Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle have trumped Brexit – at least for a few days – as the topic of conversation around the British tea table.
The prince loves his grandmother the Queen, but will he be strong enough to withdraw from the palace life that does such wonders for British marketing? Will he succeed in getting out of the royal goldfish bowl?
Britain loves its Royal Family and prays for them. The Jewish community has long given a central position in synagogue services to the Royal Prayer, dubbed by the irreverent “Ee-oo” (“He who giveth salvation unto kings”).
The question is now whether they will add a rider, “Except for the younger royals who want to do their own thing”.
Prayers for the regime began when Jeremiah told the Jewish exiles, “Seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into captivity; pray to the Lord for it, for in its peace will you have peace” (Jer. 29:7).
A certain congregation grimaced when its chazzan announced, “Prayer for the Royal Fumbler”. Despite her lack of political power the Queen is part of the British ethos, like Big Ben and the Thames. Citizens pray for the Queen because legally, governments act in her name; the ruling party is Her Majesty’s Government, and official letters are On Her Majesty’s Service.
The USA takes a different approach, praying not for the person but for the office of “the President and Vice-President of the United States of America” (or similar language), since power rests in the institution regardless of the individual who holds office.
Judaism says that without rulers, people would “eat each other alive” (Avot 3:2). The Sefer HaChinukh says that a nation needs a leader, even a bad one, to keep the nation together.
On seeing a Jewish king, Jews said, “Blessed be He who gave of His glory to flesh and blood”; for a gentile king, they said, “who gave of His glory to His creatures”. The Talmud (Ber. 58a) thinks that earthly royalty echoes that of Heaven. How one becomes a king is not defined: Ex. 1:8 says, “A new king arose over Egypt”. “Arose” might indicate inheriting the crown, or perhaps leading a coup. The people had no say.
Even gentile kings must be obeyed; Maimonides says the use of a king’s coinage implies a contract between ruler and subject (Gezelah 5:18). Tosafot (Ned. 28a) says, “The king owns the land: those who wish to live there must obey his laws”. Even a bad king deserves respect. But on Prov. 24:21, Rashi adds, “Fear the king: provided he does not turn you away from fearing the Lord”. The rabbi says in Fiddler on the Roof, “God bless and keep the Czar… far away from us”.
Though Haman makes the nasty comment in Targum Sheni, “the Jews go to their synagogues and curse our king”, Ezra says (6:10) that the returned exiles “pray for the life of the king and his sons”. Jews told Alexander the Great that “sacrifices and prayers are offered for you and your land”. Josephus claims that the Jews “offer sacrifices twice daily for Caesar and the Roman people”.
In the Middle Ages, Abravanel said that though a king “promotes unity, continuity and absolute power”, a republic is better, with “many leaders, united, agreeing, and concurring in counsel… When the turn of other judges and officers comes, they will examine whether their predecessors have failed… Since their administration is temporary and they are accountable, the fear of man will be upon them”. Abravanel warns, though, that not all monarchies are bad and not all republics good.
The prayer in Worms was, “He who blessed our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, may He bless our exalted Kaiser. May He prosper his undertakings and establish his throne in justice, so that righteousness may rule in the land: grant life and peace to him and his descendants.”
In Plymouth the Jews said, “O Lord, King of Kings, in Thy mercy preserve their precious lives and deliver them from all trouble and danger… Raise and remount the planet and fortune of Her Majesty’s Arms, that her enemies may fall under her feet…prolong her days in her kingdom… In Thy clemency incline her royal heart as well as the hearts of all her Nobles and Counsellors, to use us kindly…”
The prayer begins, “He who gives salvation (victory) to kings”, part of a verse, “Rescue and deliver me from the hands of foreigners, whose mouths speak lies, whose right hand is raised in perjury” (Ps. 144:10-11). The implication is that the sovereign really rules but in Britain “rule” is a metaphor for a toothless tiger who smiles and opens bazaars. No wonder Harry and Meghan feel rather useless.
Real power resides elsewhere. The fiction is that the monarch makes decisions and that the political leaders are her advisers. The prayers should be for the politicians, but there would be uproar in Britain if people prayed for the Prime Minister and not for the Queen (though Prince Harry might have triggered a change).
The situation was different in Australia, where the nation became a federation in 1901. Australian Jews loved Queen Victoria (“Our Sovereign Lady the Queen”) but added a prayer for “the Authorities of the Land”. Later on I replaced the archaic title “Our Sovereign Lady the Queen” with “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, and the legislators and leaders of Australia and its States and Territories”, and prayed to see “the happiness and welfare of every citizen with all the peoples of this land in amity and mutual respect”.
It is interesting that Australia has twice had a Jewish governor-general (Sir Isaac Isaacs and Sir Zelman Cowen) as the monarch’s representative. I have to add rather immodestly that a Sydney newspaper columnist once wondered aloud what would have happened had the Australian prime minister nominated Rabbi Apple as governor-general.