Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, the Orthodox chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth who is known for his moderate views on the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, Wednesday was named the 1991 winner of the $800,000 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. He is the first Jewish recipient of the world's richest award.
The Templeton Foundation announced its selection of Jakobovits, 70, at a news conference in New York City, citing his pioneering studies in Jewish medical ethics, his interfaith activity and his "compassion" on Middle East issues.
The prize, first given in 1973 to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, was begun by U.S.-born John M. Templeton, a wealthy Wall Street mutual fund manager who felt that the Nobel prizes overlooked spiritual contributions and who has since kept his annual prize money higher than the Nobel committee's. Templeton, who lives in the Bahamas, directs companies that last year controlled 64 mutual funds worldwide, managing more than $16 billion in assets.
Prince Philip will present the prize May 7 in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Jakobovits, who will retire as chief rabbi in September, called the award "an enormous honor" and a chance for him to fund research on how to bolster family life and spread the teaching of business ethics.
The award was hailed in Beverly Hills by Rabbi Abner Weiss of Congregation Beth Jacob, who had been a finalist to succeed the London-based rabbi.
"He is one of the most visible Jewish spiritual leaders in the world, a fine orator, and almost created the field of Jewish medical ethics with his 1959 book on the subject," Weiss said. "He is a man of conscience and calls the shots as he sees them."
In an interview by telephone, Jakobovits said: "Jews must recognize that Palestinians have their national aspirations and that in any settlement there must be territorial concessions with the assurance of security for Israel." Unlike many Orthodox colleagues, the rabbi said he sees no religious objections to ceding parts of the Holy Land for the sake of peace.
The rabbi also expressed such views in 1978 and 1980 "when moderation was not in vogue at that time, particularly in Orthodox circles."
Being the "odd man out," as Jakobovits put it, is not unusual for him.
As the founding rabbi of New York's 5th Avenue Synagogue, Jakobovits criticized the U.S. Supreme Court decisions of 1962 and 1963 which banned state-directed Bible reading and prayer in public schools. Nearly all other rabbis hailed it as a victory for separation of church and state, but Jakobovits said Jews should not seek to reduce or eliminate the influence of religion on society.
In recent years, when most Orthodox rabbis in Israel and abroad favored hardening Israel's immigration laws to invalidate conversions by Reform and Conservative rabbis, Jakobovits demurred publicly. "The problem of recognizing non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism affected American Jewry on a very large scale and it embittered relations among Jews," he said.
Jakobovits, who fled Nazi Germany and came to Great Britain at age 15, has been Orthodoxy's chief rabbi since 1967. He was noted in the British press for his support of ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's social and political philosophy. Queen Elizabeth knighted him in 1981 and made him a baron in 1988, making Jakobovits the first rabbi to sit in the House of Lords.
The Templeton Prize, which is awarded annually to those who "advance the world's understanding of God," has gone in the past to evangelist Billy Graham and novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn and lesser-known Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist and Hindu figures.