Former chief rabbi Lord Sacks dies aged 72

Former chief rabbi Lord Sacks dies aged 72 as friends hail him as a ‘giant of both the Jewish community and wider society’

  • Former chief rabbi and cross-bench peer Lord Jonathan Sacks died this morning 
  • He had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment in October
  • Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl described him as ‘a giant’ 

Former chief rabbi of Great Britain Lord Jonathan Sacks has died at the age of 72.

The highly esteemed cross-bench peer announced he was undergoing treatment for cancer in October. 

A statement on his Twitter page said he died on Saturday morning.

It read: ‘Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet. 

‘It with the deepest sadness that we regret to inform you that Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (HaRav Ya’akov Zvi ben David Arieh z’l) passed away early this morning, Saturday 7th November 2020 (Shabbat Kodesh 20th MarCheshvan 5781).’

Former chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has died at the age of 72. The highly esteemed cross-bench peer announced he was undergoing treatment for cancer in October

Lord Sacks (centre) leads a march against poverty with the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams (right) demanding action to halve poverty worldwide by 2015 on July 24, 2008 in London

Sacks (left) is pictured with former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Lord George Carey, the former Archbishop of Cantebury, in 2000

His funeral is expected to take place tomorrow in accordance with orthodox Jewish tradition, requiring people are buried as quickly as possible after their death.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews president Marie van der Zyl led the tributes to the ‘giant of both the Jewish community and wider society’.

She said: ‘His astounding intellect and courageous moral voice were a blessing to all who encountered him 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.’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: ‘I am deeply saddened by the passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. 


Lord Sacks (pictured left, after receiving his knighthood with his Knighthood from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2005, and right, in 2010) was appointed as chief rabbi of the UK in 1993

Lord Sacks became an ambassador for the Jewish community in the UK during his time as chief rabbi and was widely seen as a voice of morality 

Sacks (pictured in Jerusalem, Israel, in 2013) regularly wrote columns for The Times and appeared on on Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, ensuring he reached a wide audience

‘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.’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘I want to express my condolences on the passing of former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. 

‘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.’ 

Israel President Reuven Rivlin said: ‘Mourning the loss of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks ז’ל. 

‘We will always remember his warning against violence in the name of God and his belief that we can heal a fractured world. 

‘Condolences to his family, to British Jewry and to his students. May his memory be a blessing.’

Israel’s leader of the opposition of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid said: ‘I once said to him that he is the only person I’d be happy to have as my Rabbi.

‘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.’

Former prime minister Tony Blair said Lord Sacks was ‘a man of huge intellectual stature but with the warmest human spirit’.

He added: ‘Jonathan was a wonderful friend, a beloved mentor, a philosopher of extraordinary insight and of course a religious leader respected well beyond the Jewish community and well beyond the shores of Britain.

‘His influence was vast and his reach immense. A brilliant speaker and thinker, he had the rarest of gifts – expressing complex ideas in the simplest of terms.’ 

Nick Baines, the Anglican bishop of Leeds, said: ‘Very, very sad news. A giant has gone. Condolences to our Jewish friends, but way beyond, too.

‘I owe him such a debt – culturally, spiritually, intellectually. So sad, and a massive loss to the country.’ 

Lord Sacks speaks with the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord George Carey at Lambeth Palace in London in 2001

The five faith leaders of the UK after they read out their statement about the implications of the 7/7 terror attack at Lambeth Palace, London Sunday July 10, 2005. Left-to-right: Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Free Churches Moderator Dr David Coffey, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chair of the Council of Mosques & Imams Sheikh Dr Zaki Badawi and the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams

Lord Sacks was born in Lambeth, London, on March 8, 1948, and went to school in Finchley before attending Cambridge University, where he gained first class honours in philosophy.

He was the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013.

On taking the position, Sacks called for a ‘decade of renewal’ based on ‘love of every Jew, love of learning, love of God, a profound contribution to British society and an unequivocal attachment to Israel’.

He succeeding Immanuel Jakobovits and was succeeded by the current chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis.

Sacks served as principal of Jews’ College, now the London School of Jewish Studies, before being appointed as chief rabbi of the UK.

He was also rabbi of the prestigious Marble Arch synagogue in Central London.

Lord Sacks became an ambassador for the Jewish community in the UK during his time as chief rabbi and was widely seen as a voice of morality.

He regularly wrote columns for The Times and appeared on on Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, ensuring he reached a wide audience. 

Sacks wrote books on Jewish thought and tolerance, extremism and also produced documentaries series.

He was an outspoken critic of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn amid the row over anti-Semitism in the party. 

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