LONDON (Nov. 15)
It’s not easy being Britain’s chief rabbi. Jonathan Sacks is at the center of a communal controversy over his decision to attend a reception to mark the 50th birthday of Prince Charles last Friday evening.
Sacks, head of the mainstream Orthodox United Synagogues movement, made the 30- minute journey to Buckingham Palace on foot from the Marble Arch synagogue in London’s West End.
He defended his decision on the grounds that it was established protocol for chief rabbis to accept direct royal invitations.
While conceding that “the importance of keeping Shabbat together with the family is fundamental,” Sacks said that “we only make an exception [for the] expression of Jewish loyalty to the country and its head of state.”
As chief rabbi, he would “always accept invitations from the queen on state occasions,” adding that “Prince Charles has long been a friend of the Jewish community and recently showed his support by attending a service to mark Israel’s 50th anniversary.”
Just before the event, he said he would attend the palace reception only to “pay his respects” to the royal family and then leave to spend the rest of the Sabbath with his wife.
“Buckingham Palace has been marvelous in understanding the limitations,” he said.
Concern that Sacks had accepted an invitation to attend the birthday party of the heir to the British throne on Shabbat was expressed in a stream of letters to the editor of the London Jewish Chronicle.
“I would never contemplate attending a function and leaving my wife on a Friday night,” wrote Ronald Michaels. “I believe that we are taught to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”
Sheila Goldsmith wrote: “If the chief rabbi finds it possible to attend Prince Charles’s birthday party on a Friday night, how can one possibly expect one’s children to accept that Friday night as Shabbat is sacrosanct?”