About the Chief Rabbi
Last updated: 2003-11-18
Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks has been Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth since September 1, 1991, the sixth incumbent since 1845.
Widely recognised as one of the world's leading contemporary exponents of Judaism, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown said of him (May 2003), "The Chief Rabbi is not just a distinguished scholar but a distinguished spiritual leader and a globally respected ambassador for the Jewish community here in Britain. He is respected in every continent because he has done more than anyone in Britain today to focus our attention on the needs and challenges of community in the global world."
Prior to becoming Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Sacks had been Principal of Jews' College, London, the world's oldest rabbinical seminary, as well as rabbi of the Golders Green and Marble Arch Synagogues in London. He gained rabbinic ordination from Jews' College as well as from London's Yeshiva Etz Chaim.
His secular academic career has also been a distinguished one. Educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he obtained first class honours in Philosophy, he pursued postgraduate studies at New College, Oxford, and King's College, London. Professor Sacks has been Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex, Sherman Lecturer at Manchester University, Riddell Lecturer at Newcastle University, Cook Lecturer at the Universities of Oxford, Edinburgh and St. Andrews and Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He is currently Visiting Professor of Theology at Kings' College London. He holds honorary doctorates from the universities of Cambridge, Glasgow, Haifa, Middlesex, Yeshiva University New York, University of Liverpool and St. Andrews University, and is an honorary fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and King's College London. In September 2001, the Archbishop of Canterbury conferred on him a doctorate of Divinity in recognition of his first ten years in the Chief Rabbinate.
At his installation as Chief Rabbi in 1991, Dr Sacks set out his vision of a reinvigorated Anglo-Jewry and launched it with a Decade of Jewish Renewal, followed by a series of innovative communal projects. These included Jewish Continuity (a national foundation funding programmes in Jewish education and outreach), the Association of Jewish Business Ethics, the Chief Rabbinate Awards for Excellence, the Chief Rabbinate Bursaries, and Community Development, a national programme to enhance Jewish community life. In 1995, he received the Jerusalem Prize for his contribution to diaspora Jewish life. In September 2001 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.
A notably gifted communicator, the Chief Rabbi is a frequent contributor to radio, television and the national press. Each year before Rosh Hashanah he delivers a message to the nation on BBC Television. In 1990 he delivered the BBC Reith Lectures on The Persistence of Faith. He is the author of thirteen books, including:
- Tradition in an Untraditional Age (1990)
- Persistence of Faith (1991)
- Arguments for the Sake of Heaven (1991)
- Crisis and Covenant (1992)
- One People? (1993)
- Will We Have Jewish Grandchildren? (1994)
- Community of Faith (1995)
- The Politics of Hope (1997 revised 2nd edition 2000)
- Morals and Markets (1999)
- Celebrating Life (2000)
- Radical Then, Radical Now [published in America as A Letter in the Scroll(2001)
- Dignity of Difference (2002)
- The Chief Rabbi's Haggadah (2003)
Five of his books have been serialised in the national British press. The[London] Times described his Faith in the Future as "one of the most significant declarations made by a religious leader in this country for many years," and called his The Politics of Hope "a remarkable book rich and eloquent which deserves to become a key text." The Daily Telegraph wrote of The Dignity of Difference that it "stands far above other books about globalization and the so-called clash of civilizations, both for what it has to say and for the grace with which it says it." Rabbi Sacks is a regular contributor to The Times, in which he writes a monthly Credo column. A Letter in the Scroll and The Dignity of Difference both won national American book awards.
Fifty-five years old and London-born, he has been married to Elaine for over 30 years. They have three children, Joshua, Dina and Gila.