"This was perhaps the greatest contribution of Judaism — via the Judaic roots of Christianity — to the West. The idea that time is an arena of change, and that freedom and creativity are God's gift to humanity, resulted in astonishing advances in science and our understanding of the world, technology and our ability to control the human environment, economics and our ability to lift people out of poverty and starvation, medicine and our ability to cure disease. It led to the abolition of slavery, the growth of a more egalitarian society, the enhanced position of women, and the emergence of democracy and liberalism. These were all consequences of 'the birth of the modern', set in motion by the Puritans, the Christians who came closest to the Hebrew Bible in their understanding of the world.

"Jews never accepted that war, violence, injustice, exploitation, the corruptions of power and the seductions of success are written into the structure of the universe. They do not believe that tragedy is inevitable, that human aspiration is hubris to be punished by nemesis, that a blind fate governs all things, that the universe or the gods are at best indifferent, at worst actively hostile, to humankind. They do not believe that genetic determinism means that all our efforts to change are fruitless and unworthwhile. If God defines himself as 'I will be what I will be', then he is telling us that, created in his image, we too can be what we will be.

"Within limits, to be sure. Judaism is not optimism. Jews do not believe in time as a story of unbroken progress. The tale of Adam and Eve is essentially about limits, about the things we can do but may not do. Jewish law is an assemblage of those limits. Without great care, the rich will exploit the poor, the strong will dominate and crush the weak. That was the burden of the prophetic message in ancient times. It should be so now.

"To be a Jew is to be an agent of hope. Every ritual, every command, every syllable of the Jewish story is a protest against escapism, resignation and the blind acceptance of fate. Judaism, the religion of the free God, is a religion of freedom. Jewish faith is written in the future tense. It is belief in a future that is not yet but could be, if we heed God's call, obey his will and act together as a covenantal community. The name of the Jewish future is hope.

"Somehow, in a way I find mysterious and moving, the Jewish people wrote a story of hope that has the power to inspire all who dare to believe that injustice and brutality are not the final word about the human condition, that faith can be more powerful than empires, that love given is not given in vain, that ideals are not illusions to give us comfort but candles to light our way along a winding road in the dark night without giving way to fear or losing a sense of direction."