New sheriff in townMel Brooks played parody role in 90s comedy

Jew appointed sheriff of Nottingham, office of Robin Hood fame

Nick Rubins sworn into ceremonial position, which represents monarchy, supports charity — a far cry from ancient role of hated tax-collector

Illustrative: King Street in Nottingham. (Andrew Hill/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 2.0)
Illustrative: King Street in Nottingham. (Andrew Hill/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 2.0)

JTA — Move over, Mel Brooks: A Jew is taking on the role of sheriff of Nottingham.

Nick Rubins was sworn in as the high sheriff of Nottinghamshire at his local synagogue last week, becoming the first Jew to inherit an ancient office that grew famous in the legends of Robin Hood.

The role of high sheriff is the oldest secular office under the British Crown, although today it is largely ceremonial. In his one-year, unpaid appointment, Rubins will represent the monarchy on formal occasions and support the judiciary. He will also encourage his county’s charity sector, a stark departure from the literary Sheriff of Nottingham’s reputation as a scourge of the poor who fought Robin Hood’s vigilante efforts to redistribute wealth.

In real life, Rubins signed his Declaration of Office before 150 guests in a ceremony at the Nottingham Liberal Synagogue, where he is a longtime member, on March 28. The 57-year-old businessman is a Nottinghamshire native.

His historical predecessors emerged as “shire reeves” during the Anglo-Saxon period, tasked with enforcing the king’s interests in their counties. In 992 CE, the king ordered shire reeves to collect the “Danegeld” tax, raised to pay off Viking invaders. Having proven their success as tax collectors, the new sheriffs became trusted administrators for the Saxon monarchs and later, after the Norman Conquest of 1066, for the Norman kings.

Medieval sheriffs became deeply unpopular because they were allowed to “farm” taxes, which meant they could tax residents for their own profit as well as for the Crown. The best-known caricature of an evil sheriff comes from the tales of Robin Hood, whose chief opponent is the Sheriff of Nottingham. Ballads from as early as the 14th century describe Robin Hood, an outlaw hero, robbing authority figures like the sheriff to share their riches with the poor.

In “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” the 1993 movie by the Jewish comedy giant Brooks, the character — called the “Sheriff of Rottingham” — is portrayed as a cowboy mafioso. (He’s replaced at the end of the movie by a new sheriff, played by a young Dave Chappelle in his first film role. Brooks plays the Friar Tuck parody “Rabbi Tuckman,” a mohel who slips into Yiddish and demonstrates a mock circumcision by guillotine.)

The role of high sheriff shrank over the centuries as Britain built a centrally controlled civil service. These days, Rubins will focus on social responsibilities such as volunteer work for children.

“Part of the role is to carve out a little piece where my heart lies, and there’s an awful lot going on in children’s world these days, between post-COVID and social media use,” Rubins told the Jewish Chronicle.

His ceremony included a priestly blessing from his rabbi, Gili Zidkiyahu; speeches by charity representatives; and music from pianist and singer Jeremy Sassoon. Progressive Jewish leaders such as Rabbi Charley Baginsky were also present. Last year, Britain’s Liberal and Reform Jewish movements joined to form a single body of Progressive Judaism, representing about 30 percent of British Jews who are affiliated with its synagogues.

Baginsky shared a photo from the ceremony on Twitter, saying it was “amazing” to witness Rubins become the first Jewish high sheriff of Nottinghamshire.

“So honored to be here for a historic moment,” said Baginsky.

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