The Chief Rabbi has called on the government to introduce an American Thanksgiving-style bank holiday to celebrate “Britishness” at the same time as warning that over-promotion of British values could cause divisions in society.
Ephraim Mirvis said vigorously espousing “fundamental British values” in an attempt to counter extremism could have the unintended result of causing some sections of society to turn on others, including people from different religious backgrounds.
He said: “In some instances, fundamental values can lead towards fundamentalism, and that would be in the event that they prompt people to adopt an extremist approach, whereby those who are championing fundamental values have no tolerance for the particular values of a particular entity within our society.
“So in the event that – dogmatically – such values are used as a stick with which to beat faith groups, or other particular interest groups, that would be a huge pity and goes against the spirit of what the values are about.”
The Chief Rabbi made the remarks while giving evidence to a House of Lords committee on citizenship and civil engagement on Wednesday.
Outlining his desire to repair a “newly-divided society”, he advocated greater involvement in initiatives like Shabbat UK, Mitzvah Day and his Ben Azzai social action programme, which he said could help instil responsibility among the British public.
But he also called on the government to do more to back religious life, saying he sensed religion was often “perceived to be part of a problem within our society rather than being appreciated as something of enormous value to our society.
“Those who are religious have roots. Utilising religion responsibly, they are well placed to be outstanding citizens. I often wish there would be a more healthy tone being set from the government.”
The Chief Rabbi said a new bank holiday celebrating “Britishness” could be a “civic milestone”.
“We are missing a trick here in Britain – it would be the equivalent of America’s Thanksgiving,” Rabbi Mirvis told the committee.
“We need a day in the year through which we can express that with pride, to concentrate on our British values.”
Rabbi Mirvis said society should strive to be like a harmonised “symphony orchestra”.
“We need to respect people for who they are, and where they are coming from, and under the baton of human cooperation we need to blend together to produce that harmonious society, not through uniformity but through unity.”