Lionel Blue

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Lionel Blue OBE
Personal details
Born (1930-02-06) 6 February 1930 (age 86)
London, England, UK
Denomination Reform Judaism

Lionel Blue (born 6 February 1930) is a British Reform rabbi, journalist and broadcaster. He was the first British rabbi publicly to declare his homosexuality.

He is best known for his longstanding work with the media, most notably his wry and gentle sense of humour on Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

In 1998, Blue was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the Open University. He is also honorary doctor of Divinity and Fellow of Grey College, Durham. He is an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).

Early life and journey into faith[edit]

Born in the East End of London, Blue was the son of a master tailor. He entered Hendon County School at sixth form level, following education in the East End and a year out of school at age 16–17. His history master at Hendon told a later sixth-form group, "Blue's essays were unlike any I have ever seen from anyone else. They didn't give facts, but were disquisitions on historical philosophy!"

Blue read History at Balliol College, Oxford and Semitics at the University of London before being ordained as a rabbi in 1960. He spent time in the Army but was discharged after a nervous breakdown brought on by anxiety over his homosexuality.

He lost his faith at the age of five after petitionary prayer failed to remove Hitler and Oswald Mosley; he then turned to the Marxism of his uncle. Blue regained his faith while at the University of Oxford, when he found some resolution to severe personal conflicts regarding his sexuality at a Quaker meeting. He also found Victor Gollancz's A Year of Grace helpful during this time, and finally became one of the first two students at Leo Baeck College for training rabbis in 1956.[1][2]

Life as a rabbi[edit]

Between 1960 and 1963, Blue was the minister of the Settlement Synagogue and Middlesex New Synagogue. He then became the European Director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. In 1967, he began a long-term engagement as lecturer at Leo Baeck College in London. He lives in Finchley, north London.

Coming out[edit]

Blue was the first British rabbi publicly to affirm his homosexual orientation and published Godly and Gay in 1981. He has been openly homosexual since the 1960s and has had three male live-in partners. He met his most recent partner, Jim, in 1981 through a personal advertisement in Gay Times.[3] However, his memoirs reveal that he considered marrying Joanna Hughes, a student whom he met whilst they were both students at Oxford in 1950.

He is an occasional guest speaker of the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group. He is also a patron of Kairos in Soho,[4] an organisation for gay people.

Broadcasting career[edit]

For more than twenty-five years, Blue was a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day. In 2006, a return trip to his childhood home in London's East End to mark the 350th anniversary of Jewish life in Britain was the subject of an evocative audioslideshow on the BBC News website. At a personal appearance at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon in December 2009, Lionel Blue asserted he would be back on Mondays in Thought For the Day on BBC Radio 4, in January 2010.


He was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 57; however, he has to date successfully controlled his disorder with medication.

During an operation in 1997, a surgeon discovered a tumour which tests proved to be malignant. He went on to receive radiotherapy and hormonal treatment to reduce any further growth. He has also been diagnosed as having Parkinson's Disease.


  • A Backdoor to Heaven (Fount, 1985)
  • Kitchen Blues (ISIS Large Print, 1986)
  • Bolts from the Blue (Hodder & Stoughton, 1986)
  • Bedside Manna (Victor Gollancz, 1991)
  • Tales of Body and Soul (Coronet, 1995)
  • My Affair with Christianity (Hodder & Stoughton General, 1999)
  • Sun, Sand and Soul (Hodder & Stoughton General, 1999)
  • Kindred Spirits (Fount, 1999)
  • Hitchhiking to Heaven – Autobiography (Hodder & Stoughton General, 2004)
  • The Godseeker's Guide (Continuum, 2010)


  1. ^ Blue, Lionel (2010) The Godseeker's Guide pps.15, 36 – 40 & 136, Continuum International Publishing Group, ISBN 1-84706-418-3
  2. ^ Our History – Rabbi Leigh Edgware & District Reform Synagogue
  3. ^ Moss, Stephen (13 November 2010). "Rabbi Lionel Blue: 'I've become happy – quite souffle-ish'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 21 June 2013. 
  4. ^ "centred - LGBTQ charity". 

External links[edit]