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Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks remembered as voice for truth


© Blake Ezra Photography Ltd. 2013 | The Office of Rabbi Sacks

John Burger - published on 11/09/20 - updated on 11/09/20

Jewish leader dies of cancer at age 72.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, England, said that Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, was an “eloquent proponent of some of the greatest truths of humanity.”

The cardinal expressed his sorrow on the death of Rabbi Sacks, who died of cancer on November 7. The former chief rabbi, who was also a member of the House of Lords, was 72. 

“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,” Cardinal Nichols said in a statement. “I recall with joy his meeting with Pope Benedict at St. Mary’s University on 17th September 2010 at which, celebrating our commonalities and difference, he said:

What led to secularization was that people lost faith in the ability of people of faith to live peaceably together; and we must never go down that road again. We remember the fine words of John Henry Cardinal Newman, who said, “We should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend.”’

Cardinal Nichols recalled that Rabbi Sacks then “gave eloquent expression to our shared beliefs:

‘In the face of a deeply individualistic culture we offer community. Against consumerism, we talk about the things that have value but not a price. Against cynicism, we dare to admire and respect. In the face of fragmenting families, we believe in consecrating relationships. We believe in marriage as a commitment, parenthood as a responsibility, and the poetry of everyday life; when it is etched, in homes and schools with the charisma of holiness and grace.'”

Sacks was an international religious leader, philosopher, award-winning author and respected moral voice. He served as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013. Since stepping down from that position, he held a number of professorships at several academic institutions including Yeshiva University, New York University and King’s College London.

The rabbi was awarded the 2016 Templeton Prize in recognition of his “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” He was the author of over 30 books, including Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times (2020); Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence; The Great Partnership: God, Scienceand the Search for Meaning; and The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations. His 2017 TED Conference talk, viewed almost 2 million times, was listed by TED’s founder and curator Chris Anderson as one of the top ten talks of that year.

Rabbi Sacks was knighted by Queen Elizabeth  II in 2005 and made a Life Peer, taking his seat in the House of Lords in October 2009. Prince Charles called him “a light unto this nation.”

He was named as The Becket Fund’s 2014 Canterbury Medalist for his role in the defence of religious liberty in the public square.

Robert P. George, former chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, called Sacks a “truly great and good man” whose death came at a time “when we need him and his powerful witness most.”

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