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Move over, Mel Brooks: first Jewish Sheriff of Nottingham sworn in at synagogue

The Sherrif of Nottingham is known as a villain from Robin Hood legends but the latest incumbent is a Jewish businessman whose appointment was solemnised by his rabbi.
Shira Li Bartov
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The first Jewish Sherrif of Nottingham Nick Rubins surrounded by some of the role’s cultural incarnations.

Published: 11 April 2024

Last updated: 10 April 2024

(JTA) — Nick Rubins was sworn in as the high sheriff of Nottinghamshire at his local synagogue last week, becoming the first Jew to inherit an ancient office that grew famous in the legends of Robin Hood. 

The role of high sheriff is the oldest secular office under the British Crown, although today it is largely ceremonial. In his one-year, unpaid appointment, Rubins will represent the monarchy on formal occasions and support the judiciary. He will also encourage his county’s charity sector, a stark departure from the literary Sheriff of Nottingham’s reputation as a scourge of the poor who fought Robin Hood’s vigilante efforts to redistribute wealth. 

In real life, Rubins signed his Declaration of Office before 150 guests in a ceremony at the Nottingham Liberal Synagogue, where he is a longtime member, on March 28. The 57-year-old businessman is a Nottinghamshire native.

His historical predecessors emerged as “shire reeves” during the Anglo-Saxon period, tasked with enforcing the king’s interests in their counties. In 992 CE, the king ordered shire reeves to collect the “Danegeld” tax, raised to pay off Viking invaders. Having proven their success as tax collectors, the new sheriffs became trusted administrators for the Saxon monarchs and later, after the Norman Conquest of 1066, for the Norman kings.

Medieval sheriffs became deeply unpopular because they were allowed to “farm” taxes, which meant they could tax residents for their own profit as well as for the Crown. The best-known caricature of an evil sheriff comes from the tales of Robin Hood, whose chief opponent is the Sheriff of Nottingham. Ballads from as early as the 14th century describe Robin Hood, an outlaw hero, robbing authority figures like the sheriff to share their riches among the poor.

In “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” the 1993 movie by the Jewish comedy giant Brooks, the character — called the “Sheriff of Rottingham” — is portrayed as a cowboy mafioso. (He’s replaced at the end of the movie by a new sheriff, played by a young Dave Chappelle in his first film role. Brooks plays the Friar Tuck parody “Rabbi Tuckman,” a mohel who slips into Yiddish and demonstrates a mock circumcision by guillotine.)

The role of high sheriff shrank over the centuries as Britain built a centrally controlled civil service. These days, Rubins will focus on social responsibilities such as volunteer work for children.

“Part of the role is to carve out a little piece where my heart lies, and there’s an awful lot going on in children’s world these days, between post-COVID and social media use,” Rubins told the Jewish Chronicle

His ceremony included a priestly blessing from his rabbi, Gili Zidkiyahu; speeches by charity representatives; and music from pianist and singer Jeremy Sassoon.

About the author

Shira Li Bartov

Shira Li Bartov is a JTA contributor covering culture and global news. She was previously a staff writer at Newsweek and a producer at Inside Edition.


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