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Rabbi John Desmond Rayner CBE (30 May 1924 – 19 September 2005) was born in Berlin as Hans Sigismund Rahmer. He left Berlin in 1939 on one of the last Kindertransports. There were about 10,000 children on the train. Both his parents, Ferdinand Rahmer and Charlotte Landshut, died in the Holocaust.

Between 1943 and 1947 Rayner served in the British Army. In October 1947 he took up an open scholarship in modern languages that he had previously won at Emmanuel College, Cambridge five years earlier. In his second year he switched to Moral Science which comprised philosophy, logic, ethics and psychology and graduated in 1950 with First Class Honours. In his third year Rayner specialised in Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac and Semitic Epigraphy. In his sixth year Rayner began working as a research student on a thesis about Maimonides' conception of Revelation.

Rayner was ordained in the Liberal Jewish ministry on 21 June 1953 and served the South London Liberal Synagogue, in Streatham until 1957. He then worked at St John's Wood Liberal Synagogue until in 1963 he left for Cincinnati, Ohio, in the United States. Rayner had been invited to the Hebrew Union College to take up a graduate fellowship. He returned to the UK to serve as Minister at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in June 1965.

He wrote books on diverse topics including halakha, marriage, ethics, Zionism, theology and Jewish-Christian relations. He also gave a large number of sermons. He was voted one of the best preachers in Britain by Harpers and Queen magazine in 1976. During the late 1960s and 1970s Rayner made several appearances on national television and radio.

He was an active participant in inter-faith work as co-chairman of the London Society of Jews and Christians. As a result of this work in 1993 he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

His thought emphasises the importance of ethics and the need for a more halakhic approach to Progressive Judaism.

On 19 September 2005 he died, at home, after a long illness.


  • The Practices of Liberal Judaism (1958)
  • Guide to Jewish Marriage (1975)
  • Judaism for Today (1978)
  • An Understanding of Judaism (Berghahn Books, December 1997)
  • A Jewish Understanding of the World (Berghahn Books, March 1998)
  • Jewish Religious Law. A Progressive Perspective (Berghahn Books, May 1998)
  • Principles of Jewish Ethics (1998)
  • Aspects of Liberal Jewish Thought (1999)
  • Signposts to the Messianic Age: Sermons and Lectures (2005)


  • Obituary, The Independent, 22 September 2005
  • Obituary. The Guardian, 26 September 2005, and follow-up letter
  • Obituary. The Times, 29 September 2005
  • Tributes to John Rayner, European Judaism, 39(1), Spring 2006
  • Brownfeld, Allan C. Rabbi John D. Rayner 1924-2005, Issues, American Council for Judaism, Winter 2006
  • Middleburgh, C.H, "A Final Interview with John D. Rayner", European Judaism, Volume 40, No 1, Spring 2007, pp. 93–99
  • Friedlander, A.H, 'The German Influence on Progressive Judaism in Great Britain", Second Chance:Two Centuries of German-speaking Jews in the United Kingdom, (1991), pp. 425–436
  • Goldstein, A "German, English, American Liturgist", European Judaism, Volume 40, No 1, Spring 2007

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