position. Others simply turned on him the minute he deviated from their image of him as an inclusive, tolerant, non-judgemental yet Orthodox rav.
Rav Sacks has now done it again, giving a recent speech in which he attacked Steve Jobs as emblematic of the morally empty consumer culture we find ourselves swamped in.
Speaking at an interfaith reception attended by the Queen this week, Lord Sacks said, "People are looking for values other than the values of a consumer society. The values of a consumer society really aren't ones you can live by for terribly long.While many of us are not terribly good at it, we still must acknowledge that Judaism is a culture in which giving is considered one of the highest values. The parasha from just this past week shows how fundamentally rooted that trait should be in each of us from Rivkah Imeinu. The opposite value, taking, is the signpost of Western secular culture.
"The consumer society was laid down by the late Steve Jobs coming down the mountain with two tablets, iPad one and iPad two, and the result is that we now have a culture of iPod, iPhone, iTune, i, i, i.
"When you're an individualist, egocentric culture and you only care about 'i', you don't do terribly well."
He went on: "What does a consumer ethic do? It makes you aware all the time of the things you don't have instead of thanking God for all the things you do have.
"If in a consumer society, through all the advertising and subtly seductive approaches to it, you've got an iPhone but you haven't got a fourth-generation one, the consumer society is in fact the most efficient mechanism ever devised for the creation and distribution of unhappiness."
Although religious leaders have in recent years used increasingly strong language to condemn banks and politicians over the financial crisis and the gap between rich and poor, few have directly criticized ordinary people for their materialism.
How many of the supposedly poor and oppressed 99% protesting in the "Occupy" movement have iPads and iPhones? If their financial situation is so dire, why are they carrying top-of-the-line electronic goods? Wouldn't a simple cell phone be cheaper and more sensible? And at the root of it, what is the "Occupy" movement about if not the resentment that others have money that these 99% don't have and they want to take a piece of it without having to earn it?
But is Orthodox Judaism immune to this consumerism? In the words of the immortal Al Bundy, "Uh, no Peg."
Take a look at how our culture has become obsesssed with material goods. How many of us live in huge homes that we cannot truly afford but still manage to fill them with useless tzatchkes that we insist we cannot live without? Look around you in shul or even at your own neck. How much did that ornative tallis band cost? In the last year I invested in a set of tefillin for my son and was told that the starting price for a set that I could be reasonably assured was kosher and met everyone's standards - the starting price! - was $1300 and that to remove all doubts I was looking at close to $2000.
How much do we spend on bar mitzvah celebrations and weddings when a table with a keg at one end and a hot, steaming plate of wings at the other is all you really need? How much do we spend on shteitls, suits and Borsalino hats to ensure we look just right when we go to shul?
Let's bring Steve Jobs into this. How many of us have an iPad with all the latest Jewish app's because shlepping a Gemara around is so 1990's?
In short, how much of our Orthodox life is necessary and how much of it is there only because we've deluded ourselves and want to keep up with the Jonesteins?
I am certain that there are those who will attack Rav Sacks but in my opinion he's spot on. We are some of us ugly but don't want to accept the image we see in the mirror, therefore we resent the person who points it out. However, if Rav Sacks was right about the stuff we want to hear, we cannot dismiss him when he tells us what we don't want to hear.
Therein lies the irony, by the way. One of the ongoing criticisms of the Chareidi community is that their "Gedolim" are trapped by their culture. A Gadol, Daas Torah and Ruach HaKodesh aside, cannot pasken as he wants because if he comes up with a decision that doesn't fit the "holier than thou" cultural ethic put in place by his askanim he is in danger of losing his "Gadol" status. Yet within Modern Orthodoxy there may be the same kind of ethic. You're a leader and an inspiration as long you parrot the themes of tolerance and inclusion but the minute you draw a red line, well you're betraying the followers who made you great and are therefore no longer worthy of that greatness. The two communities, one trapped by a model of Gadol worship, one by the secular values that have snuck into its Judaism, aren't so different after all.