How will the UK chief rabbi participate in the royal ceremony on Shabbat, and what was Buckingham Palace’s creative solution for his arrival at the coronation in lieu of a car?
King Charles III’s coronation ceremony will have a number of Jewish elements to it, including that microphones won’t be used during a joint prayer of faith leaders.
During a quick visit to Israel, UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis sat down with The Jerusalem Post and told of the behind-the-scenes Jewish aspects for the coronation this Saturday.
“In the British mindset, the coronation is the greatest event that has happened in 71 years,” Mirvis told the Post in a Jerusalem hotel on Thursday. “I think if the Messiah comes at the time of the coronation, it will be on the back page,” he said, laughing.
“Nothing is going to get in the way of this, every tiny detail; and we welcome the fact that the inclusion of other faiths in this event is a feature of the coronation. It was not a feature in the previous one – just the church; after all, the essence of the coronation is a religious service in Westminster Abbey.”
“I think if the Messiah comes at the time of the coronation, it will be on the back page. Nothing is going to get in the way of this, every tiny detail; and we welcome the fact that the inclusion of other faiths in this event is a feature of the coronation. It was not a feature in the previous one – just the church; after all, the essence of the coronation is a religious service in Westminster Abbey.”Ephraim Mirvis
What are the halachic issues for Jews at King Charles' coronation?
Orthodox Halacha forbids Jews to enter a church because it is considered a house of “idol worship.” Religious Jews also don’t participate in events that include the use of microphones, live music or electronic devices on Shabbat.
Mirvis explained that, for entering a church, “we have a very clear, well-established code of conduct for chief rabbis: when there is an invitation, stroke or command from the palace, we do it.”
He said that often the invitations from the palace are worded, “His Majesty commands,” triggering the halachic reality of “mishum eiva” [“on account of hatred”]. Mirvis explained the term: “We sometimes find it appropriate that the chief rabbi should attend church. I have attended a number of services.”
The second halachic issue, he explained, is that “even if you can walk to the ceremony, it is not exactly what Halacha calls the ‘spirit of Shabbat,’ since there is live music and the whole occasion isn’t what we do on Shabbat.” Yet “on both of those accounts, it is clearly the right thing to do. As well, this is a decision that I don’t make alone; our beit din [rabbinical court] has decided this. We assess all situations very carefully.”
Mirvis said, smiling, that “in King Charles, we have a genuine friend of the Jewish people and somebody who goes out of his way to champion the members of other faiths to practice the tenets of their faith with pride.” He added that he has “seen this in practice on umpteen occasions,” and “through my own friendship with the king and conversations with him at the royal household.”
He emphasized that “they [the monarchy] genuinely and sincerely want us to practice our faith.” According to the chief rabbi, “this is exactly what led the king and queen to invite [my wife] Valerie and I to spend Shabbat in a royal residence.” They will be staying in St. James’ Palace, and Mirvis explained that “they are providing a kosher caterer for our food over Shabbat and looking after every small detail.”
He said there is “a very interesting, historic parallel” with the upcoming coronation.
“In 1902, the coronation of King Edward VII was put off because he was ill. So the actual date of termination fell on Shabbat. Then-chief rabbi Hermann Adler walked to the coronation and, fascinatingly, Buckingham Palace contacted me to say they would like me to walk along the same route,” and that is the route that Mirvis will be taking.
Mirvis laughed, remembering a recent phone call his staff received from Buckingham Palace. It went something like: “The chief rabbi won’t go in a vehicle [because of Shabbat], so we’d like to put on one of the royal horses and carts for him, in order for him to be part of the parade.”
There will be two parts to the coronation that are religious rituals: “The first part is a very soft touch – the presentation of regalia, part of the state elements of the ceremony, where the king is presented with certain historic items, which he touches and then they are taken from him.” The items will be later also brought by four members of the House of Lords, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh. The Jewish representative is Baroness Gillian Merron, who will present the “Robe Royal.”
At the end of the coronation service, there will be a procession out of the abbey, and “at the head of the king and queen there will be eight faith leaders,” Mirvis said. He will be the only Jewish faith leader at this service. He explained that “we will stand in a line, the king will come in his full regalia and in his historic 16th-century crown, which is only worn at coronations, and he will stand in front of us. We will give him a blessing in unionism, a pair of blessings, which is okay, or, shall I say, kosher for all of us.
“He might chat with us and if he does, that would be wonderful, but he might not. There will be an official blessing message, which we will all recite together,” Mirvis said, and added that “the words we are saying are pretty simple, but very powerful.”
He told the Post that his favorite Jewish element of the religious parts of the coronation is the fact that “there will be no microphones, because they don’t want to put me in a compromising position. They even thought of this issue before they came to us.”
The chief rabbi shared that he will wake up early on Shabbat morning and participate in the early prayer service at Western Marble Arch Synagogue.
“I’ll pray at 6 a.m. in order to reach the abbey by 9 a.m., in time for the ceremony that starts at 11 a.m.,” he said.
Mirvis and his wife will be offering the king and queen two gifts “for Shabbat,” as Mirvis described them: “Valerie is baking biscuits for the king and queen, which are the biscuits we know that they like and enjoy.”
The second gift is a certificate “that a grove of trees will be planted in our United synagogue forest in honor of the coronation,” Mirvis said. “Of course, the king is known to be a particularly passionate environmentalist.”
Mirvis said he already knows what the menu for this upcoming Shabbat at the royal residence will be, since they already chose it – “a dish called Coronation Chicken.” This type of chicken was invented for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, a dish of diced chicken with a creamy sauce and a touch of curry powder. Mirvis will be getting the kosher version.