Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi, dies aged 72

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The former chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, has died aged 72 about a month after being diagnosed with cancer, a spokesman for his office has confirmed.

He died in the early hours of Saturday morning, the spokesman said.

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

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

A statement from Lord Sacks' office on 15 October announced he had been "recently diagnosed with cancer" and was undergoing treatment.

Lord Sacks, an Orthodox Jew, was born in London on 8 March 1948.

In 1991 he became Britain's chief rabbi - the spiritual head of the largest grouping of Orthodox Jewish communities in the UK.

'Remarkable legacy'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "deeply saddened" by Lord Sacks' death, adding: "His leadership had a profound impact on our whole country and across the world."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also paid tribute, saying: "He was a towering intellect whose eloquence, insights and kindness reached well beyond the Jewish community."

Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, described Lord Sacks as a "giant of both the Jewish community and wider society".

"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," she said.

'Delight at living'

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis hailed his predecessor as "an extraordinary ambassador for Judaism".

A statement from the chief rabbi's office said on Saturday that Lord Sacks' "remarkable legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of the countless people he inspired".

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, praised Lord Sacks' religious devotion and leadership, as well as his "deep commitment to interpersonal relationships".

"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," he said.

Controller of BBC Radio 4 Mohit Bakaya said Lord Sacks was a "man of great intellect, humanity and warmth".

He added: "He brought all of that to Radio 4 through some of the most erudite Thought for the Days as well as a landmark series on morality."

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Image caption,
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (left) said Lord Sacks (centre) inspired "countless people", while the Prince of Wales (right) previously described him as a "steadfast friend"

Lord Sacks, who was made a crossbench life peer in 2009, often tried to find compromise between conservative and liberal factions of the British Jewish population.

At a tribute dinner held in May 2013 for the departing chief rabbi, the Prince of Wales said Lord Sacks was "a steadfast friend" and "a valued adviser" and praised his "spiritual awareness and [his] comprehensively informed philosophical and historical perceptiveness".

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

In an interview with the New Statesman, Lord Sacks said comments Mr Corbyn made about British Zionists were the "most offensive statement" by a politician since Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech, a comparison Labour said was "absurd".

Last week, the Labour Party suspended Mr Corbyn over his reaction to a highly critical report on anti-Semitism.

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