How a bursary 52 years ago inspired Jonathan Sacks to become a rabbi

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How a bursary 52 years ago inspired Jonathan Sacks to become a rabbi

In December 1968, the B’nai B’rith First Lodge of England bestowed the future Chief Rabbi with an award that allowed him to travel to the US and meet the Lubavicher Rebbe

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Induction of  Rabbi  Sacks to membership of the Lodge with Gerald Kirsh President of First Lodge at the time.
Induction of Rabbi Sacks to membership of the Lodge with Gerald Kirsh President of First Lodge at the time.

Among the memories of the late Lord Jonathan Sacks retrieved from archives in recent days is a telling citation from 52 years ago, which tells how the former Chief Rabbi won a Bursary Award from a Jewish lodge.

In December 1968, after excelling as a third year student at Cambridge University studying moral sciences, the B’nai B’rith First Lodge of England gave him what would prove to be a crucial helping hand.

The money let him travel to America, where he met the great 20th century Lubavicher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, whose influence had a profound effect on the young scholar.

Menachem Mendel Schneerson – the Lubavitcher Rebbe. (Credit: Wikipedia/Mordecai baron)

Records from the time show that Sacks’ results had put him on track for a first-class honours, prompting the awards committee to pay for him to spend time at Yeshiva University in New York to study rabbinical theology and its history.

The bulletin also notes that Sacks had also been “interested in studying the community structure in America compared to ours”.

During his address to the Lodge in the late 1970s, Sacks said that encounter had been “a significant factor” in his decision to become a rabbi.

“It changed the course of his career,” said vice-president Dr Martin Aaron, who found the paperwork. “On several occasions since, he jokingly blamed First Lodge.”

Sacks was inducted as a member of First Lodge in July 1992, the ceremony led by Gerald Kirsh, who was president at the time. In February 2010, Sacks was guest of honour at the Lodge’s centenary dinner at the Great Hall at Lincoln’s Inn.

Bulletin from B’Nai B’Rith advertising the bursary award

“He spoke with his usual eloquence to over 320 guests, some joining us from several B’nai B’rith European Lodges,” recalls Aaron. “He said it was First Lodge that had facilitated him becoming a rabbi. Very appropriately, he was presented with our award for outstanding achievement within and beyond the Jewish community.”

He added that Sacks’ death was “not only a loss to this Lodge, it will leave a tremendous void in the Jewish community”.

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