Former chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks dies aged 72

Former chief rabbi Lord Sacks
Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks died at the age of 72 on Saturday morning. Credit: PA

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

Last month it was announced that Lord Sacks had been "recently diagnosed with cancer" and was undergoing treatment.

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).”

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Elaine Taylor, their three children and several grandchildren.

Lord Sacks was a prolific writer and regularly contributed to radio and TV programmes such as BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day.

Lord Sacks served as the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth – the figurehead of British Jews – for 22 years, stepping down in September 2013.

He was succeeded by the current chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis.

Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl described Lord Sacks, who was made a cross-bench life peer in 2009, as a “giant of both the Jewish community and wider society”.

She added: “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 he is “deeply saddened” by Lord Sacks’ death.

He added: “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.”

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.”

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