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Chief rabbi defends Israel’s ‘weekend survey’

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The SA Jewish Report last week (12 May 2022) detailed how Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein commissioned an independent survey in Israel recently to gauge attitudes towards the idea of creating a shorter work week and Shabbat in general. It told how Goldstein was also called upon to address an official Knesset committee on 10 May about why he believed Sunday should be made a non-workday in Israel.

Though some welcomed Goldstein’s efforts, others questioned why Goldstein was involving himself so extensively in another country’s affairs, especially when there were so many pressing needs within his own community. In the same context, many questioned why precious communal resources were used to conduct a survey in Israel when they could be utilised for many urgent needs at home. Others wondered where the funding came from to conduct the survey, how much it cost, and why the chief rabbi decided to commission it in the first place.

The chief rabbi responded to some of these questions.

“I was proud to accept the invitation to address the Knesset special committee as the chief rabbi of a community renowned the world over for its Zionism and dedication to the state of Israel,” Goldstein said. “My presentation was an opportunity to add a spiritual contribution to the decades of what South African Jews have done, individually and communally, to strengthen Israel’s economy, welfare, security, and diplomacy. A strong Jewish state also needs Shabbat at its centre as a source of national unity and purpose.

“In my address, I shared, as chief rabbi, the values and ethos we embody as a Jewish community. Through our warm embrace of the Shabbat Project, as with so much else, we showed the world that Shabbat can be a source of unity and pride rather than a source of division and dispute.

“I shared the results of a survey that was conducted as part of the work of the Shabbat Project in Israel, which has the objective of promoting Shabbat in the Jewish state as a source of national purpose and unity. This vital work is supported by international donors who share the vision that Shabbat can uplift and unify the Jewish people, and is especially important for the future of Israel. The survey was wide-ranging, gauging public attitudes towards Shabbat – finding out how many Israelis light candles, make kiddush, etc – and how incorporating Sunday into the weekend might improve those attitudes and increase Shabbat observance.

“I believe passionately that, as a community, contributing to other Jewish communities and especially to Israel is a moral and strategic imperative. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s also in our own best interests. Our interests aren’t advanced in any way by being too inwardly focused, living isolated from the rest of global Jewry. We cannot afford to adopt a ‘laager’, survivalist mentality.

“It’s especially important to maintain our deep connection to Israel, and do whatever we can to strengthen it politically and spiritually. In the work to promote Shabbat in Israel, I’m honoured to continue the proud Zionist legacy of this community in the same way that I have, on many occasions, defended Israel’s reputation in the media and in the corridors of government. And though I have been criticised in the past for doing so, even from a few within our own community, I won’t be deterred from that task nor from this sacred task of strengthening Jewish unity and promoting Shabbat in Israel. As a community, we must do what we can to strengthen Israel and world Jewry. We have so much to give, and so much to gain.”

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