Two Voices: this week our weekly progressive Judaism debate tackles…British faith

Is David Cameron’s assertion that Britain is a Christian country correct?

  • Rabbi Shulamit Ambalu

    Rabbi Shulamit Ambalu

    Rabbi Shulamit Ambalu says…

 Jews will always see that Britain is a Christian country.

They will see it in public spaces, in the rhythm of the year, in the prevalence of Christian schools, in the history of its

universities.

As a rabbi, I am fascinated by the power potential of religious symbols. Look at the coins in your wallet bearing these words: “Elizabeth II D.G F D. meaning Dei Gratia, Fidei Defensor. By the Grace of God, Defender of The Faith.”

The power of the established church is absorbed into our nation’s very fabric.

A hundred years on from the First World War, modern nations grapple with how to include and empower ethnic and religious minorities.

Yet here, where some might say the Church of England with its 26 seats in the House of Lords has too much power,

we make full use of our freedoms.

Yes, there are vestiges of anti-Semitism, but we are free to challenge them.

David Cameron describes his Christian faith as “woolly”, struggling to find words to express the real power of a liberal religious outlook.

It is a struggle all religious liberals – regardless of faith ­– now share, as well as a vital contemporary question, because these values should continue to be the grounding of religious responsibility and freedom.

• Shulamit Ambalu is rabbi at Milton Keynes and District Reform Synagogue

  • Gabriel Pogrund says…
Gabriel Pogrund

Gabriel Pogrund

When it comes to church and state,

Israel and Britain are like chalk and cheese, or Jerusalem stone and Wensleydale, though both countries have recently shown how problematic binding a country to one faith can be.

David Cameron’s reference to Britain as Christian and the demand for Palestinians to recognise Israel as a “Jewish state” have for different reasons provoked great opposition. British Jewry has not formally responded to the Prime Minister’s recent statement although historically, the community has been faithful to Britain’s religious establishment.

One indication is the prayer for the Queen and Royal family, dating to 1642, which expresses our gratitude as citizens.

Three centuries on, Jews stand alongside Christians, Muslims and Hindus on occasions such as Remembrance Day.

Walk from the Cenotaph to Trafalgar Square one month on and you’ll find a Chanukiah occupying centre stage. These symbols are a living response to the “Christian country” comment and should inform Jewish responses to it.

Because even if Christian by name, Britain is pluralistic by nature. Cameron himself says diversity “is our island story”.

Britain’s nominal Christianity threatens neither our Judaism nor our Britishness, meaning there is no need for a Jewish

answer to this prickly question.

Gabriel Pogrund is a member of West London Synagogue and studies geography at University College London