Michael Melchior - Biography
A renowned Jewish leader, thinker and activist, Rabbi Michael Melchior (born 31 January 1954) is a leading advocate for social justice in Israel, quality education for all, Jewish-Arab reconciliation and co-existence, protection of the environment, Israel-Diaspora relations and the strengthening of Civic Society as a catalyst for social change.
A descendant of seven generations of Rabbis in Denmark, Rabbi Michael Melchior was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1954. He was ordained as an Orthodox Rabbi, amongst others, by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Simcah HaCohen Kook at Yeshivat Hakotel of Jerusalem in 1980. Soon afterwards he returned to Scandinavia to serve as Chief Rabbi of Norway, renewing the Jewish community which was shattered during the Holocaust.
In 1986 he immigrated to Israel and settled down with his family in Jerusalem, where he serves until present day as the Rabbi of a dynamic Orthodox Synagogue, while still holding the title of Chief Rabbi of Norway.
A Legislator, Government Minister & Civic Activist
It was after the assassination of Israel’s Prime-Minister, the late Yitzhak Rabin, by a religious extremist (November 1995) that Rabbi Melchior decided to extend his drive for high ethical standards from the Synagogue to national politics.
In 1999 he was elected to The Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) as representative of Meimad Party, after serving as International Director of The Eli Wiesel Foundation For Humanity during the 1990’s. For the following 10 years Rabbi Melchior served as a very productive legislator and a government minister.
Among his government positions he served as first ever cabinet minister for social affairs and World Jewry, Deputy Minister of Education & Culture and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, under the honorable Shimon Peres.
A leading legislator, Rabbi Melchior served as Chairperson of the Knesset Committee For Education & Culture (2006-2009), Chairperson of the Knesset Caucus For The Protection Of The Environment (2003-2009) and as Chairperson of the Knesset Caucus for Jewish-Arab relations. He is credited with major innovative legislative reforms in the areas of education, children’s & women rights, protection of the environment and social justice.
For his outstanding leadership in The Knesset, Rabbi Melchior was awarded with the prestigious Knight of Quality Governance Award and the Green Globe Award of Israel’s National Coalition Of Environmental NGO’s.
Let My People Go. A leader of a Jewish Youth Movement in his native country, Denmark, since the early 1970’s - young Melchior led some of the first public demonstrations in Western Europe against the oppression of Jews by the Soviet-Union, actively involved in the Let My People Go protest at the time. He later became member of The International Presidium For Soviet Jewry. Until this day Rabbi Melchior is actively involved in the international fight against Anti-Semitism, as well as the absorption of new immigrants from the Former Soviet Union and Ethiopia in Israel.
International Conference On The Anatomy of Hate. In 1990 Rabbi Melchior organized the first International Conference on The Anatomy of Hate, sponsored by the Noble Peace Prize Committee in Oslo and by the Elie Wiesel Foundation For Humanity. Among the active participants were Nelson Mandela – soon after he was released from prison and before elected first post-apartheid President of South Africa, Vaclav Havel – first democratically elected president of the Czech Republic after the fall of communism, French President François Mitterrand, and many renowned intellectuals, leaders of Human Rights Organizations, leading economists and Nobel Prize winners.
A Peace Mission to Kashmir. In 1998 Rabbi Melchior was sent on a special mission to India, to promote reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir.
The Alexandria Declaration. In 2002, Rabbi Melchior initiated - together with his Palestinian counterpart Sheikh Talal Sider - the first ever inter-religious summit in Alexandria, Egypt, co-sponsored by the Mufti of Egypt, Grand Imam of al-Azhar Mosque and Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar University - Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, Archbishop of Canterbury - George Carey, and Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron - Israel’s Chief Rabbi. The summit, which launched The Alexandria Process, brought together religious leaders from the Middle-East to adopt common principles aimed at preventing the region's religious sensibilities being exploited during conflicts, and declaring the need to work together towards peaceful solutions of the conflicts.
International Awards. Rabbi Melchior is a recipient of The Norwegian Award For Tolerance & Bridge Building in the Noble Institute (1988), The Church Of England’s Coventry International Prize For Peace & Reconciliation (2002), The Liebhaber Prize For The Promotion Of Religious Tolerance And Cultural Pluralism (2007).
A leading advocate for tolerance & reconciliation, religious & cultural pluralism, human rights & equal opportunity to all – Rabbi Melchior contribution to improving the social fabric of Israeli society exceeds his outstanding work as a legislator and government minister. Since leaving the Knesset in 2009, he is focusing on leading significant civic society groups - he helped build over the past decade - practically implementing his belief and vision in the fields of Education, Jewish-Arab coexistence, Israel-Diaspora Relations, Protection of the Environment and Social Welfare.
The “Yachad” Council, which promotes open dialogue between different strands of Israeli society, in fighting religious and political extremism. Yachad
Birthright Israel, Founding Chairperson of the organization (1999-2004) that has brought over 200,000 young Jews to explore their heritage in Israel, encouraging many to become more involved in the Jewish community. Birthright Israel.
“Meitarim” network of pluralistic Jewish Day schools and Dialogue Community Networking, based on open and democratic philosophy which enables religious and secular students to study together. This unique nationwide network of schools is creating a paradigm shift, promoting a pluralistic Jewish social agenda in Israeli society. www.meytarim.org.il.
Citizen's Accord Forum, promotes the building of bridges of coexistence and justice between Jews and Israeli-Arabs, as a paramount aspect in the building of a common future in the country. www.caf.org.il .
Mosaica Center for Interreligious Cooperation. Recognizing that much of the tension between Jews and Muslims has its roots in religious prejudice and ignorance on both sides, and in accordance with Alexandria Declaration of 2002 (see above), Rabbi Melchior is intensively involved through the Mosaica Center for Interreligious Cooperation, in the realization of his vision and has established an ongoing comprehensive dialogue with leading religious, educational and political figures in the Muslim communities of the region. Rabbi Melchior believes that such a cooperation is a most vital condition for any future progress of the peace process in the Middle-East. Mosaica Center for Inter-religious Cooperation.
Israel Civic Action Forum, which promotes social solidarity in Israel by integrating the concepts of a free enterprise economy with those of a broad welfare state, guaranteeing the equitable distribution of national resources, protecting equal opportunity and offering quality of life to all of Israel's citizens. Amongst its first successful campaigns, was the battle for a just distribution of profits from Israel’s natural Gas & Oil. www.israel-restart.com/eg
Rabbi Melchior and his wife Hanna, an occupational therapist, have five children and eleven grandchildren.