Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks dies of cancer at 72

He had been diagnosed last month


Rabbi Lord Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, has died at the age of 72. He had been diagnosed with cancer last month, having been treated twice previously.

In 2016 he was awarded the Templeton Prize in recognition of his “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” He had been described by the Prince of Wales as “a light unto this nation” and by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as “an intellectual giant”.

Rabbi Lord Sacks was Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth for 22 years, between 1991 and 2013 and was the author of over 30 books. His most recent, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times, was published this year. 

Rabbi Sacks was knighted in 2005 and made a Life Peer in 2009. 

Princes Charles, who was guest of honour at the tribute dinner when Lord Sacks retired as Chief Rabbi, expressed his "profound sorrow".

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

“His immense learning spanned the sacred and the secular, and his prophetic voice spoke to our greatest challenges with unfailing insight and boundless compassion.

“His wise counsel was sought and appreciated by those of all faiths and none, and he will be missed more than words can say."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "deeply saddened by the passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. His leadership had a profound impact on our whole country and across the world. My sincere condolences to his family, friends and the Jewish community. May his memory be a blessing."

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said the world had "lost a Torah luminary and intellectual giant who had a transformative global impact".

Rabbi Sacks was "an extraordinary ambassador for Judaism, helping many to understand and be proud of their heritage. He will be deeply missed, not just within the Jewish world, which benefited immeasurably from his teachings, but far more widely, by all those whose lives he enlightened with his wisdom, profundity and inspiration."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said, "He was a towering intellect whose eloquence, insights and kindness reached well beyond the Jewish community. I have no doubt that his legacy will live on for many generations."

Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog paid tribute to the "legendary spiritual leader who was a proud Jew and an ardent Zionist."

"He taught the world so much not only about Judaism, but also how to be better people. The Jewish people mourn the devastating loss of a spiritual giant. We know his legacy will live on for generations. May his memory be a blessing upon us all."

Rabbi Tony Bayfied, the former leader of Reform in the UK,  said he was "shocked and distressed to hear of Jonathan’s tragically premature death.  We davened together as undergraduates at Cambridge in the 1960s and maintained not just a friendship but a fruitful working relationship over more than a decade when he was Chief Rabbi  and I was head of the Reform Movement. 

"We worked together as Presidents of the Council of Christians and Jews and stood side by side at the Cenotaph.  He and Elaine [Lady Sacks] were immensely supportive when my late wife Linda was dying and died."

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, he said, was "a towering intellectual and moral figure who represented the Jewish community in Britain and its values as none before. We should all give thanks for his colossal legacy of scholarship which will enrich all sections of British Jewry for many decades to come."

On BBC Sunday's programme, Rabbi Mirvis described him as "a prince of God in our midst," a phrase the Bible uses of Abraham.

Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies, said "We are distraught at the news... Rabbi Sacks was a giant of both the Jewish community and wider society. His astounding intellect and courageous moral voice were a blessing to all who encountered hin in person, in writing or in broadcast.

"His outstanding tenure as Chief Rabbi led to a revolution in Jewish life and learning which has ensured his legacy will pass not just through his own beloved family, but through generations of our community's young people too."

Michael Goldstein, president of the United Synagogue, said Lord Sacks was "a man who was the living embodiment of the carefully chosen word, the perfect turn of phrase. I am hurting. He was a rabbi and a leader, a father and a grandfather. He was a teacher of us all.

"The world is a darker place right now. A flame of Torah has gone out. But the Torah Rabbi Sacks taught us will continue to be taught across the world for generations to come and will endure forever."

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said, the "entire Jewish world are profoundly saddened by the passing of former British Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks.

"A theologian of extraordinary intellectual depth and moral conviction, Rabbi Sacks was a riveting orator and brilliant author who brought the timeless teachings of Jewish scripture to both Jews and non-Jews alike, fusing Jewish tradition with modern thought."

Israel's president Reuven Rivlin said,  "Rabbi Sacks bravely faced difficult questions and always found the right words to illuminate the Torah and explain its 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."

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said that "when you met him, you couldn't help but be swept up in his delight at living, his sense of humour, his kindness and his desire to know, understand and value others.

"It was that rare combination - profound depth, and equally profound commitment to relating with others - that made the leadership he offered possible."

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, England and Wales's most senior Catholic, expressed sorrow at "the loss of this great figure"

Chief Rabbi Sacks was" a most eloquent proponent of some of the greatest truths of humanity, so often forgotten".

The Cardinal said, "I have lost a friend; the Jewish community a great leader; humanity an eloquent spokesman."

The funeral of Rabbi Sacks will take place on Sunday afternoon.

Gonville and Caius, the Cambridge University college where he studied, flew its flag at half-mast today.



Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive