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Tributes paid to Lord Sacks, a ‘towering religious leader’

08 November 2020

TEMPLETON PRIZE/TONY ISBITT

RABBI Lord Sacks, who has died aged 72, possessed a “rare combination” of “profound depth, and equally profound commitment to relating with others”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Lord Sacks, who was Chief Rabbi from 1991 until 2013, died early on Saturday morning. He had been diagnosed with cancer last month.

Archbishop Welby said on Saturday evening: “It is with deep sadness that I mourn the passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. He devoted so much of his life to reflecting on God at the most profound level — and we are all the beneficiaries of his wisdom.

“But at the same time, Rabbi Sacks was always someone who you could relate to instantly. He was always thoroughly part of the world, and he relished that.”

He continued: “He had a deep commitment to interpersonal relationships — and 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.”

Archbishop Welby concluded by saying that his prayers were with Rabbi Sacks’s family “and with the “whole Jewish community as they come to terms with this great loss. May his memory be a lasting blessing.”

The Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, also paid tribute. He wrote on Twitter on Saturday evening: “Please join me in giving prayerful thanks for the life of this great human being.”

The Council of Christians and Jews described Lord Sacks as “a towering religious leader and intellectual”, and spoke of his personal friendships with leaders of other faiths. “We give thanks for the life of Rabbi Lord Sacks, former President of CCJ; our thoughts are with his family. His words: ‘Those who are confident in their faith are not threatened but enlarged by the different faith of others’ (Dignity of Difference). May his memory be a blessing.”

The RC Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said: “I mourn the death of Jonathan Sacks. I express my sorrow to the worldwide Jewish community on the loss of this great figure. I assure them of my prayers and condolences.

“Chief Rabbi Sacks was a most eloquent proponent of some of the greatest truths of humanity, so often forgotten. I recall with clarity some of his forceful and persuasive presentations of the truths expressed in Judaism and indeed in the Christian faith, truths which help us to make sense of our lives, our communities, and our destinies.”

Rabbi Sacks delivered a lecture, “The Relationship between the People and God”, at the 2008 Lambeth Conference (News, 1 August 2008). Introducing him to the Conference, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Williams, described him as “one of the most distinguished religious and political thinkers to be writing in the English language at the moment”.

After the lecture, Rabbi Sacks made a heartfelt plea for unity within the worldwide Anglican Communion. “The Anglican Communion has held together quite different strands of Christian theology and practice more graciously and successfully than any other religion I know,” he said. “The fact that you hold together in spite of difference is something, as an outsider, I view with wonder and admiration.

“And you must hold together for the future; for it’s your ability to hold together in a world driving apart that is your unique contribution to the world with a landscape of division. You are a wonderful Church.”

He went on to describe his “unusual” CV for a chief rabbi, which included St Mary’s C of E Primary School and Christ’s College, Finchley, in London. “I owe a great debt to the Church of England for what it gave me when I was growing up.”

Since stepping down as Chief Rabbi in 2013, Lord Sacks remained an influential religious and political thinker.

In 2016, he was awarded the Templeton Prize (News, 4 March 2016).

His most recent book was Morality: Restoring the common good in divided times (Hodder & Stoughton) (Books, 3 July; Comment, 20 March). 

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