The Templeton Prize is one of the most prestigious in the world. It was established by Sir John Templeton, the pioneer global investor, whose presence here tonight I would like to note, and whose goal was to reward a person for his contribution to the advancement of knowledge and for progress in religion.
Sir John was convinced throughout his life that humanitarianism cannot flourish without the dynamics and inspiration of religion. In his quest to stimulate deeper understanding and an awareness of the meaning of life, he has set out to encourage contributions to the progress of spiritual knowledge.
This year’s recipient, Lord Jakobovits, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, is a man whose steadfast principles and unwavering integrity have extended his moral authority far beyond his own community. In 50 years of Rabbinical leadership, he has developed a reputation as a rock of unyielding ethics.
Born in Konigsberg, Germany, Immanuel Jakobovits has been immersed in issues of religion and medicine all his life. His early years were the beginning of an incredible acquisition of knowledge in these two realms that have a specialty for him.
At age fifteen, to escape from Nazi terror, he led to London as a refugee. In London, he began attending the Jewish secondary school, graduating in 1937. In quick succession, he received a B.A. with honours and a Minister’s Diploma from Jews’ College, Rabbinical Ordination from Etz Chaim Yeshiva, and later, a Ph.D. from the University of London.
By the age of 20, he occupied his first pulpit as Minister of the Brondesbury Synagogue in North-West London. In 1944, he moved to South East London Synagogue, and in 1957, to the Great Synagogue in London.
It was during his first year at the Great Synagogue that he began travelling to learn and share knowledge. On his first trip to Palestine in 1947, he saw first hand the bitterness and tensions between Jews, Arabs, and the British, as well as the violence of extremists.
The lessons he learned were broad. He, whose religious instruction had always directed him away from political partisanship, became convinced of a need for a Jewish State. But, his experience in Palestine left him strongly opposed to terrorism or any form of extremism. He also noted with much anguish the price paid for polarization between and among Arabs and Jews alike, especially between the religious and secularist· camps. In 1949, when Ireland’s Chief Rabbi, Dr Isaac Herzog, was chosen to become Chief Rabbi of the Holy Land, he was selected to succeed him. Also that year, he married Amelie Munk. By 1966, the Jakobovits are parents of six children.
During his ten year sojourn in Dublin, he founded Stratford College, the first Jewish secondary school in Ireland, which exists to the present day.
At the same time, as Chief Rabbi of a country, he gained experience and made valuable contributions at an international level.
Among particular interventions in notable Jewish concerns was his mission to Rome in 1953 to counter the threat of Calendar Reform. It would have meant inserting at the end of every year an extra “blank day” making an eight-day week, thus creating a “wandering Sabbath” moving to a different day of the week each year. The mission proved successful, and the matter was never raised again.
At the first Conference of European Rabbis in 1957, he sounded a warning that became one of his most fervent positions: the danger of secularism. At the conference, he specifically urged rabbis to quit the futile infighting between Orthodox and Reform Jews and, instead, attack the evils of what he called “paganism,” that is, no religious convictions and loyalties at all.
The next year, he was appointed Founder-Rabbi of New York’s new Fifth Avenue Synagogue. Orthodox Jewry in New York had long been associated with the poverty and struggle of Lower East Side neighbourhoods, but he used his position to stress the broad scope of Orthodoxy in New York. During his time at the pulpit, the Fifth Avenue Synagogue became one of the nation’s best known houses or worship.
It was at this time that his book, Jewish Medical Ethics – which was written when he was in Ireland – was published. In calling his doctorarte’s thesis, “Jewish Medical Ethics,” and later using it as the title of his book, Jakobovits became the first to use the phrase. He is recognized as the founder of this discipline of Jewish thought.
In the next few years, he continued to record his insight into the relationship of religion and medicine, co-authoring in 1963 the Jewish Hospital Compendium, the first manual for guidance of Jewish physicians and and hospital staffs.
In 1965, his third book, Jewish Law Faces Modern Problems was published.
At the same time, he traveled widely through the United States, lecturing on a variety of subjects, from medical ethics to religion and society. He constantly asserted his opposition to secularization and – to the dismay of some American Jews – assimilation of Jews to the point of losing their Jewish identity.
In 1967, he became Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, with jurisdiction over some 200 Congregations in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
Following the lightning success of Israel in the Six Day War, many Jewish leaders assumed a circle-the- wagons mentality about Israel’s security, including holding on to the captured territories. But, he saw the moment as a “turning point inn Jewish history.”
Specifically, the Rabbi stressed that there were no religious impediments to territorial concessions for the sake of peace, provided Israel’s security was insured. He often urged Jewish understanding for the intolerable plight of Arab refugees in wretched camps.
He supported a proposal for a commitment to territorial concessions after a five-to-ten year period of completely peaceful relations between Israel and all its Arab neighbours.
Derided then, many now see his statement as prophetic and politically astute.
In 1975, he was the first Chief Rabbi from the West ever officially invited to visit Jewish communities in the Soviet Union. He insisted on meeting various groups of “refuseniks,” and delivered lectures at their “scientific seminars,” where he met Anatoly Sharansky and others. Subsequent to this widely-publicized visit, he became active in the cause of Soviet Jewry, especially the promotion of Jewish educational activities – which, at the time, were largely clandestine -in the USSR. He helped to organize teams of rabbis and educators who would visit groups of Soviet Jews regularly to deliver advanced instruction in Judaism, Jewish history and literature. His actions are considered instrumental to what was to be the spiritual and educational rehabilitation of thousands of Soviet Jews.
Later, in Israel, when Prime Minister Begin and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat signed their peace accords, he railed against the “intransigent” Jewish religious groups that opposed the effort.
For all his controversy, he has managed to soothe even his detractors with his charming personality of wit and grace. In 1981, the importance of his place in British life was framed when he was knighted Sir Immanuel by Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1988, he was created Lord Jakobovits, Baron of Regent’s Park (an area near his London home), by the Queen. He became the first rabbi to sit in the House of Lords.
He was further honoured in 1989 when he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize by Israeli President Chaim Herzog for his contribution to Jewish scholarship. As a testimony to his efforts in education, the new Jewish grammar school in London has been named Immanuel College.
And now, in 1991, a half century after beginning his singular role in religion and political morality, Lord Jakobovits has been named the recipient of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
Rabbi Jakobovits’s deeds are multiple, often controversial but always inspiring. A man of prayer and of action, he has not feared to indispose or to shock by evoking the necessity of the spiritual and God. He has not succumbed to the pretext of respect for liberty to refrain from affirming his beliefs. He has preached for his convictions, promoted religious education and chastised secularization. He has stood for instructing and testifying out of conviction, unblushingly, of the presence of the Spirit in the daily life which it inspires.
He was audacious and persuasive. He strived to create a climate which would be conducive of the blossoming of faith. His manner never was to force his convictions on others. Respectful of others, her nevertheless took his share of responsibility for sowing the field which was to flourish from his efforts.
One cannot measure the repercussions of a life filled with the force of the Spirit. How many were touched by his presence, his words, his actions? That he should be rewarded and applauded for his accomplishments allows us tonight to pause and meditate on the values that motivate our lives and the metaphysical torment of man’s existence. For Lord Jakobovits there has been no doubt but always shining light which has illuminated forever the path he has walked.