Rabbi Lionel Blue, who has long been a familiar voice for listeners of BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, died on Monday at the age of 86. “Delivering [his] monologues in a frequently whimsical manner,” Stephen Bates wrote for The Guardian this week, “Blue sent listeners off chuckling to the working week.”
Blue is also remembered for being the first British rabbi to declare his homosexuality, doing so in 1980. His support for homosexual members of the Jewish community and liberal causes was evidenced by his active participation in organisations like the World Congress of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Jews and the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
Like most London children, Blue, whose family originated from Russia, was evacuated to the countryside during the Second World War. It was at this time, at the start of puberty, that he realised he was a homosexual: “Being Jewish was difficult enough, being a Jewish homosexual child at that time was a kind of crucifixion.” Psychological pressure over his sexuality persisted throughout his youth, culminating in a mental breakdown whilst serving in the military and treatment by a psychoanalyst. Blue lost his faith in religion and turned towards the atheistic ideology of Marxism for a time. It was not until studying at Oxford that his faith reemerged, moving him through Christianity back into Judaism. In 1960, Blue was ordained as a rabbi.
Blue was memorialised, fittingly on-air, in his own thirty minute obituary on Tuesday, which he had composed and read in preparation. This obituary is currently available on BBC iPlayer.