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Hebrew scriptures: Queen Elizabeth and the Jews

Facts about the monarch’s tumultuous relationship with Jews, on the occasion of her Platinum Jubilee.

This year, people in Britain and around the world are celebrating the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest serving monarch in Britain’s history, who ascended to the throne 70 years ago, in 1952. In Britain, the centerpiece of Her Royal Majesty’s Jubilee celebrations was the special Bank Holiday weekend June 2-5.

Over three quarters of Britons report feeling admiration and approval for their queen. In fact, one recent survey found that the most popular dream in Britain is having tea with the queen.

On her 90th birthday, in 2016, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, then Britain’s Chief Rabbi and who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, spoke for many when he noted that “the respect she has shown for all religions has enriched our lives.” In her 70 years on the throne, her Royal Highness has provided encouragement to many, including her nation’s Jews.

Here are some little-known facts.

Childhood “Heil Hitler” gaffe

One of the major plot elements in The Crown is the alleged Nazi sympathies of Elizabeth’s uncle, King Edward VIII, who reigned for less than a year in 1936. (He abdicated to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson; she was a divorcee, and at the time the Church of England didn’t allow the monarch to wed someone who’d been previously married.) Rumours have long swirled around Edward and Wallis — they took the titles Duke and Duchess of Windsor — that they sympathized with the Nazis in the run-up to World War II.

There’s plenty of evidence that the rumours do have some substance. In her 2008 book Edward VIII, biographer Frances Donaldson notes that in 1937, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited Hitler at his vacation home and Edward saluted Hitler throughout their stay. After World War II, the Allies found evidence of a top secret German project nicknamed “Operation Willi” which planned to overthrow Edwards’s successor (and Queen Elizabeth II’s father) King George VI and reinstall Edward on the throne.

It seems that the pro-Hitler feelings of some of her relatives influenced a very young Queen Elizabeth. In 2015, Britain’s newspaper The Sun released a private royal family video of a seven-year-old Elizabeth, along with her older sister Princess Margaret, her mother Queen Elizabeth, and her uncle Edward VIII, performing Nazi salutes. When the video came to light, Queen Elizabeth was said by the Palace to be “livid” and emphasized her extreme youth in the video. At age seven, back in 1933, she could hardly have been aware of how vile it was to make a Nazi salute.

Her mother-in-law saved Jews during the Holocaust

The third season of The Crown features a Greek-speaking, tough talking nun. Shockingly, that nun was Queen Elizabeth II’s mother-in-law, Princess Alice of Battenberg. Even more surprisingly, The Crown never explores Princess Alice’s heroism during the Holocaust, when she saved Jews by sheltering them in her home in Nazi-occupied Athens. It’s an amazing story that ought to be known.

Queen Elizabeth II hired Jewish Mohel to circumcise Prince Charles

Queen Elizabeth II hired an Orthodox Jewish mohel to circumcise her son Prince Charles. Rabbi Jacob Snowman (1871-1959) was a London mohel of great renown, and it’s said that the Queen was impressed with Rabbi Snowman’s skill and experience.

The tradition of British royals to ask Jewish mohels to circumcise their sons goes back to King George I, who was born in Hanover, Germany, and reigned over England from 1714-1727. Back in Germany, some aristocratic parents hired Jewish mohels, and George I brought the custom with him to England. Years later his great great granddaughter Queen Victoria hired Jewish mohels to circumcise all of her sons. She is said to have believed that her family tree went directly back to the Biblical King David.

British Jews pray for the Queen every Shabbat

It’s a Jewish custom around the world to recite a prayer on Shabbat for their government leaders. In Britain, this means praying for the welfare of Queen Elizabeth II and her family. British Jews ask God to “preserve the Queen in life, guard her and deliver her from all sorrow.” The prayer goes on to ask that the Divine “put a spirit of wisdom into her heart and into the hearts of all her counsellors” too.

The Queen has never visited Israel

Despite traveling all over the world — including to many nations with reprehensible human rights records — Queen Elizabeth II has never made an official visit to the Jewish State. Over the long decades of her reign, this boycott has come to be seen as a painful omission by some British Jews.

In 2009, the British historian Andrew Roberts said that the “true reason of course is that the FO (Britain’s Foreign Office) has a ban on official royal visits to Israel, which is even more powerful for its being unwritten and unacknowledged. As an act of delegitimisation of Israel. —Online

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