Tributes paid to 'much-loved' broadcaster and writer Rabbi Lionel Blue

Updated: 

Rabbi Lionel Blue, who shot to fame on BBC Radio 4's Thought For The Day, has died.

Rabbi Blue was a regular contributor to the programme and stunned listeners when he announced he was gay.

The 86-year-old, described as "God's best PR man in Britain", had been unwell, according to Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain.

He said: "For several decades LIonel Blue became the indispensable Monday-morning wake-up call for millions in Britain, mixing religious insights with honesty and humour.

"He never pretended that life was easy, or that religion solved everything; instead, he shared his own failings and foibles, and showed how to get through the rest of the day.

"Through the popularity of his broadcasts and book, he made rabbis more human, Judaism more understandable, and faith in general more user-friendly.

"It was a tribute to the way he bridged religious differences that it was often quipped that Rabbi Blue would have been a wonderful choice as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

"Without doubt, Lionel Blue was God's best PR man in Britain."

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, senior rabbi to Reform Judaism, said: "Rabbi Lionel, as a teacher, writer and much-loved national broadcaster, transformed how Britain viewed Jews, Judaism and, most importantly, ourselves. May his memory be a blessing."

A post on the Facebook page of Beit Klal Yisrael, the Jewish community affiliated to Liberal Judaism, said: "It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Rabbi Lionel Blue OBE, who died in the early hours of this morning.

"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."

It added: "We will not see his like again. May his memory be for a blessing." 

Liberal Judaism's director of strategy and partnerships, Rabbi Charley Baginsky, said: "Lionel was a pioneering rabbi, teacher and mentor.

"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, but his contribution was more than entertainment: he had a unique ability connect with people, speak from the heart and provide a strong dose of common sense.

"On a personal level, as a lecturer at Progressive Judaism's 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, inclusive and outward-looking Judaism, and a more equal world.

"Our thoughts are with his family and friends. May his memory be a blessing."