Rabbi who inspired SA Jews in word and deed

  • Hylton Herring
Rabbi Yekutiel Tzvi Shalpid passed away on 11 December 2019 in Johannesburg after devoting 45 years of his life to the South African Jewish community.
by RABBI HYLTON HERRING | Jan 16, 2020

He was born in 1945 in Bershat, Ukraine. As a young bochur (yeshiva student), he became a great Talmudic scholar, learning in Yeshiva Chevron in Jerusalem and with his father. He received ordination from Yeshivat Lomze in Petach Tikva in Israel. His father was an illui (genius), who learned one-on-one with the Radziner Rebbe.

Rabbi and Rebbetzin Shalpid came to South Africa in 1968. He held numerous rabbinical positions including as rabbi of Oudtshoorn, then in the former Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe), East London, Port Elizabeth, and back to East London.

Shalpid made an indelible impact on Jews throughout the country and beyond during his decades of spiritual work. He became a shochet (ritual slaughterer)and mohel (able to perform a bris), providing the communities with kashrut and brit milah. He was also a world-class chazan (cantor), having trained under the great chazonim in Tel Aviv.

He loved people, and devoted much of his time to teaching and giving his pupils questions and answers from various rabbinic sources including the Rambam, Ramban, Ari Hakadosh, Shulchan Aruch, and from the Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi.

Every Sunday, our family would invite the rabbi and rebbetzin for a weekly luncheon at our home. Afterwards, the rabbi would teach us Sefer HaMidot. The Sefer was out of print for many decades, yet we obtained a copy from the Bar-Ilan Library.

Rabbi Shalpid was a man completely devoted to his family, the community, and klal Yisrael (Jews around the globe). He was filled with warmth, empathy, compassion, kindness, generosity, sincerity, and his love for his fellow human beings was exemplary. He inspired and uplifted so many with his infectious smile and words of wisdom, spreading Torah and mitzvot (good deeds) wherever he went. As a loving father, teacher, and friend he gave much of his time to inspire and guide others to reach their potential and make the correct decisions.

Rebbetzin Malka was a wonderful and devoted wife who looked after the rabbi throughout his illness. Her hachnasat orchim (hospitality to guests) was legendary. We spent years having Shabbos meals in their apartment above the shul, and we even had our own guest room. The rabbi’s Gemora shiur (lesson) before Shabbos Mincha was a highlight, and I recall him quoting from many sources throughout Shas. We learned so much about Torah, menschlichkeit (altruism), nussach (text) for the yamim noraim (high holy days), shalosh regalim (Jewish festivals), leining (reading from the Torah) Shabbos niggunim (songs), and tefillot (prayers). He was a brilliant Talmid chacham (scholar) with a photographic memory, and his shiurim were always well prepared with deep insights and chiddushim (new ideas). He had a thirst for knowledge, and was worldly in a variety of subjects and topics.

The rabbi was a firm believer in justice, and always did his best to defend the rights of the elderly, sickly, disadvantaged, and orphaned.

When he arrived in Oudtshoorn, the kehilla (community) provided and paid for the Shalpids’ domestic worker. In the late 1960s, domestic workers weren’t allowed to sleep on the employer’s premises and after work, had to be taken back to the township.

The rabbi drove the domestic worker home, and noticed that she sat in the back seat. He insisted that she sit upfront. She protested, but eventually agreed to sit upfront knowing that it could be problematic if the police stopped them.

The police did stop them en route, and after a lengthy discussion between the rabbi and the officer, the newly appointed rabbi of Oudtshoorn had to comply with the law of the land. The episode bothered him tremendously, and he challenged the status quo in defence of the honour and respect he felt every human being deserves.

Rabbi Shalpid is survived by wife, Malka, his children, Chaim and Rachel, and his grandchildren, Oriella, Gal’yah, and Yakirah Shalpid.

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