When the rabbi is asked, in “Fiddler on the Roof,” whether there’s a prayer for the Czar, he says, “May God bless and keep the Czar… far away from us.”
But this week British and American Jewish communities have clasped one royal family close to its virtual bosom. Websites, facebook pages, twitter feeds have been overloaded with mazeltovs and Jewish angles to the birth of the new Prince of Cambridge.
And it’s true that, as a dynasty, the Windsors have not championed anti-Semitism like the Romanovs did. However, those American Jews who feel impelled to wish the British Duke and Duchess of Cambridge mazeltov on the birth of their baby might pause for thought.
In Samuel I, when the elders of Israel call upon Samuel for “a king to judge us,” God gets angry for it shows that “they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them.” And, although God relents and Saul becomes king, the long history of Jewish civilization only unfolds with the end of the monarchy.
With rabbinic Judaism as a model for distributing authority and communal autonomy as a pragmatic heritage, we have built a unique civilization. Not for us the model of a Pope or King as the head of state telling us what to believe and how to act. Though we have been oppressed by secular and religious powers, we have forged our way community by community, teaching first every boy and, increasingly, every child to know that they have as much right to lead the community, in their own time, as any other.
And as Americans our particularity begins with the overthrow of the British monarchy — discarding decisively the yoke of established religion. For the first time in a successful secular state, legitimacy came from citizens not through inheritance or by Divine Right. The right to appoint our leaders comes from having a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
So, while the mass Jewish adoration of the prince is hardly an expression of a desire to bow a knee, it is nevertheless an acknowledgement that the monarchy is a legitimate reason to spend time looking at a stranger’s baby while our history suggests quite the opposite.