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The Jewish Report Editorial

A Chanukah of tough decisions

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What a week for this community! During the week of Chanukah, we have Hamas hobnobbing with the ANC, and Cape Town’s Beit Midrash Morasha shul experiencing a fire that destroyed five Sifrei Torah.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Dec 06, 2018

But two other incidents have put a lot of pressure on our communal leaders.

First, the Union of Orthodox Synagogues (UOS) received Bowmans’ final report on its ‘investigation into the use of non-kosher chicken and other products by Stan & Pete caterers’. Bowmans found there was prima facie evidence (based on first impressions and accepted as correct until proven otherwise) that Jeff Shull’s company was buying, cooking, and serving unkosher food.

Then, on Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa overturned the judgement of the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Court, in which they found that statements made by Cosatu’s Bongani Masuku in 2009 amounted to hate speech.

The appeals court declared this null and void, and dismissed the complaint… almost 10 years after the statements were made.

In both instances, our communal leaders are left with massive decisions to make, which may well amount to spending much more money on legal and other fees. And all this to what end?

Shull’s Stan & Pete was once the number-one catering choice for kosher events, particularly of the large variety. People trusted Shull. He was an integral part of this community. Now, in many circles, his name is spoken in hushed tones and people wonder if Jewish folk are still using his services. Others speak about how he seems to be doing well in treif circles. Who can tell?

While our community does not forgive easily, there are those who get angry when people say unpleasant things about Shull or Stan & Pete. We are a complex community.

However, what is clear from the findings is that people reported to Bowmans that Stan & Pete employees had bought non-kosher chicken, and went to the trouble of surreptitiously wrapping them in traditional kosher covering, Beth Din seals and all, to trick the mashgichim. That is astonishingly underhand, immoral, and dishonest! There is prima facie evidence of going to this extent to con people into believing something was kosher when it wasn’t.

Now, I know enough about our religion to know where the sin lies, and it is certainly not with the consumer, no matter how frum they are. However, why would anyone who is trusted and loved willingly do this to their own community and customers?

What this unpleasant situation did do is give the Beth Din and the UOS a serious wake-up call. It prompted not just the Bowmans investigation, but one that would revamp and revise everything the Beth Din does in running a kashrut department. The UOS brought in global kashrut experts to guide it in making sure that this doesn’t happen again.

That is a massive positive outcome in this whole ugly saga.

Now, some people may believe that the next step is the court of law, but is it? This will be at a huge cost to the UOS that some may say should rather be used to implement all the kashrut policing upgrades. Would than not serve the community better or would it be more worthwhile to see justice being done. Has Shull not felt the wrath of the community – which can be very, very painful, and undoubtedly life-changing? Has he not been punished? What is the punishment that fits this crime?

There are some who say this is between Shull and G-d, and not up to us to get involved. Are they right? I can’t answer these questions. I am sure the debate and discussion at the UOS must be fervent and tough. I must say, I am glad this is not my decision.

Moving on to the offices of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), I don’t believe for one minute that anyone expected that Masuku would be exonerated of hate speech. This has been an incredibly protracted case, one which seemed unending. It still doesn’t seem to be over, and may well land up in the highest court of the land.

I, for one, kept wondering why this guy just didn’t do the right thing and apologise, as it was so apparent to me – and obviously I am not a legal expert – that this man said the most hateful things to our community.

He threatened to “target and expose” every Zionist, and “do all that is needed to subject them to perpetual suffering until they withdraw from the land of others”. In other words, he wanted Jews to suffer so much they would leave Israel.

He went on to – among other things – threaten South African families who send their sons or daughters to serve in the Israeli Defence Forces, saying they “must not blame us when something happens to them with immediate effect”. This is a clear threat of violence because of people wanting to defend the Jewish State.

This community, for all intents and purposes, supports Israel. With very few exceptions, we believe Israel has the right to defend its people. So, it appears that this is quite obviously threatening hate speech towards us.

It was quite clear to the Human Rights Commission and Equality Court. However, it clearly didn’t have the same impact on the appeal court judges. This is quite astonishing, and leaves the SAJBD with big decisions to make. The Board clearly would like to see this case go to the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court.

Already, there are huge legal costs, thanks to the appeal court finding. What if the finding doesn’t change, but then what if it does? There are high stakes at play.

What does this appeal court judgement mean for us? Can we afford not to keep on at this? Can we afford to continue with it? Again, I am sure there has been much debate and discussion going on in the offices of the SAJBD. I am glad that this, too, is not my decision.

There is a great deal going on in this community in the middle of Chanukah, the festival of light. I read something on Facebook earlier that resonated for me, what with everything that is going on in the boardrooms of our communal leadership, and in our country. It said: “The shamash is the candle that lights the others; be the shamash.” So, from me to our leaders, be that shamash, and do the right thing for all of us.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom

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