Jews and the coronation

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Jews and the coronation

As the Jewish community joins enthusiastically with the rest of the UK in celebrating the coronation of King Charles lll, we recall some past links between Jews and the coronation

As the Jewish community joins enthusiastically with the rest of the UK in celebrating the coronation of King Charles lll, it is perhaps appropriate to recall some past links between Jews and the Coronation

In the medieval period, up until their expulsion in 1290, Britain’s Jews were essentially the property of the King. He allowed them to profit by lending money with interest (which was forbidden for Christians to do) and generally protected them from bloodthirsty debtors who wanted to neutralise their debts by killing their Jewish creditors. However, in return the King used the Jews as a cash cow extorting special taxes or fines whenever he needed money, for example to finance a war

Given this special relationship, it is not surprising that the Jews wished to butter up the King as much as possible. So, at the coronation of King Richard l (the Lionheart) in 1189, leading members of the Jewish community came to profess their loyalty to the new King. As they entered, to quote a contemporary commentator: “the courtiers stretched forth their hands against the Jews, robbed and scourged them and with blows cast them out of the King’s Court. Some they slew, some they left half dead.” Worse was to follow. Encouraged by this incident the people of London attacked the Jewish population and killed many more as well as destroying their houses

However, in the tradition of Anglo-Jewry it led to a communal dispute, the Ashkenazi community objecting to being excluded. Our current Board of Deputies owes its origin to the manner in which this internecine dispute was settled, with the formation of a joint committee of Deputies from the two communities.

During the long reign of George lll, Anglo-Jewry began to commemorate Royal occasions by holding services and producing printed Orders of Service for those attending. The earliest in my collection dates from 1786 and celebrates the preservation of the King from “the hand of the assassin”. Similarly, Orders of Service were printed for Jewish services mourning the deaths of subsequent monarchs, George lV, William lV and Queen Victoria

Surprisingly. however, the earliest Jewish Orders of Service to commemorate the coronation were produced by Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler to commemorate the coronation of King Edward Vll in 1902. Indeed, he produced two different ones.  One for synagogue services held on the actual day itself, Thursday 26 June, and the other for London Synagogues which wished to postpone their service to the subsequent Saturday due to traffic problems likely to occur in London on coronation day!

In the event neither of these services occurred on the intended day because the King developed appendicitis and the coronation was postponed until August. Interestingly, the Sephardi community then produced an Order of Service for the 9t August but the Ashkenazim simply reused the original June ones without changing the date.

The principle of alternative dates for different synagogues begun by Hermann Adler was certainly implemented by Chief Rabbi Hertz for the coronation of King George VI in 1937 when Orders of Service were printed for Saturday 8 May, Sunday 9 May or the actual coronation day of Wednesday 12 May. Indeed I have even have one where an enterprising but somewhat tardy shul has stuck a label over the 9 May date converting it to Sunday 16 May (they didn’t bother to change the Hebrew date!).

By the time of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth ll in 1953 matters had been simplified. The Chief Rabbi’s Office issued one Order of Service indicating that it could be used on either coronation day (Tuesday) or the preceding Saturday. Unfortunately, in the original version, the Prayer for the Royal Family included Queen Mary, who was alive when her granddaughter became Queen but had died before the coronation. A new version of the Order of Service labelled ‘Revised’ was rapidly issued!

Hopefully, errors of this type will be avoided this time and the holding of the coronation on a Saturday certainly simplifies matters for those intending to hold commemorative synagogue services, if not for those who want to travel into central London and line the route.

Finally, it is worth reflecting that the readmision of the Jews to England in 1656 took place under Oliver Cromwell, during the only period when England was not ruled by a monarch. After the restoration of the monarchy under Charles ll, the King was urged to expel the Jews but he refused, ushering in an era of Jewish life in England that could not even have been dreamt of by our medieval counterparts. Indeed, as we witness the crowning of the new King Charles lll, our community has much to celebrate .


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