Chief Rabbi’s appeal for a fast for rain

  • Shabbos 14 Chief HOME
Cape Town is brown and dry and running out of water fast. The province has been declared a disaster area. Many Jewish Capetonians were grateful for Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein’s call earlier this week for all South African Jews to do a half-day fast for rain in Cape Town.
by ANT KATZ | May 25, 2017

Perhaps the heavens heard the Chief Rabbi’s plea on Tuesday for the community to fast on Thursday for the Cape drought. On Wednesday, for the first time in ages, Cape Town awoke to cloudy skies as a light rain settled in. But it was not enough to even measure.

“The drought in the Western Cape is serious. Dam levels are very low and the region desperately needs rain,” wrote the Chief Rabbi to the community. “Our sages teach us that in drought, as in all situations of crisis, it is important to turn to Hashem for His blessings, as well as to introspect and find areas to improve in our daily lives.”

Sea Point beachfront-dweller David Hersch says the grass on the famous promenade is completely brown. Gardens are withered and “everyone is very aware of the severity - and saving and re-using water. Referring to the grass, he says: “It looks like Johannesburg in winter.”

Octogenarian Rahle Kuritzky, also a Sea Point resident, says evidence of the drought is everywhere. “You even notice it when flying into Cape Town,” she said. Waste water from basins, sinks and baths, are being recycled into cisterns of loos, and any additional water goes into buckets to water gardens.

Everyone Kuritzky knows is doing their bit, she says, and people only flush toilets when they have to. “I know an 88-year-old lady who carries a bucket of waste water to use in the garden.”

In fact, so dire is Cape Town’s dwindling water supply crisis, that Mayor Patricia de Lille declared the city a disaster area on March 3, at which time it had a predicted a maximum of 121 days of water in its dams.

This week, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille broadened the disaster area to the entire province, as it tried to grapple with its worst water shortage in 113 years.

Chief Rabbi Goldstein told the community: “Thursday, May 25, is a significant day. It is the day before Rosh Chodesh (the first day of every new Hebrew month) and is known in our tradition as Yom Kippur Katan,” or a “miniature Yom Kippur”.

In light of the current circumstances, the Chief Rabbi called on as many members of the community as possible to undertake the half-day fast, from daybreak to midday on Thursday. “This fasting should be accompanied by thoughts of introspection, as well as heartfelt prayers to Hashem.”

There are many precedents in Judaism for fasting for rain. In November 2010, Israel’s chief rabbis called on the public to pray for rain, and declared a special day of fasting and prayer to atone for any sins that could have led to the rainfall shortage.

According to the “Talmudic Treasures” blog: “It is accepted practice for Jewish communities, in times of trouble and distress, to declare a public fast on a certain day or days, hoping that the power of prayer and charity, fasting and self-purification, will bring heavenly salvation.”

Rabbi Goldstein told Jewish Report: “There is a significant risk of the Western Cape actually not having the water it needs.” While the concept of fasting in a drought is well-established in the Talmud, said Rabbi Goldstein, “to the best of my knowledge this is the first time we have done this in South Africa”.


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