Rayner, John 1924–2005

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Rayner, John 1924–2005

(Hans Sigismund Rahmer, John Desmond Rayner)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born May 30, 1924, in Berlin, Germany; died September 19, 2005, in London, England. Rabbi, educator, and author. Rayner was one of the leading rabbis of the Liberal Jewish ministry in Great Britain. Born Hans Sigismund Rahmer to secular parents in Germany, he first became interested in Judaism while attending a Zionist school, something all Jewish students were forced to do in that country. With the advent of the persecution of Jews in Germany, he fled to England on one of the last kindertransports before the war. He enlisted in the British Army and fought with the Durham Light Infantry during World War II, achieving the rank of captain. However, because he was a born German he was not allowed to enter the Army Intelligence Corps. After the war, he changed his surname from Rahmer to Rayner in order to Anglicize his name. He graduated from Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1949; he also received two diplomas in Hebrew in 1951 and 1952, and a master's degree in 1954 from the college. Ordained a rabbi in 1953, he entered the ministry and gained his first pulpit post at the South London Liberal Synagogue. In 1957 he moved to the Liberal Jewish synagogue, St. John's Wood, where he was promoted to senior minister in 1961. While associated with this synagogue, he traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, to study from 1963 to 1965 at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Rayner led his congregation until his 1989 retirement; he became highly respected for his oratory abilities, scholarship, and leadership among Liberal Jews. He was also extremely active outside the synagogue, chairing the Council of Reform and Liberal Rabbis for three different terms from the late 1960s through 1991. He was also a former chair of the European Region of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and the Rabbinic Conference of the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues, and joint chair of the London Society of Jews and Christians. From 1966 to 2001, Rayner was a lecturer at Leo Baeck College, where he was credited with making the institution a leading training college for rabbis. Named a commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1993 for his many accomplishments, Rayner was also a prolific author. His works include The Practices of Liberal Judaism (1958), An Understanding of Judaism (1997), and Jewish Religious Law: A Progressive Perspective (1998).



Guardian (London, England), September 26, 2005, p. 29.

Independent (London, England), September 22, 2005, p. 56.

Times (London, England), September 29, 2005, p. 59.