Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor Lord Jakobovits, as well as the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, after being named this year’s recipient of the internationally-renowned Templeton Prize.
The accolade, announced in London today, is presented every year by the philanthropic John Templeton Foundation to a person who has made “an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension”.
It carries a cash prize of £1.1million – reputed to be one of the world’s largest monetary awards given to an individual.
Lords Sacks said he was “very humbled” by the honour, which makes him the third Jewish recipient of the award in its 45-year history, following Lord Jakobovits in 1991 and philanthropist Sir Sigmund Sternberg in 1998.
“This is a way of saying that the Jewish voice is valued in the global conversation about future,” Rabbi Sacks said.
“I have long been an admirer of the Templeton Foundation, which has been a force of immense good in the religious world. This is good for us as a community, and this is as much an award for me as it is for Jewish teachings over the centuries. It is just a privilege to be a voice of that.”
The prize will be presented in an official ceremony in May. The Foundation acknowledged Lord Sacks’s “revitalisation of Britain’s Jewish community during his service as Chief Rabbi from 1991 to 2013”.
A statement from the Templeton Foundation said during his Chief Rabbinate Lord Sacks had “built a network of organisations that introduced a Jewish focus in areas including business, women’s issues and education, and urged British Jewry to turn outward to share the ethics of their faith with the broader community”.
Lord Sacks highlighted this work in particular - in encouraging British Jewry to “turn outward” - as being pivotal in receiving the prize.
“I think this really is for the kind of work I have been doing in trying to create respect for a religious voice in the public conversation and for reaching out beyond the boundaries of a particular faith,” he said.
“We have built a lot of Jewish day schools in the last 20 years. In that time, it has become clear to me that we also have to give a little momentum in the opposite direction to make sure that the young people we educate in our Jewish schools also feel committed to active citizenship in wider society.”
Lord Sacks said he would use the prize money to continue “encouraging conversations between faiths and reaching out to young people to take on roles of leadership within the Jewish community and beyond”.
“The task now is global,” he said. “This prize will certainly enable me to intensify and extend my work.”
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said he was “delighted to extend my warmest congratulations to Rabbi Lord Sacks, one of our foremost contemporary spiritual thinkers, on being awarded the Templeton Prize".
He said: "For decades, we have benefitted from his theological insight, his clarity of thought and his unique ability to share the profundity of Jewish philosophy with the wider world. He is certainly deserving of the international recognition that accompanies this prestigious award.”
Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush paid tribute to Lord Sacks, saying "there can be no more deserving recipient".
He said: “The Templeton Prize honours a person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension. There can be no more deserving recipient than Lord Sacks who as Chief Rabbi for 22 years provided an inspirational moral and ethical voice for both the Jewish and wider community.
"His scholarship, his compassion and his efforts to bring communities together have impact worldwide. Lord Sacks is an exceptionally gifted communicator and whenever we hear him speak, we stand taller."