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Letters/Discussion Forums

Chief rabbi should consult before speaking out

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The chairperson and executive of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) would like to clarify the organisation’s response to the SA Jewish Report’s interview with Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein and last week’s editorial (8 July). Both referred to the chief rabbi’s article in Business Day, (29 June).

South Africa is teetering in the face of the enormous double challenge of a rampant COVID-19 third wave while parts of our country have been set alight. Now more than ever is the time for visionary and responsible leadership.

The SAJBD is the democratically elected representative leadership body of South African Jewry. When issues of concern arise with our government, we have no qualms in raising them. We live in a constitutional democracy, where everyone has the opportunity to air their views.

But, in the SA Jewish Report, the chief rabbi’s call for President Cyril Ramaphosa to “repent” and “atone” for “his sins” was presented as the equivalent of speaking out against apartheid. This is an offensive and objectionable analogy.

The tone and content of the article in the Business Day was also inappropriate and ineffectual.

We wrote to the chairperson of the United Orthodox Synagogues (UOS) to engage on this issue, and were dismayed that the UOS responded that it has no oversight over the chief rabbi’s communications.

It’s critical that any representative of a community purporting to speak on its behalf is accountable, and that they fully consult on issues of strategic importance. This is a fundamental principle of good leadership.

The chief rabbi criticises the elected leadership of the Jewish community, and separates himself from it, in spite of the fact that he sits on the SAJBD national executive committee and has every opportunity to discuss strategy for engaging with government.

The notion that a single leader can know what’s best for his community and can act unilaterally is outdated and dangerous.

Our community is suffering and frustrated. Now is the time to come together and find constructive ways of rebuilding.

The SAJBD remains committed to a productive relationship with the chief rabbi that serves the best interests of our community and country.

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