Britain’s leading Reform rabbi declined to attend Baroness Thatcher’s funeral on Wednesday because of her opposition to the former prime minister’s politics.
Laura Janner-Klausner said she felt unable to join communal figures, including the chief rabbi and Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman at St Paul’s Cathedral, because she viewed the former prime minister as “a cataclysm for the fabric of Britain”.
“I love society, I love community. My lifeblood is community,” said the rabbi, whose father, Labour peer Lord Janner, was also absent from the service. “The thing [in her] that clashes with who I am is a disdain for weakness.”
Stressing that it was her personal view, she said that as rabbi she attended and officiated the funerals of congregants with whom she disagreed.
“The funeral was about her family and friends having the time and space to honour her properly. My task was to ensure that the Reform movement would be represented.”
Rabbi Mark Goldsmith, chair of the assembly of Reform Rabbis UK, attended on behalf of the Reform movement.
Rabbi Janner-Klausner’s comments were criticised on a blog by Mill Hill Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, who drew a parallel with Baroness Thatcher’s funeral and that of Reform leader Hugo Gryn, which Lord Sacks famously did not attend. “She took a very public position in direct contradistinction to the one assumed by many Reform leaders, herself no doubt included, during the Gryn Affair,” said Rabbi Schochet. “It is unacceptable double standards, for which she discredits herself.”
Lord Sacks, a former constituent of Baroness Thatcher in Finchley, also went to the funeral at the request of the Thatcher family. Although there is some debate as to whether a chief rabbi should attend a Christian service, he followed a precedent set in 1965 by Israel Brodie, chief rabbi when Winston Churchill died. Sir Winston’s state funeral was on a Saturday, so Rabbi Brodie stayed for Shabbat at the Savoy and walked to the cathedral.
Other guests included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky and the Israeli envoy to the UK, Daniel Taub. Mr Netanyahu said the funeral was “a very moving ceremony… it was deeply meaningful”.
Media baron Richard Desmond was there, along with businessman Gerald Ronson, as well as former cabinet ministers Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Leon Brittan, and prominent Jewish figures in the Conservative party, including party co-chair Lord Feldman and Lord Fink.