Having last week lashed Apple and Steve Jobs as symbols of a selfish society based on an obsession with material goods, Britain’s chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks has turned out to be a big fan of the iPhone and iPad.
Speaking at an interfaith reception attended by the Queen, Lord Sacks made unusually strong comments in which he developed the theme that consumer technology such as Apple’s iPhone had become icons of self-absorption.
“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,” said Sacks.
“When you’re an individualist, egocentric culture and you only care about 'i’, you don’t do terribly well. 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.
“The consumer society is in fact the most efficient mechanism ever devised for the creation and distribution of unhappiness.”
However, a statement put out at the weekend has rowed back slightly from the blaming Apple for the materialism that Sacks has spoken of many times before without singling out one company.
"The chief rabbi meant no criticism of either Steve Jobs personally or the contribution Apple has made to the development of technology in the 21st century. He admires both and indeed uses an iPhone and an iPad on a daily basis. The chief rabbi was simply pointing out the potential dangers of consumerism when taken too far," the statement quoted in the Jewish press read.
Although the UK is a largely secular society with a relatively small Jewish population of around 300,000, Lord Sacks is an influential figure widely respected for his thoughtfulness and intellect. His criticism of consumerism is longstanding and often well-developed.
“Ultimately, the wealth of nations depends on more than economics. It depends on the degree to which a culture teaches us to act today for the sake of blessings tomorrow: a hard lesson but a necessary one,” Sacks said in a recent BBC radio broadcast.