As a student of both the Bible and English history, I am not an instinctive advocate of hereditary leadership.
In the priesthood of Israel and the monarchy of England, there are lessons as to why the succession of the children of the previous officeholder may not always yield a result which is worthy of either past occupants or of the position itself.
Nevertheless, if one were to seek to find a positive example of a person who had inherited her father’s position, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II would be difficult to rival.
That is true from a general perspective but, as Liberal Jewish communities mark ‘Royal Shabbat’ (on The Queen’s official 90th birthday) this coming weekend, how might her reign be viewed from a Liberal Jewish angle?
Judaism does not specify the details of the arrangements of government although the monarchy – not the constitutional type – was the government in ancient Israel.
The Books of Samuel and Kings, in particular, record the Hebrew Prophetic idea that, as part of their critique of the mores of the society, it was their responsibility to hold the monarchy to account if it flouted the moral law. Nathan’s condemnation of David (II Samuel 12:7) and Elijah’s rebuke of Ahab (I Kings 21:20) are of the more clear examples.
Conversely there appear to be three specific requirements of the monarchy which brought religious approval. In Deuteronomy (17: 14-19) the Bible speaks of a future time when a monarch will rule over the Children of Israel. The monarch is expected not so to remove him/herself from the people by excessive acquisition of spouses, horses, and wealth but more importantly is expected to retain in the royal possession two copies of the Torah, one in the archives and the other at hand – presumably for regular study!
In Her Majesty The Queen, Britain has a monarch with a clear personal faith combined with a sensitivity to the other faiths practiced by her subjects.
The Prophets indicate more specific attributes, namely that, in the words of Isaiah (11:5) ‘Righteousness shall be the belt around the royal waist’ and of Jeremiah (22:16) who understands the royal duty to defend ‘the cause of the poor and needy.’
Whilst it remains the task of Her Majesty’s (elected) Government to make provision for the vulnerable in the population, Her Majesty the Queen, partly through her patronage of a wide range of charities, has – according to polls – succeeded in being perceived as taking an interest in the poorer and needier sections of society both in Britain and in the Commonwealth.
Although her elevation arose from the absence of a son to George VI, the Queen has demonstrated that women are endowed with the gifts of leadership and longevity, and, for a Movement which has championed egalitarianism, that must provide an additional reason why Liberal Judaism communities will mark Queen Elizabeth’s birthday with joy and hope for the future.