SA Jewry's great debt to Rabbi Nachman Bernhard

  • YossyGoldman
We just received the very sad news that Rabbi NM Bernhard has passed away. Not everyone knows or remembers the history of this man. I believe our community owes Rabbi Bernhard a huge debt of gratitude.
by RABBI YOSSY GOLDMAN | Oct 02, 2014
Baruch Dayan Emet.

The good rabbi did many very important things for our community and, indeed, all of SA Jewry. As Rabbi of Oxford Synagogue Centre for many years I would describe him as SA’s very first “Outreach Rabbi”.

He came from the USA and introduced many fresh approaches to rabbinic attitudes in this country. Previously, most rabbis here hailed from England and were, traditionally, far more conservative in their professional style and outlook. He presided over Oxford in the years when it was the most prestigious shul in Johannesburg and was a past chairman of the SA Rabbinical Association.

Rabbi Nachman Bernhard

  Rabbi Yossy Goldman, Rabbi Mendel Lipskar, then-Chief Rabbi of South Africa Rabbi Cyril K Harris and Rabbi Nachman Bernhard at the "Celebration 101" Gala Dinner held in Johannesburg in the early nineties

I myself learned much from him and am grateful for his example in many areas. He was famous for teaching brides and grooms the Jewish way of married life in an open and enlightened way. He was legendary in working overtime to help congregants in need and in all kinds of difficulty. He was also very successful in counselling.

"Honest, direct, brave and bold"

His talks in shul were honest, direct, brave and bold. He never shied away from difficult subjects, whether personal or communal. He spoke out courageously against Apartheid and even received stern warnings from the old and much feared SA Police.


Most significantly, he established the first Torah primary school in this country. It was called Menorah Oxford and our children went there in the early years. As the religious community grew, it eventually "morphed" into The Torah Academy and Shaarei Torah Primary Schools (Yeshiva College had initially started as a Boys' High School). He was chairman of the board of The Torah Academy for many years and was instrumental in building its beautiful campus.


He also sacrificed a big personal dream for the good of our community. Over the years Rabbi Bernhard became a close disciple of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and had a number of long, personal meetings with him in New York. When he told the Rebbe of his plan to go on aliyah, the Rebbe shared his opinion that while aliyah was a desirable thing to do, his own view was that communal leaders, especially spiritual leaders, had as their first obligation and priority the good of their community.
It was the Rebbe’s belief that Rabbi Bernhard could do more for the Jewish people as a rabbi in South Africa then as a private individual in Israel. As a result, Rabbi Bernhard decided to shelve his aliyah plans and remained on in Johannesburg where, indeed, his contribution was most significant.


We wish Joan and the children long life and strength. May his memory be blessed and continue to be a blessing for his family and for this community which he loved and dedicated his life to.



Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Senior Rav, Sydenham Shul
President, SA Rabbinical Association

Also read on SAJR.CO.ZA



  1. 3 Denis Solomons 02 Oct
    I mean I wish the family Long Like !
  2. 2 Anon 02 Oct
    3rd. time lucky Dennis?
  3. 1 Denis Solomons 03 Oct
    Long Life !


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