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Jonathan Sacks

Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is chief rabbi for Orthodox Judaism in the British Commonwealth a position he has held since 1991. In that role, he oversees members of the United Hebrew Congregations, a federation of synagogues formally recognized by the British government since 1845. He is the sixth rabbi to hold the position in the organization’s history.

Born in 1948 in London, Rabbi Sacks attended Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, receiving honors in philosophy. He continued his studies at New College, Oxford, and King’s College, London, where he earned his doctorate in 1981. The same year he was ordained at Jews’ College and at Yeshiva Etz Chaim, both in London. He served as the rabbi for Golders Green synagogue and Marble Arch synagogue in London. Before taking the post of chief rabbi he also was Principal of Jews’ College, the world’s oldest rabbinical seminary. In 1970 Rabbi Sacks married his wife Elaine and they have three children Joshua, Dina, and Gila, and three grandchildren.

Rabbi Sacks has been a visiting professor at several universities in Britain, the United States, and Israel. He is currently a visiting professor of theology at King’s College, London. The archbishop of Canterbury conferred a doctorate of divinity on Rabbi Sacks marking his first ten years as chief rabbi one of fourteen honorary degrees given the rabbi by universities in Britain the United States and Israel.

His appointment as chief rabbi was followed by his launching of a major initiative ‘Decade of Jewish Renewal.’ The educational effort aimed to strengthen the Jewish continuity create a national foundation to promote the work and included projects such as the Association of Jewish Business Ethics and the Chief Rabbinate Awards for Excellence. Rabbi Sacks began his second decade in office with an initiative titled “Jewish Responsibility” with a focus on ethical practices.

The rabbi’s honors include the Jerusalem Prize 1995 for his contribution to the life of the Jewish Diaspora, a 2005 knighthood conferred by the Queen of England, the invitation to join the House of Lords in 2009, and two National Jewish Book Awards in the United States. A popular expositor on Judaism Jewish affairs and ethical issues in general Rabbi Sacks has regularly delivered BBC RADIO 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’. He has written a monthly “Credo” for The Times and gives the annual Jewish holiday messages on the BBC. The BBC Board of Governors invited him to deliver the annual Reith Lectures in 1990, which were nationally broadcast and then published as The Persistence of Faith.

Rabbi Sacks has written twenty-four books his most recent being The Great Partnership: God, Science, and the Search for Meaning (2011). His other books include: Exodus: the Book of Redemption (2010); Future Tense: Jews, Judaism, and Israel in the Twenty-first Century (2009); The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society (2007); The Persistence of Faith: Religion, Morality, and Society in a Secular Age (2005); To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility (2005); Letter in the Scroll: Understanding our Jewish Identity and Exploring the Legacy of the World’s Oldest Religion (2000); Torah Studies: Discourses by Menachem M. Schneerson (1996); Crisis and Covenant: Jewish Thought After the Holocaust (1992); Orthodoxy Confronts Modernity, editor (1991); and Traditional Alternatives: Orthodoxy and the Future of the Jewish People (1989).

  • —L. Witham