Rabbi Lionel Blue dies aged 86

Lionel Blue was a nationally-known figure through his regular talks on Radio 4's Today programme


Rabbi Lionel Blue, the first openly gay British rabbi, and popular broadcaster on BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day, has died.

The liberal London synagogue, Beit Klal Yisrael, announced his death on its Facebook page. They wrote: "Lionel was a wonderful and inspirational man, who spoke with such wisdom and humour and whose words reached out far beyond the Jewish community.

"He was a friend and mentor to many and his courage in coming out as gay in the 1970s paved the way for many other Jews, including many Rabbis.

"We will not see his like again. May his memory be for a blessing."

Rabbi Blue, who was European Director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, contributed for over 30 years to Thought for the Day, often drawing on his experiences within the Jewish community.

Tributes to Rabbi Blue and his work, which earned him an OBE for Broadcasting, poured in from across the community.

Rabbi Tony Bayfield, former chief executive of the Movement for Reform Judaism, said Lionel “was one of the truly great rabbis of our time.

“What is absolutely central to the task of a rabbi today is to be able to communicate and he communicated a living Jewish faith as no one else could.

“Few people are able to talk about God out of experience but Lionel made that possible for people.”

Rabbi Bayfield said passages that Rabbi Blue wrote for the Reform High Holy Day machzor were “absolutely spellbinding.”

Rabbi Charley Baginsky, Liberal Judaism's director of strategy and communications and a student of Lionel's said: “On a personal level, as a lecturer at Leo Baeck College, Lionel was the archetypal rabbi’s rabbi – always there for us as individuals, helping us understand our own personal and spiritual journeys.

“And he leaves a legacy like few others. As the first British rabbi publicly to come out as gay, in the 1970s, Lionel paved the way for many others, including clergy of all faiths.

“His courage and pioneering spirit have created a more equal Judaism, and a more equal world. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. May his memory be a blessing.”

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, senior rabbi to Reform Judaism said: “Rabbi Lionel, as a teacher, writer and much-loved national broadcaster transformed how Britain viewed Jews, Judaism and most importantly, ourselves. May his memory be a blessing.”

Rabbi Jonathan Romain, of Maidenhead Synagogue, described Rabbi Blue as "God's best PR man in Britain".

Rabbi Romain, who studied under Rabbi Blue, said: "For several decades LIonel Blue became the indispensable Monday-morning wake-up call for millions in Britain, mixing religious insights with honesty and humour.

"He never pretended that life was easy, or that religion solved everything; instead, he shared his own failings and foibles, and showed how to get through the rest of the day.

"Through the popularity of his broadcasts and book,he made rabbis more human, Judaism more understandable, and faith in general more user-friendly.

"It was a tribute to the way he bridged religious differences that it was often quipped that Rabbi Blue would have been a wonderful choice as the next Archbishop of Canterbury."

Rabbi Blue, who was 86 and suffered with Parkinson’s disease, studied history at Balliol College, Oxford, and Semitics at the University of London, before joining the rabbinate in 1960.

He lived in Finchley north London, and was born in London's East End on 6 January 1930.

He is expected to be buried on Tuesday 20. 

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