LONDON, Nov. 1 (JTA) — Britain’s former chief rabbi has died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage at 78.
Lord Jakobovits, who died Sunday, was the leader of Britain’s Jewish community from 1967 until 1991.
His successor, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, called him “the outstanding rabbinic figure of his generation.” Jakobovits was born in Germany in 1921. His family fled to England when Hitler came to power.
After attending a Jewish school, he studied at London University and began work as a rabbi at the Brondesbury synagogue in London when he was just 20.
At 27, he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Ireland and in 1958 became the founding rabbi of New York’s Fifth Avenue Synagogue.
He returned to Britain to become chief rabbi in 1967.
Jakobovits was the first chief rabbi to be knighted in office and the first to be given a peerage.
As Sir Immanuel and later Lord Jakobovits, he was regarded as “father confessor” to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and was widely perceived as the spiritual leader of Thatcherite Britain.
He was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in 1989 and received the Templeton Prize in religion in 1991.
He also spoke out on political issues.
During the 1980s, when the hard-line Land of Israel movement was at its peak, Jakobovits braved a storm of protest when he declared that Israel must be prepared to make territorial concessions for peace.
He wrote and lectured widely on moral issues and was considered an international authority on medical ethics.
He saw the welfare state as a safety net, but never spoke of the state’s responsibility without also talking of the individual’s responsibility.
In the 1980s he published a controversial pamphlet, “From Doom to Hope,” in which called on black immigrants to Britain to follow the example of earlier Jewish immigrants and work their way out of poverty and despair.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Jakobovits was “a man deeply respected and widely admired throughout the whole of this country for his faith, his ability and his courage. He will be sorely missed.”
Jakobovits was buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem on Monday. He leaves behind his wife, Lady Amelie, two sons, four daughters and more than 30 grandchildren.