‘Enormously honored’: UK chief rabbi knighted on King Charles III’s 1st honors list

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis receives one of Britain’s highest awards, for interfaith initiatives, Jewish community work; Board of Deputies leaders, TV presenter Rachel Riley also honored

Britain's King Charles III speaks to UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis as he meets with faith leaders during a reception at Buckingham Palace, London September 16, 2022. (Aaron Chown/Pool Photo via AP)
Britain's King Charles III speaks to UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis as he meets with faith leaders during a reception at Buckingham Palace, London September 16, 2022. (Aaron Chown/Pool Photo via AP)

Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis will be knighted by King Charles III in recognition of his interfaith initiatives, work with the Jewish community, educational programs and other activities.

Mirvis was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, one of the UK’s highest honors, according to a Friday announcement by the UK cabinet office.

“I am enormously honored and deeply humbled by this award,” Mirvis said in a statement to UK media. “It will be particularly moving for me to receive this award from his majesty the king in his first year as our monarch.”

Mirvis was honored for his Jewish-Muslim community engagement projects; a program bringing together Anglican and Jewish clergy; working toward greater inclusivity in Orthodox Jewish life and opening opportunities for female leadership in the Jewish community; advocating for Uyghur Muslims; and an LGBTQ education initiative, among other programs.

Mirvis received the honor as part of the king’s annual New Year Honours List. The 2023 honors list was the first Charles signed off on, after the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September.

South Africa-born Mirvis, 66, has been chief rabbi since 2013. He made an unprecedented intervention in British partisan politics in 2019, penning an op-ed in The Times that alleged that the opposition Labour Party, led at the time by Jeremy Corbyn, was poisoned with “anti-Jewish racism,” “sanctioned from the very top,” and indicating that the British electorate should not support Labour in elections the following month.

“It is not my place to tell any person how they should vote. I regret being in this situation at all,” Mirvis wrote near the end of his article. “I simply pose the following question: What will the result of this election say about the moral compass of our country? When December 12th arrives, I ask every person to vote with their conscience. Be in no doubt – the very soul of our nation is at stake.”

Britain’s previous chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, was knighted in 2005. After Sacks died of cancer in 2020, Charles mourned him as “a leader whose wisdom, scholarship and humanity were without equal.”

President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Marie van der Zyl, her predecessor Jonathan Arkush, six Holocaust survivors and the TV presenter Rachel Riley were also recognized on the list. Riley was awarded for raising Holocaust awareness and opposing antisemitism.

TV presenter Rachel Riley poses for photographers after unveiling a new clockwork Lion statue in Trafalgar Square, London, Jan. 28, 2016. (Photo by Grant Pollard/Invision/AP)

Mirvis has helped maintain the close connection between Britain’s Jewish communities and the monarchy.

Mirvis will stay overnight at Charles’s Clarence House residence in May 2023, to allow the rabbi to attend the monarch’s official coronation ceremony without violating Shabbat. According to the UK’s Jewish Chronicle, Mirvis will spend Friday evening celebrating Shabbat with local Jewish communities, before retiring to Clarence House for the night, which is less than a mile from Westminster Abbey, where the coronation is set to take place.

By attending the ceremony, even on a Saturday, the chief rabbi is continuing a 120-year-old tradition set by former chief rabbi Hermann Adler, who attended the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, an event that also took place on Shabbat.

Following the death of Elizabeth, Buckingham Palace moved up the start time of a multifaith event commemorating her death to allow Mirvis to attend and still return to his home in time for Shabbat.

Earlier this month, Charles surprised Holocaust survivors at a Hanukkah reception in north London and joined a group that included Anne Frank’s step-sister on the dance floor for a round of the hora.

On Monday, Charles broadcast his first Christmas message as monarch in a speech that paid tribute to his late mother Elizabeth and recalled his visit to Bethlehem in the West Bank.

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