My minyan will not be the first on Coronation Day. That will be at Western Marble Arch, where there will be a 6am Shacharit, to allow the Chief Rabbi to not be late for the coronation. Where he will represent our community, a Kiddush Hashem.
While millions tune in for the coronation ceremony, I will be in the middle of Kriat Ha Torah, Parshat Emor, a parsha that links not simply to the coronation, but to the whole essence of what is lacking in the Western world which will be provided tomorrow.
Let me explain.
Over the last 12 months we have been captivated by ceremonies and traditions. First in June 2022 we had the Queen’s platinum jubilee, then her passing, her lying in State, her funeral and now the coronation.
I was sent a fascinating article on the coronation. The writer of this piece is an associate professor of anthropology and psychological sciences, and head of the experimental anthropology laboratory at the University of Connecticut. He is also the author of Ritual: How Seemingly Senseless Acts Make Life Worth Living.
It is well worth a read. I was drawn to the following paragraph.
A key aspect of state rituals is continuity. Traditions are like fine wine: their value only grows with age. Ancient customs that have persisted through the ages have been performed by countless generations and have served them well. This is why people often insist that their rituals are unchanged and unchangeable – even as they do undergo revisions. This is not lost on officials at Buckingham Palace. The Royal Family’s website notes that the Coronation “has remained essentially the same over a thousand years”.
In reality, changes have gradually occurred to all stages of the Coronation ceremony, each time according to royal preferences and the spirit of the times. Besides, King Charles himself is planning to make several amendments to his own enthronement. But the idea of continuity is still paramount. To uphold an unbroken tradition is to become a member of a community that transcends one’s own time and place, along with countess others who have done so before and will do so in the future.
At the time that the procession begins at 10:20, we will be laining. We will probably be up to Revii and we will speak about our own continuity, how our traditions, received from Hashem have remained ‘essentially the same’ for far more than a thousand years.
Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: The Lord’s appointed [holy days] that you shall designate as holy occasions. These are My appointed [holy days]:
The Torah then goes on to mention Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Succot. Our Moadim, our appointed times weekly and yearly where we dedicate ourselves to Hashem and to our people.
A world without continuity, tradition, values and duty, is a very unstable world.
Unfortunately, that is the world many people are living in.
The last time we had a coronation was 1953. At the time the country was still in recovery mode from the Second World War. It was still a very traditional country. Belief in God was in the mid 80’s and over 90% professed an affiliation to Christianity and only 5% were unaffiliated. Fast forward to 2023 and we see belief in God, especially amongst the under 30’s languishing at just above 20%. The unaffiliated has risen from 5% to 40%.
Marriage and family were also in a very different shape than they are today. In 1953, 50 out of every 1,000 women in the UK got married annually. This increased to a peak in 1970 of 61. Now, according to the Office for National Statistics in 2023, marriages are now down to record lows of 15 out of 1000 women.
The western world has gone through many eras since the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. She didn’t change over all those decades, but her subjects certainly did.
Since the passing of the Queen and now the Coronation of King Charles, it seems as if, after decades of moral and spiritual decay, we as a society have been thrust back into a world many left behind so long ago.
And they missed it.
Hopefully through all of this, people realise the importance of tradition. The importance of living for meaning, of seeing oneself as part of a bigger whole. Of a belief in a Higher Power.
So, as I sit in shul on Shabbat tomorrow, I will reflect not only on the Parsha giving me the message of continuity, observance, community and tradition but the fact that I will be sitting in a shul, observing Shabbat. Not only reading about how to connect to a Divine way of life but actually living it.
The challenge of the coronation is that most people will simply be spectators, only the select few will actually be participants. Will the positive message of the Coronation, detailed above, permeate into the hearts and minds of the millions watching?
The revolution of Matan Torah was for Hashem to tell us that none of us are spectators, all of us, men, women and children are participants in living lives of holiness, goodness and kindness. All of us must strive to build families, communities and institutions that are moral, reflecting the Torah’s values and constantly striving to grow and learn and connect to Hashem.
So no, tomorrow morning, I will not watch the coronation of King Charles III, however, as the Chief Rabbi says, in his prayer for the monarch, I will recognise and celebrate that ‘Today he is anointed King, and the crown of sovereignty is placed upon his head. Songs of rejoicing and loyalty resound from people across the world. Happy are we who dwell in safety under his shadow, that we share in his royal acclamation’.
However, I will participate, on Shabbat Kodesh, in the greatest ongoing continuity project, given to all of us by the King Himself. As the Chief Rabbis prayer concludes:
‘Hasten the days when all people understand that they have one God, who created us all. Then the light of universal justice will sweep through the word, and the knowledge of God will cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea.’