Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Queen and We

Living in this country I cannot but join in the outpouring of celebration for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Belonging at the same time to the Jewish religion I cannot but feel nauseous by the sycophancy of our Chief Rabbi's prayer, speech in the House of Lords and appearance on the Today programme's Thought for the Day.

We as Jews have good reason to be grateful for the stable and democratic society we live in where all religions and races are treated equally and where the rule of law reigns supreme. History has given us ample opportunity to sample an array of alternatives and it hardly need be said that they haven't always been pleasant. The Queen as Head of State embodies these values and an occasion like this gives us an opportunity to join our fellow countrymen and women in celebrating the stability of her reign and showing appreciation for her unflinching duty to the citizens of this country.

But to thank her as her "loyal and devoted subjects" for "her repeated acts of kindness to our community and its institutions" smacks of grovelling servility rather than respectful appreciation. It reminds me of an old age home in Jerusalem where residents saw fit to display on the wall near the lifts a framed appreciation to the management in similarly fawning terms. And of the cringeworthy mazel tov adverts the Hebrew teachers of local schools place in the advertising sheets when the offspring of those who deign to pay their salaries are engaged and married.

While it may be incumbent on us to show appreciation to the Queen as the titular head of state, as citizens of this country we also have a right to expect no less than these kindnesses. The idea that we as a community owe her something more than the rest of the country is belittling and insulting. The Chief should be reminded that he is not in the 19th century talking to huddled masses of refugees in Toynbee Hall in honour of Queen Victoria but his prayers are for born and bred British Jews in 2012 to honour Queen Elizabeth II.

He doesn't however stop at her kindness to us. Rabbi Sacks praises Her Majesty's sceptre as being 'law and morality, equality and freedom.' The Queen may carry out her role with grace and discretion and a great sense of duty but it is parliament and not the Queen that makes laws. And the Chief Rabbi's prayer aside, I have yet to hear of Her Majesty being referred to as an arbiter of morals. Her concern is indeed the welfare of the people of this country but her passion lest we forget is also corgis and horses. The Chief must be scaling the very top of his lofty register with "for sixty years the Queen has spoken gently to the better angels of our nature."

Here are links to prayers of the Church of England, the Catholic Church, a letter from the Muslim Council of Britain and the Chief Rabbi. To the Chief's benediction add his speech in the House of Lords, the most syrupy extract of which was republished on the front page of the JC, flavoured by his panegyric on Thought of the Day and garnished with yet another paean to the Monarch in an op-ed article in The Times.

Pray tell me, why is it that of all prayers the Jewish prayer and thanksgiving must sound as if it is addressed to the Tzar, Kaiser and Sultan all rolled into one? Are only we Jews her 'loyal and devoted subjects' and is it only we who must "express our deepest sentiments of loyalty, esteem and gratitude?" Why can the others do with a British nod of the head while we must genuflect and repeatedly fall on our knees as if it's Yom Kipur in shul? We are not minions living under her protection; we are equal citizens living in a democratic, plural society and this slobbering nonsense is insulting and belies the truth. It is precisely that we require no special favours that we are so fortunate.

It was also sneaky of Rabbi Sacks in his Thought of the Day broadcast to translate the mishna הוי מתפלל בשלומה של מלכות as 'pray for the welfare of the monarch'. The closest would be, for the welfare of the monarchy, which is for the institution and not the person. A more accurate translation however would be for the welfare of the state, or as the Chief himself translates it in his Siddur, 'pray for the welfare of the government.' That is what we ultimately pray for. The Queen is indeed the personification of the state but that still need not turn us into quivering vassals.

So yes, raise your cups in a lechaim to the Queen and join the throngs in celebrating her reign of six decades and appreciating her dedication to her citizens. But if republicanism be your bent have no qualms in joining the anti-monarchy protests for it is precisely in the fact that we are equal citizens of this Sceptered Isle to take part in all aspects of our society that we celebrate.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Former Canon of St Paul’s converted. By the Chief Rabbi

This is what the recently retired canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Rev Giles Fraser, had to say in an interview in Friday’s Guardian:

"I used to be a socialist and for a long time I did have the view that there was something intrinsically immoral about capitalism. I changed my mind quite fundamentally about that quite a few years ago. I had a conversion sitting in Notting Hill market, reading the chief rabbi on the subject – an essay called 'the moral case for market economy'.”

Perhaps not quite a road to Damascus moment but then Notting Hill is a lot safer especially these days.

I do however wonder whether the Chief would ever dare tell the world of a conversion of his by a leader of another faith. He got himself into trouble in the past when suggesting that Judaism may have something to learn from others, which he then hastily retracted. Ever since he has steered clear of sensitive issues for fear of getting tangled in the knotty beards or the crocheted yarmulkes.

It is a shame he lacks his predecessor’s forthrightness on anything from Israel to charedim. For while the world benefits greatly from his writing and speeches Judaism sorely lacks someone of his stature and capabilities to give us some straight talking.

Well, a rabbi resigning on point of principle. When was the last time you heard that one?

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Sacks on the Hill

Chief on Hill

Lord of the Ringlets

With no prior announcement and none of the PR fanfare the 'rabbi' is so adroit at, Yesodey Hatorah Secondary School for Girls, to give it its full name, last week welcomed Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks to its hallowed corridors. You read it here first as it appears to have been too late for last week's Hamodia where the 'rabbi' acts as an unpaid advisor, which must mean that a front page photo every other week is of no value or payment in kind doesn't count.

The girls themselves were told only the day before thus denying more right wing elements the chance to galvanise and arrange some form of protest. Some parents may even have withheld their dear neshomolech from school for the day. Since the 'rabbi' respected his girls when they refused to take an exam paper on Shakespeare he would undoubtedly have respected them on this point of principle too. But it is a moot point since the Chief's visit passed off without incident and one must now wait for the weekend papers to see Sacks beaming on an N16 platform he so covets and Pinter with an equally broad smile in the company of yet another semi-Jew as far as we in Stamford Hill are concerned.

You may wonder why the 'rabbi' had to turn so far west, and so far left, and to such high altitudes for a speaker for his girls. Isn't bringing a rabbi to Stamford Hill a bit like taking coal to that suburb of Gateshead? Before even our own chief Padwa has addressed the girls along comes a Lord from a different manor to shepherd our sacred sheep.And it's not as if the lesser local rabbis have been exhausted since rabbis rarely step foot into that place lest anyone suspect that history is not as it's been rewritten. That what has been turned into the sole domain of a single extended family was actually established by rabbis and individuals with different family names.

Inviting dignitaries from foreign shores whose sheep would never be welcome in our greener meadows comes with its own reciprocal kickbacks. And if in this instance it provided a photo opportunity with an ermine backdrop then all the better. As to the addressees, those precious neshomelech, they too provide a pretty setting for opportunistic photo shoots. And supine too, for his Lordship was not taken to the boys’ school where a different reception may have awaited him assuming he was received at all.

So it was left to the acting head who actually runs the school (bar admissions and external relations which by convention are the domain of the ‘principal’), and who by remarkable and as yet unexplained coincidence happens to be none other than the 'principal's dear wife, to advise the children the day before of their noble guest and then give way to her husband to officiate on the day. I mean he is the 'principal' after all though mind you his appearance in front of his flock is almost as rare as that of the Chief himself. It may even have been his debut address to 'his' school had not the former prime minister but one popped round some years ago which forced the 'principal' to bring forward his maiden speech to the maidens.

In line with the school's mission of developing the girls' thinking, initiative, creativity and leadership skills, questions to the Chief would be allowed. Questions however are a dangerous tool in the wrong hands for one cannot predict the answers from the Chief. Worse still once cannot foretell questions some of the girls may be harbouring in their delicate brains. Questions such as which we are told are never posed in our postal areas.

For instance, why do we celebrate our freedom by subjecting our womenfolk to slavery in the weeks running up to the festival? Which may have prompted, why do girls break up 2 weeks early to 'help their mothers' while boys study on blissfully for an extra week to keep them from under their mother's feet? Questions also have a horrible habit of veering from their course. A question may have been popped to our own paragon of inclusivism and bridge-building: should not a publicly funded school with a mission to 'understand the world we live in' have a day off for the national holiday of the royal wedding especially when an honour from those quarters is so hankered after?

But trust the 'rabbi' to come up with a solution. Yes, question will be asked but only by the highest class. Yes, questions will be asked but we will decide who will ask them. Yes, question will be asked and we'll even set the questions for the questioners. The mission does after all also include moral understanding and we cannot afford to allow morals to fly out of the window for the sake of satisfying a guest as exalted as he may be. So a question on anti-Semitism will do very nicely thank you but as for more pressing issues, girls, that's not for our sort yidn.

As for Rebbetzin Sacks, well that's a bit of a touchy matter. It is after all a girls' school so perhaps it would be fitting for the Chief's wife to come along. But then there are rebbetzins and rebbetzins. In our environs we like them plump with 15 layers of clothing, skirts till the Maginot line to repel would be invaders, shrapnel proof hosiery and sheitels if not evocative of a mop then hidden away altogether under some contraption of a kerchief. If you are a chief rebbetzin like, say, Padwa you must also instigate campaigns of tznius (and more on that shortly). But rebbetzins of the Sack's variety, well how shall we put it, she may just give the girls some wrong ideas. You know, that rabbis' wives too may look presentable and even attractive, and that, we're afraid, is not quite part of the school's mission. It is just possible that the rebbetzin too didn’t particularly cherish pre-Pesach meetings of the haggard-eyed sisterhood in turbans with one hand on their hips and another cupping their chin, 'and where are you up to with Pesach?'

Truth said, since her photo would not appear in the papers and definitely not in the company of the ever so photogenic 'rabbi' she was hardly missed. The meeting of the two titans, nos. 1 and 8 respectively in the Power List (of which more here) served its purpose very well without her. Each can go back to his respective constituency enhanced by the visit. No. 1 can demonstrate how his clout reaches even in darkest N16. It might even earn him a rare photo in the Hamodia or Tribune as part of the bargain notwithstanding that to all intents and purposes he was brought in through the tradesman's entrance to address as softie an audience as could be mustered.

And no. 8? Well, he can yet again parade his Cheshire cat grin showing off the extent of his reach to parts others can’t even touch with the ever so subtle subtext that from a perch so high nothing can be toppled.

Labels: , , , , , ,