Rabbi Bent Melchior, former chief rabbi of Denmark, died July 28 at the age of 92.
Post-World War II, Melchior traveled to British Mandate Palestine, where he fought in the Israeli War of Independence before returning to Copenhagen and earning a PhD in 1950, at the age of 21. He served as chief rabbi in 1969-96.
Bent Melchior was born in eastern Germany, now Poland, in 1929. He was the son of Rabbi Marcus Melchior, who helped orchestrate the rescue of the majority of Danish Jewry from the Nazis, and the father of Michael Melchior, a former Israeli government minister and member of Knesset, as well as honorary chief rabbi of Norway and rabbi of a synagogue in south Jerusalem.
His grandsons, Jair and Joav Melchior, currently serve as the chief rabbis of Denmark and Norway.
His father brought the family to Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1933 after the rise of Nazism. After the Nazis occupied Denmark, the elder Melchior was instrumental in saving the country’s Jews from certain death in 1943. Warning of an imminent Nazi roundup, he urged the community to take action. Together with the Danish resistance and the help of ordinary citizens, the Jewish community of Denmark fled by sea to neutral Sweden, where they were given safe haven.
The family returned to Denmark after its liberation in 1945, and Marcus Melchior went on to become the chief rabbi there from 1947 until 1969.
After earning his PhD in 1950, Bent Melchior then pursued his rabbinical ordination in London, before once again coming back to Copenhagen and assuming the pulpit at a local synagogue. Upon his father’s death in 1969, Melchior succeeded him as chief rabbi, serving until his retirement in 1996.
Melchior was involved in humanitarian work up until his death, and was one of the founding members of the Denmark branch of the nonprofit social justice organization Humanity in Action.
While serving as rabbi, he translated numerous Hebrew works into Danish, including the Pentateuch and the Hebrew prayer book.