King Charles praised for helping chief rabbi observe Shabbat at coronation

Ephraim Mirvis touts ‘respectful, sensitive’ way that royal office handled situation, including inviting him and his wife to spend the night at St. James’s Palace

Then-Britain's Prince Charles, right, speaks with chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis during a visit to Yavneh College, an Orthodox Jewish School, in north London, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (Toby Melville/Pool Photo via AP)
Then-Britain's Prince Charles, right, speaks with chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis during a visit to Yavneh College, an Orthodox Jewish School, in north London, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (Toby Melville/Pool Photo via AP)

LONDON (AFP) — Britain’s chief rabbi will join other faith leaders at Saturday’s coronation of King Charles III but faces a unique problem — how to ensure his attendance does not breach the Jewish Sabbath.

Ephraim Mirvis on Friday praised the “respectful, sensitive” way that Charles’s office had handled the situation — even inviting the rabbi and his wife Valerie to spend the night at St. James’s Palace.

That will enable the chief rabbi to walk to the nearby Westminster Abbey on Saturday morning, rather than breaking Sabbath rules by using motorized transport.

A kosher caterer has been brought in to prepare their Friday night dinner of coronation chicken, Mirvis told Sky News.

After the Christian coronation service, the chief rabbi will join British Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist leaders in making a spoken declaration in unison towards their newly crowned monarch.

“It will be quite brief, but exceptionally powerful,” Mirvis said, while stressing that he was not required to speak into an electronic microphone in the abbey, again to respect the Jewish holy day.

Britain’s Prince Charles and Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Jan. 23, 2020 (Menahem Kahana/Pool Photo via AP, file)

The unprecedented joint declaration from the religious leaders reads: “Your Majesty, as neighbors in faith, we acknowledge the value of public service.

“We unite with people of all faiths and beliefs in thanksgiving, and in service with you for the common good.”

Mirvis consulted with judges from Britain’s Beth Din Jewish court who agreed it was permissible to enter a Christian church on this Sabbath, out of respect for an invitation from the sovereign.

“This is a wonderful feature of 21st century Britain, and our king wants to champion the rights of members of all faiths to practice their religion,” the chief rabbi added.

King Charles III speaks during the Accession Council at St James’s Palace, London, September 10, 2022, where he is formally proclaimed monarch. (Jonathan Brady/Pool Photo via AP, File)

“He did this marvelously while he was prince of Wales. He’s continuing now as the king,” he said.

“And it’s not just within the Jewish faith. I know that members of other faiths as well hugely appreciate this. And now to be included in the coronation service, it’s very special.”

‘Defender of faith’

The service at Westminster Abbey will be overwhelmingly drawn from the Christian liturgy as Charles takes an oath to serve as “Defender of the (Protestant) Faith” and to protect the established Church of England.

But the king has a long interest in bridging religious divides and has spoken about acting as “defender of faith” in general as Britain grew more multi-cultural under the 70-year reign of his late mother.

The other faith leaders attending the coronation include Aliya Azam, interfaith coordinator at the Islamic Al-Khoei Foundation, and Radha Mohan from the Bhaktivedanta Manor Hindu temple north of London.

The manor house was donated to the Hare Krishna movement in 1973 by former Beatle George Harrison.

Also attending are Indarjit Singh, a Sikh member of the House of Lords, and The Most Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala, the chief monk of one of London’s main Theravada Buddhist temples.

Separately during the abbey service, ethnic minority members of the House of Lords will present non-Christian regalia to Charles, such as gold bracelets and the royal robe.

In another coronation first, Charles will pray aloud during the service, to ask God that “I may be a blessing to all thy children, of every faith and conviction.”

Royal fans pose for a photograph with 88-year old, ‘Union Jack Man’ in central London on May 5, 2023, ahead of the coronation weekend. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

However, those of no faith represent a growing proportion in Britain.

In the 2021 census, some 27.5 million people, or 46.2 percent in England and Wales, described themselves as Christian, down 13.1 percentage points from 2011.

Those listing “no religion” rose by 12 points to 37.2 percent.

Muslims represented 6.5 percent of the population, followed in order by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jewish people.

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