Prince Philip Asks Chief Rabbi if British Jewry Would Support a Fund to Repair Westminster Abbey

Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, has asked Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits whether British Jewry would support a fund for repairing Westminster Abbey, one of the most historic cathedrals in England.

The surprise suggestion is revealed in an exchange of correspondence published by Jakobovits. The Chief Rabbi, in his reply, did not rule out the Anglo-Jewish community’s support, but suggested it would have to be directed at some aspect of the Abbey “not directly connected with worship, such as perhaps the library,”

In his letter, dated March 31, Prince Philip said that as president of the Westminster Abbey Trust, set up to raise money for cleaning and repairing the Abbey, he had been told of a forthcoming display of the Abbey’s archives. Among them were letters from a group of Jewish merchants in the north of England to the King, sending some money to help with the rebuilding of the Abbey in the 13th century.

He continued: “The thought occurred to me to ask whether it might be an idea to invite the Jewish community as a whole to make a contribution on the repair of the Abbey,” He added that he would “quite understand” if the Chief Rabbi told him the idea was not worth pursuing.

Replying, Jakobovits referred to the Jewish associations with Westminster Abbey going back to the 13th century, including the Jerusalem Chamber and works of Jewish interest in the Abbey library.

What both men glossed over was the fact that the 13th century saw the climax of Jewish sufferings in medieval England, culminating with the community’s expulsion in 1290. Among many ways of bleeding the community dry was to force individual Jews to contribute to the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey.

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