Rabbi Professor Jonathan Magonet was never one to blow his own trumpet. But this collection of more than 40 essays penned in his honour testify to the impact he has made on European Jewish life and scholarship, especially during his 20 years as principal of London’s Progressive rabbinic academy, Leo Baeck College.
“Few people in our generation deserve a festschrift,” said co-editor of the volume, Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah, a former student of his. “But he has made such an important contribution in a variety of ways.”
Its 500-pages reflect his work in three particular areas: as a Bible scholar, who wrote on his doctorate on Jonah and authored a book on the Psalms, as an interfaith pioneer and as a Reform liturgist.
The European seminar for Jews, Christians and Muslims he helped to found some 40 years ago established exchanges among the three faiths well before the term “Abrahamic” became fashionable.
He has been an instrumental figure in the revision of Reform prayerbooks over three decades. The 1995 machzor for the three pilgrim festivals marked the first attempt within the movement to use gender-inclusive language in its translation.
“His commentaries are always very searching and poetic in tone, and have a lot of spiritual insight,” said Rabbi Sarah.
Other contributors touch on other of his interests: as a writer of songs and, after Leo Baeck College, as a teacher of Bible in Japan — which inspired his work of fiction, Netsuke Nation.