In an impromptu posting on social media following the death of the Queen, Rabbi Dweck praised the Queen’s Malchos for so precisely reflecting the will of the people. It seems many Rabbis have in recent days been poring over Rambam’s Book of Kings to find the right words when eulogising Her Majesty, particularly Chapter 2 – “He should be gracious and merciful to the small and the great, involving himself in their good and welfare.” This was indeed the pledge of public service King Charles III made in his speech following the death of his mother.
Many have spoken of Queen Elizabeth’s unique talent in sustaining the monarchy over seventy years, how she managed to keep relevant an ancient (some might say antiquated) institution whose values conflicted with the changing mores of the time; her impartiality, wit, self-deprecation and devotion to duty. Less mentioned was her ability to accede to the will of the people, even when it clashed with the image of the Crown that she sought to defend. Think of her reluctance but eventual agreement following pleas from Tony Blair to return to Buckingham Palace to see the mourners after the tragic death of Diana or her response to the public outrage following Prince Andrew’s Newsnight interview about his links with Jeffrey Epstein. Maybe she had no choice, but she was swift to strip her son of his honours and reduce his royal status. The Queen could have deployed all the comms at her disposal to defend Andrew or cast doubt on Virginia Giuffre’s allegations of sexual assault.
In contrast on Sunday September 11th the New York Times published a front cover (In Hasidic Enclaves, Failing Private Schools Flush With Public Money) exposing among other things the lack of educational attainment within Hassidic schools. At one, the Central United Talmudical Academy standardised maths and reading tests were given to more than a thousand students and all of them failed. You’d have thought it odd that the article was in any way controversial rather like a story exposing housing benefit fraud in Stamford Hill. But predictably the community doubled down. Agudath Israel of America called the article “one-sided and riddled with bias”, other ultra-orthodox figures took to Twitter accusing the paper of cherry-picking their data. There may have been some truth to this and many Rabbis acknowledged the severity of the accusations but the focus was on trying to discredit the story rather than reflect on the problems uncovered.
Too often Rabbis are blinded by their allegiance to their institutions or the views of their peers before reacting appropriately to injustices within their own community. Perpetrators of sexual violence are protected because like all Jekyll and Hyde characters they were good Talmidim or have done a saintly like teshuva. Scandals are quickly papered over by the Rabbinical establishment with the manipulative refrain that to express outrage is lashon hara. Congregants are sometimes unwilling to bring their Rabbis to account because at some point they or a close friend suffered a crisis and needed their support, as if the price to be paid for what should be part of a Rabbi’s job description is blind loyalty.
In under a week the Queen will be buried and following that Rosh Hashana. For those Rabbis limbering up to beat their chest for all their moral failings over the year, would do well to consider adding a new Al Chet – For the sin which we have committed for not hearing the cries of our congregants and being more concerned with how our response might appear to others.