King pays tribute to Rabbi Abraham Levy for his 'message of tolerance'

Charles offers his condolences to the Sephardi community, saying the rabbi would be 'profoundly missed'


King Charles has paid moving tribute to Rabbi Abraham Levy, head of Britain's Sephardi community, who died aged 83 last Shabbat. The King offered his "deepest condolences, however inadequate they may be at this time of grief".

Describing Rabbi Levy as "a kind and towering figure", the King said he knew him as "as a greatly respected and admired teacher across communities".

The King went on: "Rabbi Levy will be profoundly missed, but his message of tolerance and his work toward interfaith dialogue hold enduring lessons for us all."

Tributes were also paid at the Limmud Festival on Sunday.

In a special session to honour his memory, Rabbi Joseph Dweck recalled the legacy of a “towering figure. The influence he had on Anglo-Jewry was strong, deep, substantive and powerful”.

Rabbi Dr Levy, who received an OBE for interfaith relations, retired 10 years ago after leading Britain’s oldest synagogue body for 32 years and having served it for 50 years in all.

The Gibraltar-born rabbi, who trained in London, was a champion of the classic Western Sephardi ethos with its belief in synthesis between traditional Judaism and the best of secular culture.

“He was a man of God who was a leader in religious life and he did it with a great deal of conviction,” said Rabbi Dweck.

He offered a Judaism that was “humanistic, pragmatic, empathic” and “sensitive” and at the same time was “staunchly traditional and halachic. And he was able to in an amazing way blend all of those things into an integrated, whole, beautiful Judaism.”

His passing was “a huge loss” not only for the SPSC but for Anglo-Jewry “because he really did build, enhance and support our collective Judaism in ways that we are not all consciously aware”.

At a time when most of the centrist Orthodox rabbinate was boycotting Limmud during the 1990s, Rabbi Levy not only attended the cross-communal event but also encouraged student rabbis under his mentorship to teach there.

In the 1970s, he launched a leadership programme for young Jewish adults which offered an educational platform to the young Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

In 1983, he opened the Naima Jewish Preparatory School in London, the first Sephardi school to open in Britain for a hundred years.

He also helped to provide a home for the innovative Saatchi Synagogue, which was successful in attracting young adults who may not otherwise have set foot in a synagogue.

He played a key role in reviving semichah (ordination) for mainstream Orthodox rabbis within the UK under the auspices of the Montefiore Endowment in 2006 after the London School of Jewish Studies, formerly Jews’ College - where he had himself trained for the pulpit - had stopped offering it.

Rabbi Raphael Zarum, dean of the LSJS, who was graduated of the Montefiore course, said that Rabbi Levy was a “great leader” who had taught him “how to make things happen”.

Rabbi Levy “valued academic learning, He encouraged people to come to Limmud. He wasn’t afraid of modernity,” Rabbi Dr Zarum said.

It was Rabbi Levy, he said, who saved the London School of Jewish Studies in 2003 when as deputy principal of the institution, he refused to accept a plan that would have seen it drop its academic programmes.

Recalling Rabbi Levy’s dedication to his community, Rabbi Dweck recalled that his placemats depicted Bevis Marks Synagogue, while his cufflinks bore the emblem of the SPSC. “This was a man who lived, breathed and embraced the community that he served. And we don’t see that very often today.”

The late rabbi's cousin, deputy mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan Nahoum, told the JC: “Rabbi Levy was my first cousin, my mentor, and to me he’s always been a spiritual figure that worked very hard towards bridge building with all sorts of populations and stood for the Maimonides value of moderation between the spiritual world and the practical modern world.

“He built a good majority of the Sephardi institutions in the UK, he built the rabbinical program, he built a school, he built a mikveh. These things didn’t exist for the Sephardi world until he decided to do it.

“He was also an integral part of the Montefiore Foundation to advance educational projects. Again, everything he did was in the spirit of bridge building, middle of the road moderation, making Judaism attractive and accessible to everyone, embracing and including everyone in that vision.

“He was a very proud Sephardi, a very proud Jew, very proud of his heritage, of our heritage and a very approachable, kind, empathetic figure. 

“Ultimately Rabbi Levy has had audiences in front of more than one monarch. The King of Morocco, the Queen of England, and the King of Spain. He was that type of well respected figure that had a lot of credibility in the royal courts of these countries.

"The concept of Kiddush Hashem in Judaism, sanctifying the name of God - that is what he really spent his life doing. Representing the Jewish people and his Sephardi heritage in the best way possible.”

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