In Memoriam: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, orthodox rabbi who served as chief rabbi of United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013, passed away November 7. Sacks died of cancer at age 72.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (photo by“on being“
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (photo by “on being”

The international outpouring of emotion at the news was a testament to his unmatched gift for sharing important and relevant ideas.

“With his passing, the Jewish community, our nation, and the entire world have lost a leader whose wisdom, scholarship and humanity were without equal,” said Prince Charles.

A fierce defender of the State of Israel, Sacks was “a man of words … and of creativity, a man of truth, whose generosity and compassion built bridges between people,” said  Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin. He “bravely faced questions and always found the right words to illuminate the Torah and explain his paths. We will always remember his warnings against violence in the name of God, and his belief that we have the power to heal a fractured world.” 

A Templeton Prize Laureate and author of more than 30 books, Rabbi Sacks was knighted by Her Majesty The Queen in 2005 and made a Life Peer, taking his seat in the House of Lords in October 2009.

“While his religious home was Orthodox Judaism,” wrote Ari L. Goldman in The New York Times, “Rabbi Sacks was one of the most inclusive voices within Judaism.” 

While on a visit to the United States in the summer of 1967 which he described in a video on his website, Sacks, then 19, met with renowned Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, which completely changed the course of his life, leading him to abandon his plans for a career as an economist and commit to the rabbinate. 

He was particularly renowned for his ability to communicate Jewish philosophy to the general population—a skill he regularly used on Thought For the Day, a BBC Radio 4 show, as well as in his columns for The Times of London.

In the latest of his many books, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times, published in September 2020, Sacks wrote in the preface:

“…I am disinclined to pessimism, I prefer hope, Love your neighbor. Love the stranger. Hear the cry of the otherwise unheard. Liberate the poor from their poverty. Care for the dignity of all. Let those who have more than they need share their blessings with those who have less. Feed the hungry, house the homeless, and heal the sick in body and mind. Fight injustice, whoever it is done by and whoever it is done against. And do these things because, being human, we are bound by a covenant of human solidarity, whatever out color or culture, class or creed.”    


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Judaism morality Rabbi Jonathan Sacks