The Jewish Report Editorial

On a whim and a prayer

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When a Jewish person tells a Jewish joke to another Jewish person, it is invariably thought to be hilarious and can be enjoyed for the inside joke that only Jewish people can tell each other.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Jul 06, 2017

If a non-Jewish person tells a joke about Jewish people, showing stereotypical imperfections, it will most likely go down like a lead balloon. And when a Jewish person tells a Jewish joke to non-Jewish people, it might go down well, but it may well look to others like the Jewish person is laughing at himself.

We are great at laughing at ourselves and, in fact, most Jewish jokes are Jewish in origin. We are not that great at having other people laugh at us, which stands to reason considering our past and our sensitivity around anti-Semitism.

We are also not great at having Jewish people unfairly badmouthing something we hold dear to an audience of people who are opposed to that very thing. 

A week ago, Rabbi Sha’ar Shaked accepted an invitation to say a prayer at the opening of the ANC Policy Conference. Until recently, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein was always invited to give this opening prayer. That is as it should be, considering he is the Chief Rabbi. However, I guess certain members of the ANC are not happy with his public calls for President Jacob Zuma to step down.

However, Rabbi Shaked was chosen to give a prayer. That would be acceptable, because while he is representing the community, it is saying a prayer on our behalf. Not a terrible thing!

But Rabbi Shaked didn’t just pray, he chose in four short minutes to say a prayer and run Israel down in front of the ANC, who as a political organisation, has come out as pro-Palestinian and extremely critical of Israel.

He likened Israel to South Africa, saying that South Africa was a country of religious tolerance, whereas Israel was not and “this caused much shame and was a source of distress for all Jews”. 

He gave no context to this. The way he put it, it was as if he was making a statement of fact. 

He did not mention that this particular feeling stems from last week when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu changed his mind on a commitment to create a non-denominational prayer area at the Kotel. He also didn’t say that although around the world there are many people who may be angry about this, the predominantly Orthodox South African Jewry are not.

Rabbi Shaked - like most Progressive Jews around the world - was angry about this. He is entitled to be angry, but to say just that in front of an audience where anti-Israel sentiment was the norm, was absolutely unacceptable.

What did he expect the audience to think? Here is an Israeli rabbi who seemingly confirms that Israel is bad and intolerant, causing its own people shame and distress. Really!

The fact that he is Progressive and represents a small minority of South African Jews, is irrelevant to the audience. That audience doesn't know or care whether he falls under the banner of Progressive or Orthodox Jewry; they see him as representing the Jewish faith in South Africa.

So, to the ANC audience, the South Africa Jews believe Israel is intolerant and causing us shame and distress. Really! Astounding!

I go back to what I said earlier about the jokes. And I add to that.

When you are angry with someone close to you, be it your teacher, your parent, or even your best friend, do you call this person X aside or speak to someone close to both of you first and then address it with X? Or do you get up on stage in an auditorium packed with people who despise X, and ridicule and humiliate X in front of this audience? That is exactly what Rabbi Shaked did.

If he had spoken in a room full of Jewish people - who know the history of this particular situation and argued it out - that is acceptable. If he went home, to Israel, and tackled it with senior officials there, that too is acceptable. If he wrote an opinion piece for a newspaper, putting his views in context, even that is acceptable.

But, Rabbi Shaked, you may well be a wonderful rabbi to your community, but you really did real damage in what was supposed to be a prayer for the ANC’s conference.  

Shabbat Shalom!




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