Receive weekly insights from the Chief Rabbi
Office of the Chief Rabbi

Op-Ed: ‘Faiths in Britain must celebrate British values’

Share this article:

The Chief Rabbi celebrates British Jewry’s long history of subscribing to British values, pointing to the Prayer for the Royal Family and centuries of societal contribution as cases in point, and regards with warmth the reciprocation of the Establishment, which continues to support the community in the fight against antisemitism. Chief Rabbi Mirvis was writing in The Telegraph. 

‘Faiths in Britain must celebrate British values’

“He who gives salvation to Kings and dominion to Princes, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, may He bless our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth”.

These are opening words of a prayer recited by Jewish communities across the Commonwealth every Sabbath morning and on festivals. Similar versions have been intoned for centuries. The Talmud teaches that “royalty on earth reflects royalty in Heaven” and there is a special blessing that Jews recite when meeting a monarch. It’s no surprise then that Judaism is infused with a natural and deep respect for the Royal Family as an institution.

In Britain, that same respect and affection has also been personal. A warm, reciprocal relationship between the Jewish community and the Royal Family has existed for centuries. Historians talk of a wooden beam that may have been donated by the Royal Family for the roof of the Bevis Marks Synagogue in 1701. The Duke of Cambridge spoke recently of a special Friday night service in 1809 attended by three sons of King George III at the Great Synagogue in London. A century later, the community would cherish the warm friendship of King Edward VII, who referred to Rabbi Hermann Adler as “my Chief Rabbi”.

‘A warm relationship between the Jewish community and the Royal Family has existed for centuries’

More recently, the Royal Family has frequently honoured the Jewish community at many special occasions. I felt deeply touched when His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales attended my installation as Chief Rabbi in September 2013.

Above all, perhaps, it is on Holocaust related matters that the Royal Family has been most supportive. The Duke of Edinburgh’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, sheltered Jewish refugees during the Second World War. She was awarded the status of “Righteous Among the Nations” and is buried on the Mount of Olives overlooking the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The Queen herself is a patron of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and hosted a memorable reception for survivors to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust. The Prince of Wales recently hosted the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport at St James’s Palace.

In this context, Her Majesty’s visit to Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp in Germany is of immense significance – and not only for Jews. The liberation of Bergen Belsen symbolises the role that Great Britain played in bringing about the end of this dark period in our shared history. The heroic acts of the British Armed Forces who liberated the camp are treasured by the Jewish people.

This is the first time the Queen has visited the site of a concentration camp. I will be with her, and as anyone who has visited any camp can attest, nothing prepares one for standing on the same earth as those who perished so brutally at the hands of the Nazis.

‘The heroic acts of the British Armed Forces who liberated the camp are treasured by the Jewish people’

It is a unique and powerful experience amid the paradoxical beauty of the Lower Saxony countryside where some of the worst crimes in human history were committed. Members of my own family perished in the Holocaust. It is such an important part of the collective Jewish psyche that for our Monarch to place herself in a position readily to identify with our pain is both heartening and uplifting.

In recent years, the Jewish community has been faced with newer and different types of hatred. Recorded incidents of anti-Semitism have reached worrying levels and we have witnessed appalling, murderous attacks on Jewish targets around Europe. The Queen is herself of the generation which uncovered the Holocaust and had to come to terms over time with its scale and inhumanity. That makes today’s gesture of solidarity and remembrance all the more relevant and appreciated.

This tradition of support from the British establishment has helped to cultivate the archetypal “British Jew”. It is an identity which could not exist but for a proud and rich history of Jews contributing significantly to British society and finding, in return, a country where we could make a home, with institutions which help us to educate our children, care for our families when they are unwell, and to respect and provide for our most deeply held religious principles.

‘The Queen is herself of the generation which uncovered the Holocaust and had to come to terms with its inhumanity’

Since Jews resettled in Britain some 360 years ago, we have enthusiastically embraced the values which are at the core of British society. It is these very British values which are now being threatened by intolerance and extremism, which must be confronted and overcome by every faith community. Creating “British religious identities” is one of the keys to defanging fundamentalism. The more that we can integrate faith in a British context, embracing both tradition and modernity – the more tolerant and understanding our society will be.

The Jewish prayer for the Royal Family concludes: “In her days and in ours, may our Heavenly Father spread the tabernacle of peace over all the dwellers on earth” Let us all say Amen to that.’