Rabbi's Update 5/5/2023
As you surely know, King Charles III of the United Kingdom will have his formal coronation tomorrow morning at Westminster Abbey in London. It’s fortunate that the five hour time difference between London and the US East Coast will permit those who wish to watch it live to do so while still having time to get dressed and get to shul in time for our services and the kiddush after which honors Hazzan Kim Komrad for her 21 years of service to our congregation.
There are some interesting Jewish related aspects to the coronation. This is the first coronation to take place on Shabbat since that of Edward VII in 1902. The Chief Rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis, has a small role in the ceremony and in order to allow him to walk to Westminster Cathedral, he and his wife will be staying overnight at Clarence House, where the King and Queen Consort actually reside while Buckingham Palace is under renovation. Kosher meals have been arranged for Rabbi and Mrs. Mirvis as well as Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who will also be attending.
The need for the Chief Rabbi to stay within walking distance of Westminster Abbey is not the only interesting aspect of his participation. The site of a black suited, long bearded Orthodox rabbi in a church is in and of itself quite rare. The normative Orthodox halachic position is that it is strictly forbidden for any Jew to set foot in a church except for certain very rare exceptions. One of these is known as “karov la-malchut”, someone who is close to the sovereign, is asked (or commanded) to attend and whose presence would be helpful or absence harmful to the Jewish community. The London Beth Din formally ruled in the 1970s that the Chief Rabbi can attend royal church ceremonies if specifically invited by the sovereign. Interestingly, arrangements also needed to be made so that the Chief Rabbi will not be speaking into a microphone during his part in the ceremony.
Incidentally, the whole question of karov la-malchut is a controversial halachic issue since it arose in an era where the sovereign literally had power of life and death over his subjects. While the participation of the Chief Rabbi is a sign of King Charles’ goodwill towards the UK Jewish community and vice versa, it is doubtful that the King would have the Chief Rabbi executed if he failed to attend, nor would the Chief Rabbi’s absence spark pogroms. Back in 2013, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Kehilath Jeshurun in New York caught a lot of flack from his Orthodox rabbinic colleagues for participating in an interfaith service at the National Cathedral for the inauguration of President Obama, precisely because a US President is in no way analogous to a medieval King. (None of these concerns would apply to participation in an inauguration because it is not held in a church, and we Conservative rabbis generally do not share these concerns -- I participated in an interfaith service in an Annapolis church prior to Gov. Larry Hogan’s first inauguration.)
One of the most ancient and religious aspects of the Coronation will be the anointing of the King and Queen, a ceremony which harks back to the anointing of the ancient kings of Israel in the Tanach. Indeed, the anointing oil was made in Bethlehem with oil from olive trees on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. One of the olive groves from which the oil came is on the property of the Greek Orthodox monastery where King Charles’ paternal grandmother is buried. It was consecrated at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem.
None of this really affects me in any way although it occurred to me this morning that I might be eligible for UK citizenship since my maternal grandfather was born in London and of course “King Charles” has a nice ring about it. But I do find it interesting and the Jewish connections particularly so.
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoons from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian