You would think there was no longer the pandemic anywhere across the globe because all everyone seems to care about is that bombshell interview of Meghan and Harry with Queen Oprah.
I’m not here to dissect or give my views on the interview but I do want to share with you something that has struck me over the last few days with all the commentaries and all the discussions about what happened.
Many years ago, I remember reading a piece by Rabbi Yitzchok Rubin. Rabbi Rubin was born in America and moved to the UK and became a Rav in South Manchester and someone I got to know very well during my student years. He is a fantastic, inspiring speaker and really touched and moved so many of the students who lived in South Manchester at the time.
He wrote a piece discussing his moving from America to England and how he noticed the differences between American Jewry and Anglo Jewry. Of course, the major difference, which is clear to see, is our synagogal affiliations. In America, certainly in those days of the early 90’s, only 10% were affiliated to Orthodoxy and the vast majority were affiliated to Reform, Conservative and other streams of Judaism. Whereas in this country at that time and still today, close to 70% of the community affiliated to Orthodoxy. It is a radically different model.
He also noted that in the American model, assimilation was rife at 50% and the UK at the time was in the low 20’s. Thirty years later, that gap has grown even wider. Yes, our intermarriage has risen slightly over that time, but Americas has skyrocketed.
He had a theory why these Jewries were different and what kept Anglo-Jewry much more traditional, much more orthodox and much less assimilated than America. What did he say? It is because we have a monarchy. Because Britain has a Queen or a King going back years and years, which instils into the country a sense of tradition, a sense of there’s a melech, there’s a malka, a sense of authority, a sense of a higher power to a certain extent. He said that that is absent from America and that’s why America has gone its course in terms of Judaism whereas in the UK it hasn’t.
What’s fascinating is that his theory works across the world. The commonwealth countries where they recognize the Queen as the monarch – Australia, South Africa, Canada – in those countries Orthodoxy is the dominant denomination within Judaism and assimilation rates are much lower than in America, it is fascinating.
However, I want to take this a little bit further because you may ask what has all this got to do with Meghan and Harry? And what has it going to do with Vayakhel and Pekudei?
The answer is this. I watched an interview with Candace Owens. Candace Owens is an American conservative commentator and she spoke about the Meghan and Harry issue in a very interesting way. She said the following on one night this week.
“I have never had an appreciation for the Royal Family it’s just something that Americans don’t really jive with and it never made sense to me. But I fell in love and married an Englishman, so I kind of learned to appreciate the significance of the Queen and really understood that there’s been something in that country [the UK] that has remained solid and has not changed over time. It’s difficult for Americans to comprehend that because we don’t really do tradition.”
That is fascinating. Her understanding has got nothing to do with Judaism, she is addressing the issue in a secular, country-wide level. She is saying that Americans don’t get tradition in the way that the UK does and therefore also in the way that the commonwealth does.
This is another example of how having a monarchy potentially influences the Jewish community in terms of their connection to tradition to the mesorah, to Orthodoxy. All of this is thanks to the idea of a monarch and a Royal Family.
We too, in Judaism have a Royal Family. However, only one Being is part of our Royal Family, HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
This week in Vayakhel-Pekudei we see the construction of the Mishkan, of the house, the palace that we have built for Hashem to dwell, the Shechina will dwell in the Mishkan.
When you look at the instructions both in Terumah and Tetzaveh and in Vayakhel-Pekudei, it’s incredibly detailed in terms of the materials, in terms of the dimensions, in terms of everything that is put into building the Mishkan. Why? Because there’s a message. The message is that in order to connect with Me as Hashem, in order to understand and relate to Me and respect Me there’s a way of doing things, an exact way of doing things that I’m commanding you to do.
We understand within Torah that that is what it means to be a Jew. To follow the traditions, to follow the laws, to follow the ordinances passed down for thousands of years by the King and eventually His loyal subjects – Moshe, the Zekeinim, the Neviim, Anshei Knesset Ha Gdola, Chazal and the Rabbis.
Meghan wasn’t just coming into a different country with a different culture, she was coming to the heart of that country and the heart of that culture with traditions going back thousands of years. It’s not only difficult, it’s almost impossible for anybody to be able to do that.
However, the lessons for us as Jews I think are paramount. To understand what it means to be part of our Royal Family, to connect and to be part of a Judaism that respects tradition, respects the mesorah. There is also the opportunity to have people in the structure who may not keep it all but understand what underpins the whole system.
We know in this country and across the commonwealth that many people are members of shuls, who may only come two or three times a year, but that’s the Judaism they subscribe to. They understand that the tradition, is the Orthodoxy that their parents and their grandparents and their great-grandparents going all the way back were connected to, that’s what they did. That is their connection to our Royalty.
We don’t need to have a new version, we don’t need to change it. Obviously, we need to live it in the 21st century, but in terms of the basic Halacha and mesorah – no change. Hundreds of thousands of Jews in the commonwealth understand that they may not keep it yet, but that is what they subscribe to.
Vayakhel – Pekudei will always have for me and for so many of us a very profound connection. Why? It was the first Shabbat of lockdown last year. Vayakhel-Pekudei was the first Parasha that we didn’t lein in shul, that we leined at home. I remember sitting there that Shabbat, obviously upset about what was happening in the world and worried and concerned, but there we were my wife and my two kids and I sitting and leining from the Chumash. I leined, my kids leined, my wife gave a Dvar Torah and we all davened together. We could do that, we could engage with the Torah of the King, with the documents of the King. Why? Because that’s how we’ve been raised, that’s how we’ve been brought up in a traditional Orthodox way and it allowed us to connect.
Unfortunately, in America with most of our American Jewish cousins, they can’t connect anymore, they don’t have the ability. They are not part of a system that’s been connected for thousands of years. They don’t do tradition, as Candice Owen says.
Obviously, we know that within America there’s a vibrant and rapidly growing Orthodox world which is beginning to become a significant percentage of American Jewry and it will continue to do so because of the continual growth of Orthodoxy both Modern and Charedi and the unfortunate intermarriage of the non-Orthodox.
Rabbi Rubin was correct. I believe that is why here in the UK and the commonwealth we are still connected to Orthodoxy in a real and meaningful way. Whereas our American cousins unfortunately lost their way without the benefit of a ‘United Synagogue’ or similar. That’s why in our country we still have a strong foundation to continue to connect people to Orthodox Judaism gradually throughout our shuls. However America, as one famous American Rabbi said is a ‘Noah’s ark of Orthodoxy in a sea of assimilation.’
For that we weep, and we understand what we have to do here in our country to make sure that Judaism can survive and thrive.