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Obituary: Britain’s first openly gay rabbi, Rabbi Lionel Blue, has died

December 19, 2016
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Rabbi Lionel Blue, Britain’s first openly gay rabbi, has died.

Rabbi Blue died aged 86 after a short illness.

He had been a much loved regular on Radio 4 doing their Thought for the Day for some 30 years, being awarded an OBE for services to broadcasting.

Announcing his death on its Facebook page, representatives from the liberal London synagogue, Beit Klal Yisrael, wrote: “Lionel was a wonderful and inspirational man, who spoke with such wisdom and humour and whose words reached out far beyond the Jewish community.

“He was a friend and mentor to many and his courage in coming out as gay in the 1970s paved the way for many other Jews, including many Rabbis.

“We will not see his like again. May his memory be for a blessing.”

Rabbi Blue studied at Balliol College, Oxford, where he gained a degree in history.

He initially abandoned theology in favour of Communism, after hearing horrifying stories of fellow Jews who fled Hitler.

While studying he struggled with reconciling his own sexuality and his faith, making an attempt to take his own life.

He later came out in 1980, following years of discussing his identity in private, becoming the first rabbi to do so.

His openness paved the way for people from many religions, and his portrait currently hangs at the Jewish Museum in an exhibition of famous LGBT Jews.

Rabbi Charley Baginsky, Liberal Judaism’s Director of Strategy and Communications, and a former student of Rabbi Blue’s, paid tribue:”Rabbi Lionel Blue OBE – who died in the early hours of this morning at the age of 86 – was a pioneering rabbi, teacher and mentor.

“One of Britain’s best known rabbis, he entertained the nation for decades with media appearances, his most famous being as a regular on Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“On a personal level, as a lecturer at Leo Baeck College, Lionel was the archetypal rabbi’s rabbi – always there for us as individuals, helping us understand our own personal and spiritual journeys.

“And he leaves a legacy like few others. As the first British rabbi publicly to come out as gay, in the 1970s, Lionel paved the way for many others, including clergy of all faiths.

“His courage and pioneering spirit have created a more equal Judaism, and a more equal world. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. May his memory be a blessing.”

Rabbi Blue had been distrusted by the Jewish establishment, according to the BBC’s tribute to him, and in his own words, “jumped over the wall of my ghetto”.

Related topics: Jewish, Judaism, Religion

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