Rabbi Raymond Apple has been remembered as a “towering figure” in the Australian Jewish community as tributes pour in following his passing in Jerusalem.
A beloved and prominent figure of the Australian rabbinate, Rabbi Apple was emeritus rabbi of The Great Synagogue in Sydney for over three decades.
Co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) Peter Wertheim said Rabbi Apple was renowned for his “thoughtful, deeply-committed brand of modern Orthodoxy”.
“In an age in which extreme and polarising ideas increasingly intruded into religious discourse, Rabbi Apple stressed that the ways of Judaism ‘are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace’,” Wertheim told The AJN.
“The late and widely revered Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, looked to Rabbi Apple as a friend and a mentor, as did a number of senior clerics in the Christian churches in Australia and overseas. He was, for many years, the dominant rabbinic voice in the ECAJ’s conversations with other faith communities, and was admired by all for his unfailing courtesy, kindness and wisdom.”
Former prime minister John Howard joined the chorus of tributes, telling The AJN that Rabbi Apple would be remembered as a “distinguished leader” of Jewish congregations.
“He epitomised so much of the strength of the Jewish community in Australia,” Howard said.
“He was a quintessential Australian, always reaching out to other faiths in a true ecumenical spirit.”
The Rabbinical Council of NSW (RCNSW) said in a statement that Rabbi Apple was a “true friend and mentor to many rabbis”, who often turned to him for guidance, while Rabbinical Council of Victoria president Rabbi Moshe Kahn described Rabbi Apple as a “legendary figure in the rabbinical community”.
“During my training as a young rabbi in Sydney, I remember consistently reading Rabbi Apple’s insightful words of wisdom each week,” Rabbi Kahn said.
“He was always kind, sensitive and filled with profound teachings. His legacy endures through his impactful lessons and he will be deeply missed by all who knew him.”
Rabbi Apple was one of the driving forces behind the creation of Mandelbaum House, the Jewish residential college at the University of Sydney, and he also lectured in Jewish law at UNSW.
Mandelbaum Trust chair Rabbi David Freedman said, “I was also privileged to work with him in inter-faith dialogue and I saw how his contributions were valued by all participating, Jews and non-Jews alike.”
Former NSW Labor frontbencher Walt Secord said it was an “honour and a pleasure” to know Rabbi Apple, who he first met while working at The AJN in 1988.
“I will always remember when he gave a sermon in which he revealed that he believed that Australia should eventually become a republic,” Secord said.
“This was years before the referendum. It was so highbrow and intellectual that I contacted him to clarify that I was interpreting the sermon properly. He laughed and said yes. His views became front page news in London, where he was dubbed the ‘Australian Republican rabbi’.”
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies paid tribute to “one of the leading rabbinic voices in the Australian public sphere for the last quarter of the 20th century”, while St Kilda Hebrew Congregation Rabbi Yaakov Glasman honoured the rabbi who “lived an extraordinary life of leadership”.
Rabbi Apple is survived by his wife of 63 years Marian, their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.