A global religious leader, philosopher, author and moral voice for our time, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has been Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth since September 1991, only the sixth incumbent since the role was formalised in 1845. He is due to step down from this role in September 2013 after 22 years in office.
A frequent contributor to radio, television and the press both in Britain and around the world, the Chief Rabbi has been described by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as “truly a towering figure in the intellectual life. He ranges with extraordinary ease across different fields, making a contribution that is uniquely and distinctively his own. In particular, as few other people can, he relates the insights of religion to the modern world and retells the story of faith in a compelling way, and that is a rare and remarkable achievement.”
Born in London in 1948, the Chief Rabbi obtained first class honours in philosophy at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, before pursuing postgraduate studies at New College, Oxford and gaining his Ph.D from King’s College London in 1981. He received rabbinic ordination from Jews’ College in London and Yeshiva Etz Chaim in Israel.
A visiting professor at several universities in Britain, the United States and Israel, the Chief Rabbi is currently Visiting Professor of Theology at Kings’ College London. He holds 15 honorary degrees, including a Doctor of Divinity conferred to mark the Chief Rabbi’s first ten years in office, by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey.
At the time of his installation, the Chief Rabbi launched a ‘Decade of Jewish Renewal’. This led to a series of innovative communal projects including Jewish Continuity, a national foundation for Jewish educational programmes and outreach; the Association of Jewish Business Ethics; the Chief Rabbinate Awards for Excellence; the Chief Rabbinate Bursaries; and Community Development, a national scheme to enhance Jewish community life in partnership with the United Synagogue. The Chief Rabbi began his second decade of office with a call to ‘Jewish Responsibility’ and a renewed commitment to the ethical dimension of Judaism.
In recognition of his work, the Chief Rabbi has been awarded several international awards, including the Jerusalem Prize in 1995 for his contribution to diaspora Jewish life and The Ladislaus Laszt Ecumenical and Social Concern Award from Ben Gurion University in Israel in 2011. He was knighted by Her Majesty The Queen in 2005 and made a Life Peer, taking his seat in the House of Lords in October 2009.
The author of 24 books, the Chief Rabbi has published commentaries to the siddur and has completed commentaries to the Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Pesach machzorim to date. His most recent secular book – The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning – was published in July 2011. A number of his books have won literary awards, including the Grawemeyer Prize for Religion in 2004 for The Dignity of Difference, and a National Jewish Book Award in 2000 for A Letter in the Scroll (published as Radical Then, Radical Now in the UK). Covenant & Conversation: Genesis was also awarded a National Jewish Book Award in 2009. His Covenant & Conversation commentaries to the weekly Torah portion are read by thousands of people in Jewish communities around the world.
The Chief Rabbi has been married to Elaine since 1970. Together, they have three children – Joshua, Dina and Gila – and several grandchildren.