The royal family broiges feels very, very Jewish

Whether to invite Harry and Meghan, and where to sit them, is a problem we are all used to

March 16, 2023 12:43

What does many a Jewish home have in common with King Charles? Both suffer from an acute case of family-itus.

His dilemma over how to handle Prince Harry and what will happen if he decides to attend the Coronation are mirrored by what numerous Jewish families go through.

Do you invite the impossibly rude relative to your son’s bar mitzvah? Or the uncle who disgraced himself to your daughter’s wedding? Or the in-law you cannot stand to the seder?

Such considerations can often overshadow the joy of the occasion, and certainly take up more time than thinking about those whose company you enjoy.

Unfortunately, it can be a lose-lose situation. If you don’t invite them, you may feel guilty or, even if not, there will certainly be someone who tells you sternly that you should have done so and now it is you who has let the family down.

If you do extend a welcome, there is the question of where to seat them: in a place where you want them to be (at the back and out of earshot) or where they think they should be (front row and in an honoured position)?

Also, who they should not sit next to lest World War III breaks out. Even being in a certain person’s sight-line can prove disastrous.

At least we wrestle with these difficulties within a relatively private space. King Charles, on the other hand, has the full glare of global publicity on him and a world full of armchair critics.

It is also strange how we have a bifocal attitude to family life. On the one hand, we idealise it and talk about the strength of Jewish families. Similarly, the late Queen made it clear how much she valued the institution of the monarchy, the ultimate bond of blood.

On the other hand, we can experience terrible rows and rifts. It is not by chance that there is that well-known Jewish saying, “families fall out at weddings and come together at funerals”.

Bearing in mind that there can be a long gap between the two events, it means the fall-outs can last years.

Often the broiges has been going on for so long that, as a congregant once admitted to me: “To be honest, I’ve forgotten what it was originally about. All I know is that we have a broiges with that side of the family.”

This is not a modern Jewish phenomenon, but goes right back to biblical times, with the Book of Genesis being a catalogue of dysfunctional families.

Cain became the first fratricide; one of Noah’s sons seems to have molested him; Abraham expelled Hagar from his camp along with their son, Ishmael; Isaac was cheated by his wife and son; Jacob and Esau were not on speaking terms for many years; Judah was tricked into sleeping with his daughter-in-law, while Joseph’s brothers hated him. If they spoke Yiddish back then, it would have been one “oy gevalt” after another.

Still, whether it be the royal family or the Cohen household, I would usually advise inviting that annoying relative.

First, because life has taught me that it is always better to err on side of generosity. When dealing with other people, try to see the best in them, respond to that vision of them and, who knows, maybe they will react accordingly.

Second, this may be a rare chance for reconciliation, be it in the very act of extending a welcome or in the conversations that will result. What is definite is that if they do not come, nothing positive will emerge. So risk it.

Third, when others are behaving childishly, do not stoop to their level but play the adult to their child. It might be infuriating but it is the only way for matters to progress, rather than end in sulks or worse.

Yes, the unwanted guest may behave badly, but at least you have tried your best. Even if they have no integrity, make sure you keep yours.

In the Midrash, Pesikta Rabbati, there is a king whose son has gone astray. Rather than insist on an apology, the father suggests they walk towards each other, saying: “Return to me and I will return to you”.

Many a family broigus could also be ended with a mix of common sense and humility, both for us and the royal household.

Jonathan Romain is rabbi of Maidenhead Synagogue and author of ‘The Naked Rabbi’

March 16, 2023 12:43

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