Statement On the Passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Posted on: Monday November 9, 2020

By Jonathan Wittenberg, President of the European Region of the Rabbinical Assembly

It is with shock and sadness that I learnt after Shabbat of the passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. He merited many more fruitful and enjoyable years of teaching and writing. His voice and his leadership will be deeply missed.

I knew him not only through his teaching, speaking and writings, but personally, during the time when he was rabbi of Golders Green Synagogue, when I lived around the corner and would occasionally babysit for the family, and through cross-community meetings when he was Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogues of Great Britain and the Commonwealth. 

His eloquence, coupled with deep Jewish and universal learning and combined with wit and an unmistakeable style, made his a popular and immensely respected voice not only across the Jewish community, but among leaders and followers of all faiths, nationally and internationally. I would often hear from Christian clergy how deeply they valued what he had to say. Just one of his many influential comments was that we had to work together across our religions both face to face and side by side. 

Rabbi Sacks was an extraordinarily prolific writer, authoring commentaries on the Siddur and Chummash as well as works of theology and philosophy addressing urgent contemporary issues, from the dangers of religious fanaticism and violence to the environmental threats to our planet. One of the last things he said to me was ‘We have work, lots of work, to do.’

Obviously, there were issues on which others in different sectors of the Jewish community, including my beloved and revered teacher Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs, disagreed with his views, but this do not detract from his positive contribution. Torah has seventy faces and needs many voices. As Rabbi Lord Sacks often emphasised, the plurality of Judaism is one of its great strength. The Jewish world, the world of faiths and society in general is poorer for his passing.

We wish Lady Elaine and all the family every strength and comfort at this painful time.

Hamakom Yenacheim