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    Out of the goldfish bowl – Prince Harry and the Queen

    January 23rd, 2020

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared on The Times of Israel blogs on 22 January, 2020.

    Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle have trumped Brexit – at least for a few days – as the topic of conversation around the British tea table.

    The prince loves his grandmother the Queen, but will he be strong enough to withdraw from the palace life that does such wonders for British marketing? Will he succeed in getting out of the royal goldfish bowl?

    Britain loves its Royal Family and prays for them. The Jewish community has long given a central position in synagogue services to the Royal Prayer, dubbed by the irreverent “Ee-oo” (“He who giveth salvation unto kings”).

    The question is now whether they will add a rider, “Except for the younger royals who want to do their own thing”.

    Prayers for the regime began when Jeremiah told the Jewish exiles, “Seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into captivity; pray to the Lord for it, for in its peace will you have peace” (Jer. 29:7).

    A certain congregation grimaced when its chazzan announced, “Prayer for the Royal Fumbler”. Despite her lack of political power the Queen is part of the British ethos, like Big Ben and the Thames. Citizens pray for the Queen because legally, governments act in her name; the ruling party is Her Majesty’s Government, and official letters are On Her Majesty’s Service.

    The USA takes a different approach, praying not for the person but for the office of “the President and Vice-President of the United States of America” (or similar language), since power rests in the institution regardless of the individual who holds office.

    Judaism says that without rulers, people would “eat each other alive” (Avot 3:2). The Sefer HaChinuch says that a nation needs a leader, even a bad one, to keep the nation together.

    On seeing a Jewish king, Jews said, “Blessed be He who gave of His glory to flesh and blood”; for a gentile king, they said, “who gave of His glory to His creatures”. The Talmud (Ber. 58a) thinks that earthly royalty echoes that of Heaven.

    How one becomes a king is not defined: Ex. 1:8 says, “A new king arose over Egypt”. “Arose” might indicate inheriting the crown, or perhaps leading a coup. The people had no say.

    Even gentile kings must be obeyed; Maimonides says the use of a king’s coinage implies a contract between ruler and subject (Gezelah 5:18). Tosafot (Ned. 28a) says, “The king owns the land: those who wish to live there must obey his laws”.

    Even a bad king deserves respect. But on Prov. 24:21, Rashi adds, “Fear the king: provided he does not turn you away from fearing the Lord”. The rabbi says in Fiddler on the Roof, “God bless and keep the Czar… far away from us”.

    Though Haman makes the nasty comment in Targum Sheni, “the Jews go to their synagogues and curse our king”, Ezra says (6:10) that the returned exiles “pray for the life of the king and his sons”. Jews told Alexander the Great that “sacrifices and prayers are offered for you and your land”. Josephus claims that the Jews “offer sacrifices twice daily for Caesar and the Roman people”.

    In the Middle Ages, Abravanel said that though a king “promotes unity, continuity and absolute power”, a republic is better, with “many leaders, united, agreeing, and concurring in counsel… When the turn of other judges and officers comes, they will examine whether their predecessors have failed… Since their administration is temporary and they are accountable, the fear of man will be upon them”. Abravanel warns, though, that not all monarchies are bad and not all republics good.

    The prayer in Worms was, “He who blessed our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, may He bless our exalted Kaiser. May He prosper his undertakings and establish his throne in justice, so that righteousness may rule in the land: grant life and peace to him and his descendants.”

    In Plymouth the Jews said, “O Lord, King of Kings, in Thy mercy preserve their precious lives and deliver them from all trouble and danger… Raise and remount the planet and fortune of Her Majesty’s Arms, that her enemies may fall under her feet… prolong her days in her kingdom… In Thy clemency incline her royal heart as well as the hearts of all her Nobles and Counsellors, to use us kindly…”

    The prayer begins, “He who gives salvation (victory) to kings”, part of a verse, “Rescue and deliver me from the hands of foreigners, whose mouths speak lies, whose right hand is raised in perjury” (Ps. 144:10-11). The implication is that the sovereign really rules but in Britain “rule” is a metaphor for a toothless tiger who smiles and opens bazaars. No wonder Harry and Meghan feel rather useless.

    Real power resides elsewhere. The fiction is that the monarch makes decisions and that the political leaders are her advisers. The prayers should be for the politicians, but there would be uproar in Britain if people prayed for the Prime Minister and not for the Queen (though Prince Harry might have triggered a change).

    The situation was different in Australia, where the nation became a federation in 1901. Australian Jews loved Queen Victoria (“Our Sovereign Lady the Queen”) but added a prayer for “the Authorities of the Land”. Later on I replaced the archaic title “Our Sovereign Lady the Queen” with “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, and the legislators and leaders of Australia and its States and Territories”, and prayed to see “the happiness and welfare of every citizen with all the peoples of this land in amity and mutual respect”.

    It is interesting that Australia has twice had a Jewish governor-general (Sir Isaac Isaacs and Sir Zelman Cowen) as the monarch’s representative. I have to add rather immodestly that a Sydney newspaper columnist once wondered aloud what would have happened had the Australian prime minister nominated Rabbi Apple as governor-general.


    Making an appearance – Va’era

    January 19th, 2020

    The Torah reading this week commences with God telling the people how He made His Presence perceptible to their ancestors.

    Even though He says (Ex. 6:2) va’era, “I was seen”, He cannot be indicating that He made Himself visible, since He has no material form or shape. Targum Onkelos tells us that He means to say, “I revealed Myself”.

    The term “to perceive” does not necessarily mean “to be seen with the eyes”, but “to perceive with the heart and mind”. The people knew He was there and knew they were in His Presence.

    The Torah says that He made His existence and nature known by means of His name.

    In early times He was known as E-l Shaddai, “the powerful God”. People perceived the majesty of the world and the greatness of its forces and energies, and they knew that there was a powerful Creator.

    Now, with the Hebrew settlement in Egypt and the imposition of bondage by the Egyptians, they were ready to perceive the name which we spell Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey, generally translated “The Lord”. This name derives from a root that means to be. (The Name, as Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig say in their German translation of the Bible, literally means “The Existent One”). Tradition says that it denotes God as the source of mercy.

    Knowing this name meant that the people had an assurance that God saw (i.e. perceived) their pain and promised to uphold and support them and bring them out of slavery.


    Equal partners – Va’era

    January 19th, 2020

    Moses & Aaron, by Hans Sebald Beham, 16th century

    The readings at this time of the year constantly involve both brothers, Moses and Aaron.

    With rare exceptions the two of them have a good relationship. Neither is superior to the other; each has his own role, his own status, his own historical significance.

    The rabbis point out (Mechilta, Bo) that sometimes the Torah puts Moses’ name first and sometimes Aaron’s. Occasionally they rotate in tasks: some of the ten plagues are brought about by Aaron, some by Moses.

    Each, however, has his own expertise: Aaron is more of a diplomat, Moses is more of an orator. On the whole they are partners.

    Another example of the phenomenon of equal billing is the duty that a child has towards its parents – sometimes the Torah mentions the father first, sometimes the mother.

    Probably the same would be true of husband and wife – sometimes they are referred to as Avraham and Sarah, sometimes Sarah and Avraham.

    The old habit of calling a married woman something like Mrs John Smith, as if the wife has no individual personality, has long since gone.

    Amongst some groups it is still common – e.g. in wedding invitations – to refer to “Reb Avraham Cohen and his wife”, but in time this too will go. Both partners are essential to the relationship.


    Names & generations – Sh’mot

    January 12th, 2020

    The German Jewish Bible scholar Benno Jacob notes that the Book of Exodus begins, “These are the names of the Children of Israel,” not, as we might have expected, “These are the generations of the Children of Israel”.

    Is there a difference between names and generations?

    Benno Jacob relates the distinction to the patriarch Jacob. He thinks that generations = Jacob, the physical man who thinks of his progeny and their material needs, whilst names = Israel, the spiritual sire who struggles with his soul and thinks of his family’s faith.

    The rabbis say that when Jacob became Israel and lay on his death bed he wanted his family to say Shema Yisra’el, “Listen, Father Israel: we believe in God, the One True God of heaven and earth.”


    Jacob & the Jewish quarter – Vayyechi

    January 5th, 2020

    Map of ancient Egypt

    Big European cities often highlight their old Jewish Quarter on the local tourist circuit. Rome, Prague, Vienna and Budapest are prime examples. Remnants of old synagogues and Jewish shops are visible and visited but mostly as mere sites of antiquity.

    Every now and then you find an active synagogue, a kosher restaurant and a handful of Jewish food stores, but generally there are few signs of viable Jewish life. What happened to the local Jews is well known: today’s Jews are mostly tourists.

    There are abandoned Jewish districts in a number of Middle Eastern localities too, though they are harder and more dangerous for Jews to visit.

    The origin of Jewish districts can probably be traced to this week’s Torah portion. Joseph, after years of struggle, had ended up as a high official in Egypt and had brought his father and family to settle near him in Goshen.

    Though the Bible shows how Jacob put a brave front on his move to Egypt, saying he wanted to see Joseph while he still could, he must have felt ill at ease. He probably realised as the family didn’t that having a pleasant Jewish Quarter to live in was all right for the moment, but who knew what might happen years later?

    A new Pharaoh could change the official policy towards the Jews and having a compact Jewish presence in one main neighbourhood could turn out to be a curse. That sounds like a warning against feeling over-secure.