Monday, May 02, 2011

Royal Wedding and the Chief Rabbi

Some people are very upset that the Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, attended the Royal Wedding. I am not a posek and will not make a halachic ruling, but I do have personal experience. Her Majesty the Queen invited me, representing the Jews of Scotland, to attend a service of thanksgiving in St. Gyles Cathedral before the opening of Scottish Parliament.

At the time the presiding officer explained:
The official programme actually begins on the evening of Wednesday, June 30 with the ‘Kirking’ of the Parliament at St Giles Cathedral. At 6.30pm, the Very Reverend Gilleasbuig Macmillan will conduct a service attended by Her Majesty The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

I spoke to the Dayanim of the London Beis Din who explained that there is a very simple principle: If the Queen invites you - you attend! Anything less would not be representing the Jews of Britian in a good light to the monarchy and the non-Jewish population of Britain.

So I sat there during the service, next to a Muslim cleric and a Buddhist monk, and we commiserated with each other about having to be in such a place.

If you look on this clip at about 15:06 minutes, you can see me (for a second) as we walked to the opening of parliament the next day.

So, for whatever reasons, it seems clear to me that the Chief Rabbi did absolutely the correct thing in attending the Royal Wedding at Westminster Abbey last Friday.

It also struck me that we should not take such invitations lightly. If we think back to another event that happened at Westminster, the coronation of Richard the Lionheart (he of Robin Hood fame), we see that Jews were not invited. In fact they were actively banned from attending, and later were murdered!

At the coronation of Richard the Lion Hearted in 1189, Jews bearing handsome gifts were refused entry by officials and pelted by mobs. The story circulated that the king wished them exterminated and many Jews were killed in riots and their stately homes were burned. Richard punished the ringleaders and sought to prevent further outrages and protect his financial interest in "his Jews". When Richard left for the third crusade in 1190 a series of terrible massacres wiped out several Jewish communities. The York riot was the worst. Before following Richard to the crusades, warriors, many of whom were heavily in debt to the Jews, plundered the possessions of the Jews. The Jews fled to the castle and were besieged by the warriors. When the Jews realised they were doomed they took their own lives. The few surviving when the tower was stormed were slaughtered. The attackers then went to the cathedral and burned the records of their financial obligations to their victims.

One of those murdered was one of the Baalei Tosefot - R' Yaakov of Orleans (a student of Rabbeinu Tam).

For the record (not that I remember) it seems that when the Prince and Princess of Wales were married (Charles and Diana) Rabbi (later Lord) Jakobovits was not invited, so we don't know whether or not he would have gone to such an event.

Finally, I'm not sure if this is actually a true story (I suspect it is not), but it is told often enough that it should be true. The Chief Rabbi owes his position to the Queen's great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. It was she who conceived of the position and enshrined it in British Law:

Years later, Queen Victoria's attention was directed to an announcement issued by the Dukes Place Synagogue in London, requesting applications to be submitted for the prestigious position of Rabbi there. This was publicised internationally, and many renowned Rabbis applied, including Rabbi Samson Rafel Hirsch and others.

The Queen sent a note to the synagogue, stating, ''Since Rabbi Adler saved me when I was in trouble, he will certainly be the right guardian and leader for your congregation.'' And so it was.

When the Queen's advice was accepted and Rabbi Adler was chosen as the Rabbi of the Dukes Place Synagogue, she further suggested that this position was not enough - he should become Chief Rabbi of England, or better yet, of the British Empire! A bill was raised in Parliament in order to decide whether the Empire required a Chief Rabbi. When put to a vote, a substantial majority chose Rabbi Adler as Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, a post he filled with honour and distinction for 45 years.


  1. Excellent response (as Usual)

  2. Thanks for your post.
    Not that it changes a psak in any way, but in the interested of correct reporting, it should be noted that at the time it was said that Rabbi Jacobovits' not being invited to the wedding was merely due to the fact that when the palace inquired ahead of time whether or not he would attend, they were advised that he would not.
    In order to save the monarchy any embarrassment (which is why these things are always coordinated in advance), an invitation was not issued.

  3. For the sake of honesty I have found two teshuvos which state unequivocally that attending a church is forbidden, even when representing Judaism or Israel.
    Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer 2 YD 11) and Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer vol 14: 91) both forbid entering a church under any circumstances.
    On the other hand, I have been going through a book of collected writings of Lord Jakobovitz z"l. While he does not discuss the halachot of entering a church, his entire hashkafa is about representing the Jewish people to the world and showing honour to the non-Jews. I cannot put words into his mouth, and I don't know what he did or did not say in terms of halacha, but my guess is that even if he did not agree with the halachic ruling of Lord Sacks (though it is certainly not clear to me that he would argue), the sentiment behind attending the service, or showing respect for the malchus and honouring the royal family and the British people, is a sentiment that I think Lord Jakobovitz would certainly approve of and agree with.

  4. Hi,

    have you seen the exchange between R Broyde and Aumann in issue 8 of Hakira?

    All the best from Scotland.