Chief Rabbi attacked over Prince Charles's Friday party

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The Independent Online
THE CHIEF RABBI, Dr Jonathan Sacks, has been accused of debasing the Sabbath and setting a bad example to young Jews by agreeing to attend a party on a Friday night to celebrate the Prince of Wales's 50th birthday.

Dr Sacks's acceptance of the Queen's invitation to attend the royal cocktail reception on 13 November has incensed many in the Jewish community. The Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday evenings and is considered sacrosanct. Traditionally, the Jewish family gathers for prayers and a special meal.

Religious law prohibits a Jew from using transport on the Sabbath. The Chief Rabbi will walk to Buckingham Palace from Marble Arch synagogue, a 30-minute journey on foot.

A leading member of the Jewish community said the Chief Rabbi was making "a big error" in going to the reception. "Even friends of his, and that includes me, believe he has made a serious misjudgement. Some would say it smacks of vanity. I think it will damage him."

Sheila Goldsmith, from St John's Wood, London, wrote in the Jewish Chronicle last week: "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 [the Sabbath] is sacrosanct?

"What chance does a parent have of ensuring that on Fridays the family joins together to sanctify the Sabbath, and that we do not socialise with non-Jewish friends, however important the occasion?" She concluded: "We despair."

Another correspondent, Ronald Michaels, from Stanmore, Middlesex, wrote: "I would never contemplate attending a function and leaving my wife on a Friday night. I believe that we are taught to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy."

The Chief Rabbi defended his decision, saying it was an established protocol for holders of his office to accept a direct royal invitation. "The importance of keeping Shabbat together with the family is fundamental, and we only make an exception ... [for the] expression of Jewish loyalty to the country and its head of state. As the representative of the Jewish community I have to take into account the importance of His Royal Highness," he told the Independent on Sunday.

He would only attend the Palace to "pay his respects" to the Royal Family and then leave to spend the remainder of the Sabbath with his wife. "Buckingham Palace has been marvellous in understanding the limitations," he said.

Another expert on Anglo-Jewry called the acceptance of the Queen's invitation "a big blunder, considering he wouldn't even go to Hugo Gryn's funeral". His non-attendance at the funeral of the popular Rabbi Gryn, the unofficial leader of Britain's non-orthodox Jewish community, and the subsequent disclosure that he had described Rabbi Gryn as "one of those who destroy the faith", caused bitter divisions within Anglo-Jewry.

The Chief Rabbi's time in office as spiritual leader of Britain's 300,000-strong Jewish community has been marked by tensions with the non-orthodox Jewish groups, increasing disenchantment among women and younger Jews, and growing rates of inter-marriage.