David Newman
Views on the Borderline

The Coronation, Israel and the UK Jewish Community

Picture: Public Domain

There will be three prominent Jewish personalities amongst the 2200 guests at this weeks coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla.

One of these, President Herzog, will represent the State of Israel amongst the many foreign heads of state who have been invited (but by no means all Heads of States in what is considered to be a relatively small audience, only 2200 invitees as compared to the 8000 guests at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II over seventy years ago). The other two, Chief Rabbi Efraim Mirvis and President of the British Board of Deputies Marie van der Zuyl, will represent the UK Jewish community.

There could not be a more appropriate President of Israel for this occasion than President Herzog. His family has long links with the United Kingdom, dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century when both of his great grandfathers, Rabbi Joel Herzog and Rabbi (Dayan) Hillman, were prominent Lithuanian Rabbis who had come to the UK as heads of major Jewish communities in Leeds, Glasgow and, eventually, London. Both gave notable sermons on behalf of the Jewish community at the death of the respective monarchs of the time,  Queen Victoria in 1901, and King Edward VII in 1910. Rabbi Joel Herzog’s, son, Rabbi Isaac Halevy Herzog, who grew up as a young child in Leeds, was later to become the first Chief Rabbi of the Free State of Ireland and the first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, with strong links to Britain and the British Empire, while his son President Chaim Herzog spent much of the war period and immediately afterwards in London, where he studied law.

President Herzog and King Charles III
Public domain photo

The presence of the Chief Rabbi, Efraim Mirvis, as the key representative of the Jewish community was to be expected. The royal family has enjoyed warm links with the UK Jewish community, especially in the post WWII era, but none more so than the new King Charles III. He had a particularly close relationship with the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and was the guest speaker at Sack’s retirement exactly ten years ago. He often mentioned the fact that both he and Sacks were born in the same year, 1948, the years in which the State of Israel was established. He saw Sacks as one of his religious and philosophical mentors, regardless of his own devout Protestant Christianity.

And as someone who has a close interest in the multiple faiths of the contemporary UK population, the new King has continued this warm relationship with Rabbi Mirvis – the first UK Chief Rabbi who studied and receive his Rabbinical diploma in Israel, and where one of his sons is a Rabbi In Herzliya. Much has been written recently about the fact that Charles  changed the time of a Friday meeting with leaders of the faith communities, just a few days after the death of Queen Elizabeth, in order to enable Rabbi Mirvis to attend and travel home before Shabat, or the fact that he has arranged for the Chief Rabbi to stay overnight close to Westminster Abbey and to receive kosher food, so that he can attend the Coronation ceremony which will take place on the Saturday – Shabat.

Chief Rabbi Mirvis and Marie van der Zuyl offer condolences to King Charles III following the death of Queen Elizabeth II
Photo: Public domain

For his part, Rabbi Mirvis issued a special order of service for use by the many congregations throughout Britain this coming Shabat morning, with special additional prayers in honour of the occasion. Some of the Hebrew is a bit antiquated, taken from past Orders of services at times of Coronation of past Monarchs, and end with a delightful rendering of the British National Anthem with a translation of both verses (yes, there are two verses) into Hebrew.

Photo – public domain

Following much discussion by the orthodox Bet Din as to what should and should not be allowed for a Rabbi to do on such an occasion – a Shabat service, in a Cathedral, based on Christian liturgy – it was eventually agreed that all of the faith leaders – from the Moslem, Jewish and other communities which now make up the British ethnic mosaic, so different from the era of the past Coronation seventy years ago – would bless the King as he exits the Cathedral. Even here, it was agreed that no microphone would be used during the multi faith blessing which would otherwise have been a problem for the orthodox Chief Rabbi.

On the morning of the coronation, the Chief Rabbi will pray at a special early service which has been arranged for him at the Marble Arch Synagogue, enabling him to walk to the Coronation immediately afterwards. The Marble Arch synagogue has a unique stain glass window (amongst many) depicting the royal connection between the UK and Israel. This window includes a picture of Windsor Castle and the Royal emblem of the UK – alongside another window which depicts the Tower of David in Jerusalem and the symbol of the State of Israel.

(Photo by Daniel Epstein, used with permission)

While the ultra-orthodox Haredi community many not have been so eager for the Chief Rabbi to attend a Church service on Shabat , they too issued their own Greetings and blessings for the new King. In addition to a letter sent on their behalf to the new King this week, their religious authorities recommended that all of their communities add a prayer for the welfare of the new Monarch during the Shabat morning services as part of what they see as fulfilling the religious precept of “Hakarot hatov”, appreciating the freedom of religion which they enjoy in the United Kingdom and the importance of the Monarchy, especially a Monarch who believes strongly in the status of all faith communities, within that country.

Photo – public domain
Photo – public domain

Seen from Israel, where there are almost no celebrations or special events amongst the over 30,000 British expat community who have made aliya to Israel, this may all seem a bit quaint. There is, unfortunately, no significant organization which represents this large community and I am not aware of any of the expat Brits arranging garden parties or receptions in honour of the occasion. Many who have left the UK for Israel over the years, prefer to leave the British traditions behind them, although there are many, especially amongst the retiree communities who have only come to Israel at a later stage in their lives,  whose main fond memory of the UK is that of the Royal family and its traditions.

For their part, native Israelis, like people through much of the world, are taken up with the glamour of the British monarchy despite the fact that the customs, the dress and the ceremonies belong to a world of the past. I recall that when I was the main Israel TV analyst at the time of the Royal wedding of William and Catherine over ten years ago, which took place on a  Friday, I was taken aback by the fact that the following Sunday, almost all of the secretaries – had watched the event, if only for its Disney and Cinderella like glamour – distancing from the harsher realities of every day life.

There were times, just twenty years ago, when following the death of Princess Diana, the popularity of the monarchy in general and of King Charles (then Prince Charles) underwent a significant decline. But the late Queen Elizabeth was successful in restoring that popularity, to the extent that there has been almost no dissenting voices to Charles becoming King, even allowing for some of his better known eccentricities, his age (the oldest monarch ever to become King in his seventies) or his statements on a whole host of political and environmental topics which, for some, is seen as intervening in the political life of the nation.

It is a point that we often discuss with students in the only courses in Israel given on the British political system. The role of the Royal Family in a modern western democracy is something which is hard to internalize for Israeli students who grow up in a completely different political environment, and for whom the concept of “King” is reduced to noisy demonstrations  for or against “King Bibi” (who replaced “King Arik”).

My own personal memory of royalty is receiving the OBE at Windsor Castle some ten years ago for my role in promoting and strengthening scientific links between the two countries. There are but  a handful of Israeli ex-Brit citizens to have received such an honour. I was left disappointed when, at the last moment, the Queen withdrew from the event (there are over ten such events each year, most of them at Buckingham Palace and the Royal family probably get pretty bored at the repetitiveness of these ceremonies over a period of many years) due to poor health and was  replaced by the Princess Royal, the sister of the new King, Princess Anne. But she displayed an excellent  knowledge of Israel and the Jewish community (thanks to some excellent advisers no doubt) and made some very positive comments about the contribution of the relatively small Jewish  community (numbering today less than 300,000 people) to the country as a whole.

How long the British Monarchy will continue is unclear. Charles ascended the throne in his seventies and he has two clear successors – his son Prince William and his grandson Prince George – waiting to take over the role when the time comes. Royal scandals and tabloids excepting, for most people, the existence or disappearance of the Monarchy will not make much difference to their own lives, but for as long as it is there, and for as long as it demonstrates a warm and cordial relationship to the UK Jewish community – perhaps even a first Royal visit of a monarch to Israel – it is to be welcomed. And synagogues throughout the country will have services and celebrations of the event.

Photo: Public domain


The cameras will, at one point, focus on Rabbi Mirvis and President Herzog at this weeks Coronation. Blessings will be said throughout the UK synagogues and while, we the Brits who reside in Israel, may not be involved in the events, we wish the new King and his Consort, much hatzlacha – success in their role in ensuring a small island of stability and make believe in what is an ever turbulent world.

About the Author
David Newman is professor of Geopolitics in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Originally from the UK, he was awarded the OBE in 2013 for promoting scientific links between the UK and Israel. From 2010-2016, Newman was Dean of the faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at BGU.