exploring the concerns of the South african jewish community
In this article Dan Brotman argues that with the hemorrhaging of the South African Jewish community due to emigration, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies should take a proactive role in lobbying for immigration reform and supporting prospective Jewish immigrants.
THE South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) was founded in 1912 as a direct response to the Jewish community’s need to lobby for immigration reform. At the time, the government had enacted a new immigration requirement which stipulated that prospective immigrants must speak a European language in order to be allowed to settle in the country. As Yiddish was not deemed a European language for immigration purposes, this new condition would have effectively put a halt to Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe. The SAJBD successfully lobbied for Yiddish to be recognised as a European language, and as a result the Jewish community continued to grow.
"Between 1981-2005 alone, 40% of the South African Jewish community emigrated for a variety of reasons..."
Although the SAJBD’s activities today primarily focus on combatting antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiments and expressions in government and civil society, I argue that it is once again necessary for the SAJBD also to ‘return to its roots’ and proactively encourage Jewish immigration to South Africa, which will replenish our community’s diminishing numbers.
EXPLORING THE CONCERNS OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN JEWISH COMMUNITY
In this article David Saks argues that the current surge of anti-zionism in South Africa has antisemitic influences.
PERHAPS the most fiendishly difficult question that Jewish rights groups must grapple with today is where the boundary lies between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. A perception has been created by anti-Israel activists that the Jewish community rushes willy-nilly to label as antisemitism that which is in fact legitimate criticism of Israel. This is untrue. Instead there is an acute awareness of the need to make a clear distinction between the two, and so far as the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) is concerned, the record shows that it has been scrupulously careful in this regard.
This being said, it is inevitable that attacks ostensibly only against Israel sometimes spill-over into hatred against Jews. No-one can reasonably accuse Jews of ‘crying antisemitism’ when they take action in such instances (although many do). And when anti-Israel sentiment takes on so extreme a form as to amount to inflammatory propaganda, it is understandable that the Jewish community should come to the defence of Israel. It is an attack on something that the great majority of Jews around the world passionately identify with.
"What purports simply to be anti-Zionism frequently turns out to be fuelled to a greater or lesser extent by residual anti-Jewish feeling".
exploring the concerns of the south african jewish community
In the first of our three inaugural articles, Adina Roth explores the concept of Machloket l’shem shamayim and looks at what our textual tradition might suggest about the possibility of deepening debate and conversation in the South African Jewish community.
Every argument that is for the sake of heaven is destined to endure. And every argument that is not for the sake of heaven is not destined to endure. What is an example of argument for the sake of heaven? The arguments of Hillel and Shammai. And not for the sake of heaven? Korach and his congregation (Avot, 5:17).
Machloket l’shem shamayim, an argument for the sake of heaven, is an invisible yardstick put forth to distinguish between arguments considered worthy, and those seen as unworthy. What place could the concept of machloket l’shem shamayim or – argumentation for the sake of heaven – have in the South African Jewish community? Can this concept help establish the boundaries as well as the possibilities for acceptable discourse and debate in our community?
While the right to freedom of speech, as enshrined in the South African Constitution, ensures that anyone can raise an argument in our community, the way in which arguments are received, explored and discussed within the community is influenced by communal culture and norms, social pressures and consensus; a host of factors far more complicated than the right to freedom of speech. No one wants to be ostracised for exercising their inalienable right to free speech. That said, intuitively we might understand that some arguments are edifying and do much to advance the ethics of a community or culture while others can be destructive. The boundaries of what is and what is not a worthy – or edifying – argument, however, can become subjective. When it comes to communal engagement around issues of contention, we are in the realm of sociology as much as law; subjective narrative or poetics as much as absolutes. The question becomes, is it possible to share the value of macholket l’shem shamayim across the community so that a space of constructive, rigorous and more forthright dialogue can be opened up?