Former chief rabbi Lord Sacks has led the community’s tributes to renowned British physicist Professor Stephen Hawking, who has died at the age of 76.

One of the world’s finest scientific minds, he died peacefully at his home in Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Prof Hawking was diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease in 1964 at the age of 22 and was given just a few years to live. He eventually became confined to a wheelchair and dependent on a computerised voice system for communication.

Despite this, he continued to travel the world giving lectures and writing scientific papers and books about the basic laws that govern the universe.

Taking to Twitter, Rabbi Lord Sacks said Hawking “was a man who changed our understanding of the universe, demonstrating that the greatest human power of all is the power of ideas.”

“Diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21 and given only two years to live, he also showed, for the next five and a half decades, the power of the mind over the body and the ability to create and communicate despite the most debilitating conditions.

“We shared the privilege of being Fellows of the same Cambridge College, and he truly merited the blessing the rabbis coined on seeing a great non-Jewish scholar, thanking God for “giving of His wisdom to human flesh and blood.” His was a truly inspiring life.

Hawking, who visited Israel four times, was known for his support for the Palestinians and in 2013, drew Israeli anger for his decision to join the academic boycott of Israel.

The physicist cancelled his participation in a Jerusalem conference sponsored by then-president Shimon Peres, according to Times of Israel.

“I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank,” Hawking wrote in a letter at the time.

Hawking also encouraged support for investment in Palestinian science in 2017.