Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of Great Britain, has died

Sacks was diagnosed with cancer in October and stepped back from his work to focus on his treatment.

Lord Jonathan Sacks, theologian, author, and former Chief Rabbi of the UK. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Lord Jonathan Sacks, theologian, author, and former Chief Rabbi of the UK.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the much respected former chief rabbi of the UK, has died aged 72.
Sacks was highly esteemed around the Jewish world for his erudition, his wisdom, and his prolific  authorship of works on Jewish thought.
Sacks announced in the middle of October that he had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment, but passed away on Saturday morning.
Rabbi Sacks served as the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013, succeeding Immanuel Jakobovits. He was succeeded by the current chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis.
Before being appointed as chief rabbi of the UK in 1993, Sacks served as principal of Jews’ College, now the London School of Jewish Studies, and rabbi of the prestigious Marble Arch Synagogue in Central London.
During his time as chief rabbi, Sacks became an ambassador for the Jewish community in the UK and was respected by many in UK Jewry and in the non-Jewish world as well.
He was widely seen as a voice of morality and ethical integrity, and his positions and opinions were frequently sought by the British media on crucial issues of the day, including in a regular column in The Times newspaper, and as guest on current affairs TV and radio shows.
Sacks wrote numerous books on Jewish thought, tolerance, extremism, a commentary on the weekly Torah portion, commentaries on Jewish liturgy, and more, as well as producing documentaries series.
In a 2015 interview with The Jerusalem Post, Sacks highlighted what he described as the ongoing importance and centrality of Israel to the Jewish people as a whole whether living in the Jewish state or in the Diaspora.
“Whenever we come here [to Israel], which is frequently, we see the passion, energy and creativity of the most remarkable small nation on the face of the earth,” he said.
“Israel should make every Jew in the world feel proud, but that is not a political or religious statement. It is a statement about what happens when you get a lot of Jews together in a country that is the arena of Jewish history, and you say ‘Now write the next chapter of the Jewish people.’’
Tributes for the rabbi poured in upon news of his death.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “deeply saddened” to hear of Sacks’ passing, saying “His leadership had a profound impact on our whole country and across the world.”
President of Israel Reuven Rivlin gave his condolences, saying Sacks was “a man of thought and a man of words, an original teacher and of creativity, a man of truth, whose generosity and compassion built bridges between people.”
Continued the president “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.”
UK Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl said that the board was “distraught” at the rabbis passing.
“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 him in person, in writing or in broadcast,” said van der Zyl.
“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. Our hearts go out to his wife Elaine, his children Joshua, Dina and Gila, his brothers and the whole family. He will be much missed by us all.”
Israel’s leader of the opposition of the Yesh Atid Party MK Yair Lapid also mourned Sacks’ passing.
“I once said to him that he is the only person I’d be happy to have as my Rabbi,” said Lapid on Twitter.
“He laughed and agreed to take on the role. Today the world lost a Rabbi, a Lord, a wonderful philosopher. The world will miss him, I will miss him.”
Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch said she was “deeply saddened to hear the terrible news about the passing of Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks,” describing him as “One of the greatest Jewish leaders of our time,” and thanking him for serving as “a light to us all.”
President of the Conference of European Rabbis Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt said the organization was “truly saddened to hear of the passing of our Associate Vice President, Rabbi Lord Sacks.”
Said Goldschmidt: “Rabbi Sacks was a giant of World Jewry and will be truly missed. His scholarship and oratory skill were without parallel, and he has been an inspiration to an entire generation, no matter their faith.
“We hope his memory will be a blessing to his family and all those who were influenced by him.”
Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization, said that he "was very sad to hear of the passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. A proud Jewish and Zionist leader. A thinker who knew how to connect wisely and sensitively between the Torah and people around the world, and touched each and every one personally. A great loss to the Jewish community in Great Britain and to the Jewish world in general."
Rabbi David Stav, founder and chair of Tzohar Rabbinical Organization, said Sacks’ death “represents the loss of one of the most unique voices in the Jewish and rabbinical worlds who exemplified an unwavering trust and hope in faith and in Judaism in particular. He was a moral powerhouse for all of humanity.”
Chairman of the Yamina Party Naftali Bennett said that with Sack’s death “the Jewish world - and the whole world - lost a great light,” adding that “Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks will be remembered and always celebrated as one of the greatest Jewish thinkers and teachers.”