Ben-Gurion and the debate over Winston Churchill's funeral

By Jennifer Lipman, April 17, 2013
Winston Churchill (Photo: British Government)

Winston Churchill (Photo: British Government)

Representatives of the Jewish world including the chief rabbi and the Israeli prime minister will be at St Paul's today to bid farewell to Britain's longest serving prime minister.

In attending the funeral of Baroness Thatcher, the Israeli prime minister is following a precedent set by Israeli statesmen when Winston Churchill died.

When the wartime leader died and was given a state funeral, both David Ben-Gurion and then-president Zalman Shazar flew to London to pay their respects.

According to a JC report of the funeral, the Israelis stayed in a hotel "about a mile away" from St Paul's cathedral, where – as with Baroness Thatcher – the service was held.

Tributes were read out at Orthodox, Reform and Liberal shuls across the UK that weekend.

"Jewish leaders and organisations all over the country have sent heartfelt messages of sympathy to Lady Churchill," the report added. "Expressing deep sorrow at the death of the great leader of the fight against Nazism and despotism."

The JC revealed that the decision to hold the funeral on a Shbbat led to debate over what Israel and Jewish representatives should do. "There were two problems – the fact that Jewish law does not permit attendance at a funeral on a Saturday and the strain which walking from Westminster, where the body of Sir Winston has been lying in State since Wednesday, would impose on the President, who is 76."

Along with the Israeli politicians, Israeli journalists from seven papers came to London for the funeral.

Although it appears there was some debate at the time, the then-chief rabbi Israel Brodie did attend the service, staying for Shabbat at The Savoy hotel so he could be there.

According to former Board of Deputies president Lionel Kopelowitz, as detailed in a 2010 letter to the JC, "Jewish public opinion soon made it clear that it expected the Chief Rabbi to attend in person. Rabbi Brodie bowed to this opinion... and walked with Israel’s President Shazar to the Cathedral."

Last updated: 11:36am, April 17 2013