Perils of being on the guest-list

By Geoffrey Alderman, November 29, 2010

Asimchah always brings a modicum of tsores.

This truism is particularly true of weddings. How well do I remember that, in the months leading up to my own nuptials, my over-harassed parents and future in-laws were presented with potential guests phoning to say that they would never sit next to named other potential guests because of some broiges or other the details of which they could, however, not now recall.

Some potential guests wanted to know what hechsher applied to the meat and drink served at the wedding banquet. Still other potential guests insisted that we change the time of the chupah (which, as I remember, was at 1.30pm to minimise the time that Marion and I would have to spend fasting prior to the ceremony); and one potential guest actually suggested that the date of the chupah be altered so as not to conflict with already diarised commitments that were central to his busy (but, I pointed out, entirely self-inflicted) executive lifestyle.

Yes, with a simchah there's always some tsores. And the forthcoming wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton proves the point. The chupah will apparently be at Westminster Abbey, on a Friday. But who will foot the bill? Who will do the catering? And, most interestingly, who will be invited?

Well, I am unlikely to receive an invitation (even though the chatan's father and I had the same mohel and the kallah's family and I share the same background - the Durham mining village of Hetton-le-Hole).

Even an innocuous wedding invitation can bring tsores

Most of you will not be invited either. But there is just a chance that an invitation will land on the doormat of Professor Lord Sacks of Aldgate, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations and infrequent contributor to House of Lords' debates.

No stranger to communal controversy, Lord Sacks will find that even a document as seemingly innocuous as an invitation to the Royal Wedding can bring tsores galore. Because, of course, Westminster Abbey is a Christian place of worship and the invitation will therefore be to take part in a Christian religious service.

Previous Chief Rabbis have dealt with this problem in radically different ways. Israel Brodie was still in office when Winston Churchill died. He took care not to attend the funeral service (in St Paul's Cathedral, in January 1965) but took equal care to send into the church an emissary, the dog-collared Isaac Livingstone, then emeritus minister of the United Synagogue's Golders Green kehillah.

Lord Jakobovits did attend the Queen Mother's 80th birthday thanksgiving service at St Paul's in 1980, but was not invited to the Westminster Abbey wedding of Charles and Diana (1981). Lord Sacks, who famously declined to attend the funeral of Reform Rabbi Hugo Gryn (1996), clearly had no qualms about playing his full part in the Queen's golden jubilee service of thanksgiving held at St Paul's six years later. The TV cameras even caught him in the act.

But times have changed. Lord Sacks is now a prisoner of the sectarian pseudo-Orthodox - the abominable no-men of Stamford Hill and Gateshead, for whom Lord Jakobovits had little time. Chief Rabbi Sacks may weary of them behind their backs, but he dare not outrage them to their face. Attending and taking part in a Christian marriage service in Westminster Abbey might well do just that.

Or would it?

A Stamford Hill friend (yes, I still have friends in Stamford Hill) went out of his way to point out to me that Lord Sacks could attend the Royal chassenah by invoking the concept of koved hamalchus - the duty to honour the sovereign.

This concept has been invoked (I am reliably informed) by sundry male charedim who have received royal honours (such as the MBE) and who have apparently opted not to receive them through the post but to enjoy the thrill of shaking the Queen's bare, ungloved hand at the Buck House ceremony.

In each case the Adass Beth Din has given the necessary approval. Surely they would nod through an application for leniency if Lord Sacks chose to make one.

Alternatively, the Chief Rabbi could send a representative. But if it is wrong (I hear you ask) for one Jew to attend a Christian act of worship, it is surely just as wrong (if not more so) for another to attend in his place.

The answer is of course to appoint a non-Jew. And, in the interests of communal harmony, that's what I hope Rabbi Sacks will do on this occasion should an invitation come his way.

Last updated: 10:50am, November 29 2010