This will open your eyes to Torah Law
When honoured with an invitation to deliver the prestigious annual Hildesheimer Lecture at the Law School of Humboldt University in Berlin last month, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein based his address on his doctoral thesis which looks at human rights from the perspective of Jewish law. For the purpose of the lecture, the chief rabbi updated his thesis for the world we live in now! READ the abridged layman’s version of this complex thesis which has been approved by the chief rabbi.
After being introduced by the university’s dean of the law faculty and another professor, Rabbi Goldstein was called on to speak. “My lecture focused on how Torah law protects the most vulnerable.”
The Chief Rabbi said: “We live in confusing times, dangerous times, and times filled with tremendous opportunity and it is times like these that we need to turn for insight to Jewish law.”
Quoting from a question posed by the late Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, Rabbi Goldstein said: “When the Book of Deuteronomy says: ‘I place before you’, and that someone will say that these laws are righteous laws, ‘how do we define righteousness?’
RIGHT: Rabbi Goldstein delivering his hour-long lecture
“I think this school of Jewish law here is doing such important and outstanding work in continuing this tradition of teaching about Jewish law because it has so much to offer,” said the chief rabbi.
Quoting from the introduction to Herzog’s two-volume English tome, he, Rabbi Goldstein, had written, he said: “It has been my ardent striving throughout to afford the general student of jurisprudence at least an elementary conception of the elaborate mass of towering structure of the Jewish law.”
Goldstein said he found it “moving to deliver a lecture at Humboldt” as they have, at their entrance, a plaque such as those affixed to all houses in the city from where the Nazis had expelled Jews;
Rabbi Goldstein said that what Herzog had written so many years ago – on the importance of Jewish law and what it has to offer – was important and relevant today.
“It is indeed an ancient system of law that has formed the base of so much of Western tradition and yet had been ignored not only because of generations of prejudice, but also because its sources have been written in Hebrew and Aramaic and have been inaccessible to many people,” said Goldstein.
Again quoting Hertzog’s forward, he said: “When its literary sources have been made more accessible and its accumulated treasures of the ages have been laid bare, the world jurist may yet come to realise that the utter neglect of Jewish law on the part of students of law and the cultured persons generally have meant a serious loss to the progress of humanity.”
Understanding Jewish law advanced society
And so, says Goldstein, the work of promoting and understanding Jewish law advanced the society in so many ways. And, specifically, in the area of morality because Jewish law has stated from the beginning. “The Book of Deuteronomy says: ‘You shall safeguard and perform them for it is your wisdom and insight in the eyes of the people who shall hear all of these statutes and say: surely a wise and insightful people is this great nation and which this nation has righteous laws and statutes such as this entire Torah that I place before you today’.”
The Book of Deuteronomy makes a very important claim, says Goldstein, as it describes the laws of the Torah as righteous laws and statutes. “And there is a very interesting word: righteous.” Because it is making a claim about law, he says, it is calling for the righteousness of law, not only the structure and the order.
“What does the legal system provide a society? A legal system provides a society with order, with structure, with predictability with a way of governing the affairs of human beings in a manner which is dignified and which is structured and ordered,” he told his esteemed audience in Berlin.
The chief rabbi also quoted from Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, one of the leading American Talmudic scholars of the 20th century, who described the “quintessential distinctive dimension of Jewish law. (Gifter) says as follows: ‘The law itself can become cold and sometimes even cruel if it is designed only to meet the requisites of an ordered society’.”
As a South African, he said he knew this because “the apartheid regime structured its oppression of South African society through the legal system.”
He went on to compare having a very advanced legal system, with elaborate statutes and courts and lawyers and legal departments – where all of those tools were actually just tools of oppression because it brought order to society, but no righteousness and no morality.
“And, of course, there was a similar experience here in Germany with the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, who also used laws, the Nuremberg laws, where it was the methodology of law which was used as a tool of oppression.”
Goldstein told his audience that he would like to explore with them “an understanding of Jewish law” and to try and find the essence of what morality is about. “If we are to define what is the defining essence of morality,” he asked, “what would that be? What is the essence of righteousness?
“When the Book of Deuteronomy says: ‘I place before you,’ and that someone will say that these laws are righteous laws, how do we define righteousness?”
Case-based and practical methodology
Rabbi Goldstein said the methodology he would like to use is a methodology which is “very case-based and practical.” As many legal scholars know, he said, there are different legal systems in the world that have different approaches.
He referenced the Continental legal systems that derive from the Roman-Dutch tradition and the Anglo-American system. The latter is often case-based, he said, while Roman-Dutch tradition talks more about principles.
“The Jewish tradition is very much practically based.” He said, A student of Talmudic law will know that in the Talmud one encounters real life examples – and it is from those examples that the general principles have to be derived and extracted.
Thus, said Rabbi Goldstein, “if we are to define and extract the essence of the definition of what is morality, what is righteousness, then we need to delve into the practical cases of Jewish Law and try to extract from it.
“There are four particular cases that I would like to place before you, which are essentially a puzzle. There are four specific examples that I want to share with you only in brief terms. We won’t be able to go into the full depth of each example. But just to give the outline of the examples,” he said.
The specific examples that Rabbi Goldstein dealt with were…
NUMBER ONE – THE ISSUE OF RAPE AND MARRIAGE:
He said he found it “interesting that in Western law, for generations, and going back right to the time of Roman law and all the way through,” there had been a general acceptance that it is not considered a crime for a man to rape his wife.
The various legal systems have different reasons for this, he says. “In the Anglo tradition, it is because at the moment of marriage irrevocable consent is given, in the Roman-Dutch tradition it is because the wife is considered to be the property of her husband.”
Rabbi Goldstein delivered his lecture the day after a terror attack killed four servicemen in Israel. “After the lecture,” he says, “somebody mentioned that the Israeli flag was projected on the Brandenburg Gate – which he then visited on his way to a dinner.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW PICTURE…
ABOVE: On the day before Rabbi Goldstein delivered his lecture, a terror attack took place in Jerusalem which killed four IDF soldiers. After delivering his lecture, the chief rabbi was told that Berlin had emblazoned the Israeli flag on the famous Brandenburg Gate, paying tribute, as it did after Brussels, Istanbul terror attacks. The picture, above, shows Rabbi Goldstein stopping to visit the Gate (in his winter woolies and all) on his way to the dinner that was hosted in his honour afterwards.
This dispensation, said Rabbi Goldstein, where marital rape is not considered a crime, continued up to the end of the 20th century. He quoted three examples which this report will paraphrase briefly:
A fascinating case that happened in Israel, State vs. Cohen. Mr Cohen was called before the court for the crime of raping his wife in 1981. Cohen’s defence had been that the modern state of Israel did not have Jewish law as its primary legal code – it has adopted a combination of English and Turkish law (but does allow at times the introduction of elements of Jewish law within the legal system). Cohen said his actions legal as he was basing himself on English law that allowed rape in marriage even in 1981. The prosecution argued that in terms of Jewish law, it is a crime because it is completely forbidden in the context of Jewish law for a man to rape his wife. The court brought in Jewish law and overturned English law. From then on the law of the State of Israel would be that it would be illegal for a man to rape his wife based on Jewish law.
NUMBER TWO – A POLITICAL EXAMPLE:
Western tradition until the French revolution and the American constitution was very much one of the exercise of absolute political power. Which meant that a king or a ruler, an emperor of a state was given absolute power to govern in the way that he saw fit. Rabbi Goldstein said he wasn’t talking about “a notion of democracy” but rather about a more fundamental question. A person who exercises political power, whether as a result of democracy or some other method of election: “How is that power exercised?” The modern concept arose from the time of the French revolution and then more specifically the American constitution, he said, and “that is the notion of a separation of powers.” Executive, Legislative and Judicial Power is separated from one another. The person who wields executive power is not the final authority within a society. And yet, Rabbi Goldstein said, this notion of a separation of powers is an ancient one in Jewish law and it was always there. It is ultimately the judges, the Sanhedrin, who are the final authority within a society and that is such an important part of maintaining freedom within a society.
NUMBER THREE – JUDICIAL TORTURE:
“Torture is a controversial topic today,” said Rabbi Goldstein, but the controversies are generally about police torture. Where torture is used as a tool of extracting information from an accused. Rabbi Goldstein said time did not allow the discussion of present-day concepts of using torture in cases of terrorism.
Western law, however, had always accepted a concept which is called judicial torture said Goldstein. From the time of Greek and Roman law, in England and throughout Europe – it was accepted that a judge could order a criminal accused to be tortured to extract a confession and that confession would be admissible in court. Judicial instructed torture was on the statute books and there for all to see.
Report continues after the following sidebar…
Chief Rabbi Goldstein spoke about South Africa too:
“In fact, in South Africa at the moment we have seen that in action. Because South Africa is a relatively young democracy, one of the big battles has been holding the president accountable to the values of the constitution. And it’s been a remarkable victory of the new South Africa, which is such a young democracy which was only established in 1994, and yet has been stretched to its limit, where president Jacob Zuma was subjected to an inquiry about the public protector concerning the allegations of corruption that he was perpetrating and the public protector made findings; the president ignored the findings and the opposition parties took the president to the constitutional court and asked the constitutional court to order the president to accept and to live by the findings of the public protector which is in fact what happened. The court found the president in violation of the constitution, in violation of the authority. The public protector ordered the president to pay back the money that he had taken unlawfully and to fulfill all of the requirements of the public protector which he has done. And so that was a great victory for democracy, but you can see and is something that we, South Africans, have experienced first-hand, the importance of having a separate and independent judiciary, a separation of powers and to ensure that absolute power is not in the hands of a single individual, but that has always been the approach of Jewish law and, so once again, that’s the second example that we have which is an example of how Western law went on one tradition for thousands of years. Jewish law always took another position and now, in modern times, Western law has come around to the position of the Jewish law, and the question that I’m placing before you is what is it in Jewish law that drove it to these answers, answers which the world has come to only in recent times?”
Jewish law has never accepted judicial torture
Not It was important to understand, said Rabbi Goldstein, that he not talking about police-driven torture, bat rather judicial torture, “where a judge actually instructs it.”
The contrast with Jewish law is fascinating, he says, as Jewish law not only never accepted judicial torture, Jewish law rules that a confession, even a voluntary confession given without any pressure is inadmissible as evidence because it’s regarded to be tainted.
Through the Miranda decision and other famous cases in American and Western law, there is a tremendous emphasis placed on ensuring that there is no coercion of an accused today, so Western law has come around to this position.
“But here is the anomaly,” says Rabbi Goldstein, “we have Western law having a system that accepts judicial torture, Jewish law which doesn’t even accept a voluntary confession.” How’s that so? asks the chief rabbi.
NUMBER FOUR – THE QUESTION OF POVERTY ALLEVIATION:
The final example that Rabbi Goldstein put before his audience, was the question of poverty alleviation. There were laws throughout Europe and in the West and “for many, many centuries that forbade a person to beg for money,” he said. “Laws that actually made it a crime to be homeless!”
As recently as in 18th century France, the law was that a person, a vagrant, in other words a homeless person, an unemployed person was actually branded with a V on their skin for vagabond, and a person who was caught begging illegally was branded with an M from mendicant, a beggar.
And many horrific punishments were inflicted in Britain too – such as the reported case of Ellen Dixon, a blind woman who was whipped and deported in 1635 because she was caught begging. As horrific as this sounds to us today, it was the standard position throughout Western law. And yet, once again, Jewish law took a position which was that if a person puts out their hand you give, unconditionally. Once again, says Rabbi Goldstein, one finds this anomaly, “centuries of Western law in one direction, Jewish law taking a contrarian view.”
On numerous crucial human rights issues, everyone is going in one direction and the Jewish law is going in the other. “You have to ask a question and that is: Why?” says Rabbi Goldstein. “What is at the heart of it?”
The secret principle at the heart of it
The Chief Rabbi continues: “I think if we look at these four cases that I mentioned we will be able to uncover a principle, a principle which is not mentioned specifically by Jewish law.
“The principle I’m about to share with you won’t find it written anywhere because the methodology of Jewish law is not to give broad sweeping principles, but rather as we said before case-based. Looking at specific cases and extracting the principle from the cases,” he explains.
“And what principle can be extracted here I believe a principle that could be called, but it’s my own term, and you won’t find this anywhere in the Jewish law writings as a specific term, but it’s a term that I think is an accurate description of what is going on, and that is ‘the vulnerability principle’,” he says.
By this, explains Rabbi Goldstein, he means Jewish law took a position which is this: “Analysing the situation of who is in the most vulnerable predicament and the responsibility of the legal system is to protect the vulnerable.”
“You find this principle throughout the Torah; you’ll find that in the Talmud council that 36 times the Torah, the Five Books of Moses mention the importance of protecting the stranger, the widow and the orphan. 36 times which is more times than any other commandment is mentioned in the Five Books. You find the importance of protecting the most vulnerable members of the society. In the Hebrew Bible, in the prophets of the Bible, you will find mentions of the importance of protecting the vulnerable and the importance G-d gives to it. For example, you’ll find Isaiah the prophet say ‘learn to do good, seek justice, vindicate the victim, bring the justice to the orphan, take up the grievance of the widow’,” he says.
There are verses throughout the Hebrew Bible that talk about the importance of protecting the most vulnerable member of society. “I believe that if you look at the four examples that I have placed before you,” he told his Berlin audience, they will see that in each example Jewish law seeks to protect the most vulnerable. “And that is why it came out with the correct solution to these problems.”
From a Jewish law perspective, righteousness is defined as “Protecting the most vulnerable members of society.” That is the definition of righteousness from a Jewish law perspective. It is what has driven Jewish law since its inception and of course, as Jews, we believe that it was given by G-d at Mount Sinai and he gave this system of law for all future generations to say “this is an eternal principle of righteousness and goodness and morality for all times, the importance of protecting the vulnerable” explained Goldstein.
RIGHT: Speaking in English, Rabbi Goldstein kept his audience captivated for over an hour. His original doctoral thesis, Defending the Human Spirit, is available from Amazon.com CLICK HERE TO ORDER
What does the vulnerability principle mean for us today?
(While Chief Rabbi Goldstein answered this question using four thousand words during his lecture, JR Online is paraphrasing it down to just headlines)
1) The vulnerability principle gives us understanding of the role of a legal system. If we go back to our original question: “what is the role of a legal system?”
2) A measure to judge the morality of our societies. The laws begin with the laws of the eved ivri, of the servant, that is where the first law given in terms of monetary jurisprudence is the laws relating to the servant. Why? Because the servant is the most vulnerable member of society, and that is the beginning and that is how our society is measured.
3) The vulnerability principle gives us an appreciation for the understanding of the complexity of vulnerability. The Talmud raises a state of emergency within Jewish society
The Rambam writes that the highest level of charity is not to give a person money, but to give a person a job, a partnership, an interest free loan. One can understand this from the perspective of the vulnerability principle.
Practically, the vulnerability principle means that today is that law is not only about order and structure in society, it’s about goodness, morality or what the Bible calls: righteousness.
What does the vulnerability principle mean today in practical terms?
- It gives us an understanding of the purpose of law
- It gives us a measure for the morality of society
- It helps us understand the complexity of the notion of vulnerability
The chief rabbi’s detailed analysis (published in short-form here) of two examples – those of refugees and those the dependence on welfare – explain just how complex it is to understand vulnerability. How it is not always what it seems.
Drawing his well-received lecture to roughly 500 people to a close, Rabbi Goldstein quoted one of our 19th Century sages who said: Jews became a great nation. A nation that made such an important contribution. And yet when we were in Egypt, the ruling class said: nothing will become of them; they have no future; they have no potential; they have no ability; they are a threat to society; they are not an opportunity; they have no greatness; they represent evil.
We know from first-hand experience “the awesome potential of the human spirit,” said Rabbi Goldstein.
The heart and soul of the Torah’s message, he said, is, as the Book of Genesis says, “bezelem elokim” – “created in the image of G-d.”
Every human being has a soul which is a reflection and has a greatness of G-d himself. With the powers of intellect, altruism, generosity, courage, beauty, refinement, greatness, kindness and compassion. Every human being has that within him.
The purpose of the state and of society, said the chief rabbi, it is to create an environment which is safe and nurturing in order that the greatness of the human spirit within every human being can be unleashed and every person can achieve their maximum potential in life.
“Which” he said, “is awesome,”
Look at the achievements of the world, in medicine, building, science, literature and poetry, technology. These are the achievements of the human spirit.
The vulnerability principle is saying we need to create a safe environment so that human beings can soar and they can achieve the greatest possible. And they can live up to that calling, to be the “zelem elokom.”
And that is our holy and sacred task as human beings, building societies together, here in Europe, in Africa and across the world. Our vision should be to create a world in which the human spirit can thrive. A world in which the human spirit can truly reflect the greatness of our creator.
Some interesting anecdotes…
- Rabbi Goldstein said he found it “moving to deliver a lecture at Humboldt” as they have, at their entrance, a plaque such as those affixed to all houses in the city from where the Nazis had expelled Jews;
- The full name of the prestigious lecture is the: Hildesheimer Lecture – a joint event of the Rabbiner Seminar zu Berlin and the Berliner Studien zum Jüdischen Recht of Humboldt University;
- Rabbi Goldstein delivered his lecture the day after a terror attack killed four in Israel. “After the lecture,” he says, “somebody mentioned that tservicemen he Israeli flag was projected on the Brandenburg Gate – which he then visited on his way to a dinner.
- The Chief Rabbi also met leaders of the 120 000-strong German Jewish community.
- He attended a post-lecture dinner hosted by Rabbi Joshua Spinner, CEO of The Ronald S Lauder Foundation, and German special ambassador to Jewry, Felix Klein, where he spoke at length about issues in South Africa.
Going to Rage like ‘playing Russian Roulette’
Expert in mass gathering medicine, Professor Efraim Kramer, told the SA Jewish Report this week that “Rage is nothing short of teenage Russian Roulette that may take the lives of its participants and cause large national collateral damage in disease and death, as it did last year.”
Kramer said this following a letter written by the Gauteng General Practitioners Collaboration (GGPC) was sent to local principals, begging them to tell students not to go to end-of-year Rage festivals because of the pandemic.
Matric Rage is a group of festivals held at South African coastal towns like Plettenberg Bay and Ballito to celebrate the end of school. Matric Rage 2020 is widely considered to be the super-spreader event that fuelled South Africa’s deadly second wave of COVID-19.
This year’s Matric Rage organisers say they have put safety measures and protocols in place, including that no one can attend without being fully vaccinated. But in their letter, the general practitioners (GPs) say, “However good their intentions, we don’t believe that the COVID-19 safety measures suggested by the organisers can prevent the spread of the virus. A large gathering like this, run over a few days, and consisting of excited teens is the ideal environment for a super-spreader event – as last year’s event demonstrated. Even a ‘vax passport’ [now that 18 year olds are eligible] and daily rapid antigen tests are unlikely to be able to contain an inevitable presence and spread of COVID-19 amongst the revellers and beyond them to more vulnerable people.
“Given the low vaccination rate in South Africa, a festival event of this size poses a considerable risk of a significant and unnecessary contribution to a fourth spike [wave],” they said.
Kramer, head of the Division of Emergency Medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand, and professor of Sports Medicine at Pretoria University, said, “No parent has the right to put their children, other children, and society at health risk because of irresponsible personal excuses that the youngsters need to chill out. These mass gathering, high-risk events can cause death – it’s no different to drinking and driving. Or will the same parents agree to drinking and driving because their kids had a difficult year?” he asked rhetorically.
“I agree that the young generation have sustained COVID-19 collateral damage psychologically, emotionally, and even mentally, all requiring adequate and appropriate countermeasures and social counselling activities,” said Kramer. “However, it’s what’s done, how it’s done, when and where it’s done, and the attention to health-precaution detail that’s primary and paramount.
“Regarding vaccination, these close-contact, mass gathering, crowded events remain a super-spreader, and have resulted in the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated occupying the majority of hospital ICU [intensive-care unit] beds, mechanical ventilators, and sadly, coffins,” he said.
“If Rage continues unabated against sound medical advice, no participant should be allowed back home without full COVID-19 testing. In addition, no participant should be allowed into any communal event including shuls or related activities without evidence of full COVID-19 testing. Finally, no participant should be allowed back to school or education institutions without evidence of full COVID-19 testing.
“Let us not redress COVID-19 collateral damage by bring out the worst in us,” he pleaded. “Let it rather bring out the best, the most innovative, the most exciting, energetic, low risk, safety-assured events that allow us all – young and old – to socialise with each other again. It can be done with discipline, attention to detail, direction, and supervision with effective command and control. All for one, and one for all.”
But one Cape Town parent, Mike Abel, said he will allow his son to go to Rage. “The fine balancing act as a parent is always to consider your children’s physical health and their mental health. These two don’t always go hand in hand when your kids run onto a rugby or hockey pitch with gum guards, head guards, knee guards, and silent words to the gods,” he said.
“Lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions have played havoc with mental and physical health. As social creatures, our children have become more sedentary and disconnected. Rage is an opportunity for excitement, fun, and reconnection.
“Our son is 18 and vaccinated. Is Rage ideal? No. Is it 100% safe? No. Do we think it’s the right decision for him to go? Yes. It will be better for him than not going. He’ll have fun. He’ll let off steam. He’ll connect, laugh, play, swim, and enjoy his new-found freedom and transition from school to this new chapter and adventure. Will we sleep easy while he’s there? No. But we hope his maturity, sense of responsibility, and values will guide him well-ish. Our kids need a degree of risk and freedom for both their physical and mental well-being.”
The GGPC letter was drafted by a group of GPs including three local Jewish doctors. One of them, Dr Sheri Fanaroff, said, “Even with COVID-19 protocols in place, in reality they don’t happen. It’s the same as saying there should be no drugs allowed, but we know there are. I have a matric child, and I’m happy for her to go away and have fun, but not to a massive organised event. Yes, they’ve had a lousy two years, but there are safer ways to have fun. Parents don’t want to make their child be the only one that’s excluded, and we would rather the events be cancelled altogether than force parents and children to make a choice.
“The other issue is that many kids born later in the year won’t be fully vaccinated and two weeks post vaccination by the time Rage comes. Many don’t want to get vaccinated during exams,” she said. “And while young people don’t always get extremely ill from COVID-19, we are seeing a fair amount of long-term consequences. A good percent of this age group are battling six months later with chronic fatigue, arthritis, joint pain, brain fog, and the emotional consequences of all of that.”
Another GP involved in the drafting of the letter, Dr Daniel Israel, said, “One has to differentiate between normal social events and super-spreader events. I’m pretty pro people getting out socially at the moment with safe protocols, but super-spreader events are a no-go. These are teenagers who have just finished matric, and everything about their partying has to do with consumption of alcohol, physical closeness, and small spaces, which all lends itself to COVID-19 spreading. So, by the nature of the people who come to it, you can’t have a safe event.
“A question could be, ‘well these are young, healthy kids – what’s the difference?’ But we know even from last year that when they get home, they don’t isolate properly, they go home on planes, and they do spread it,” he said. “So, the same way that we haven’t been able to do certain things in a pandemic – like Broadway is closed – we think Rage should be closed too. We may be able to have holidays, but not Rage. We’re hoping that next year, we’ll be in a different place.”
Twenty-one year old survives COVID-19 by a breath
We’ve all heard that COVID-19 doesn’t generally affect young people. So when Capetonian Ryan Lipman tested positive in late July, he thought his age was in his favour. He was wrong.
The young musician fought for his life for three weeks in hospital, including 11 days in the intensive care unit (ICU). Now, he has survived to tell the tale, and is begging the unvaccinated to get the jab.
“That first night in hospital was when I realised how serious COVID-19 is,” says Lipman. “Without oxygen, it feels like you are trying to breathe through a toothpick. You cannot get enough air into your lungs.
“I messaged my mom saying how scared I was. I believed that this was how it was going to end. I was going to die from COVID-19.”
He was the youngest COVID-19 pneumonia ICU patient at Milnerton Mediclinic. Recalling the moment he was wheeled in, he says, “All I could see was people on ventilators. Mouths open. Pipes everywhere. I completely lost it. I begged them not to let me die. I barely ever cry, but being in the ICU at the age of 21 with COVID-19 pneumonia, not knowing if you will ever see your family again … trust me, you learn that crying is pretty much all you do.”
Going back to the beginning, he says his family was careful to follow the COVID-19 protocols. “All I ever wanted was to stay clear of this virus. But we celebrated my dad’s birthday by going out for supper – a rare treat in a pandemic.” He’s not sure where his family picked up the virus, but it could have been there. First, his mother got sick, but she had already had one dose of the vaccine. His father had had two doses, and only had mild symptoms.
Lipman also tested positive. He wasn’t vaccinated as he was too young at the time. “It started with chills and a headache. While I have asthma, I’m 21 and healthy.” They all registered with the Community Security Organisation’s COVID-19 Wellness Programme. “Without this monitoring programme, I don’t think I would be alive today,” he says.
“On day two, I woke up with body aches and fatigue. With every movement you make, it feels like someone is aggressively hurting you. Day three began with a raging fever that wouldn’t go down, day four with pain in my chest and back. With a dry cough and extreme dizziness, I woke up on day eight with my oxygen levels dropping to 90%. My dad decided he was taking me to the hospital. At first, I refused. Why would I need to go to hospital for COVID-19? This doesn’t happen to young people.”
But he eventually agreed, and it turned out to be a lifesaving decision. “I later asked my doctors what would have happened if my father hadn’t brought me in when he did. They told me that any later, the outcome would’ve been very different.”
At the hospital, he says, “One nurse put a nasal cannula in my nose, one inserted a drip and one checked my blood pressure and oxygen saturation, which were now at 88%.
“A representative from Pathcare came to take a ‘blood gas’ from an artery to see exactly how much oxygen was in the blood. The pain is excruciating because it’s done ‘blind’. You can’t see an artery, so if the person drawing the blood doesn’t hit the artery, the needle digs deeper.”
The Emergency Room doctor listened to Lipman’s lungs. “I can still hear her shouting, ‘I think we have a case of COVID-19 pneumonia, I need dexamethasone’. The doctor explained that I was hypoxic.” He was admitted. The next morning, his oxygen levels were still at 88%.
“Night arrives and my fear gets worse as I still feel like I cannot get air into my lungs. I ask the nurse to increase the flow rate. At about two in the morning, my breathing problems start to increase again. I find my remote on the floor and manage to grab it with the small amount of energy I have, but it had stopped working.
“It was at this point I started to believe that this was my end. I prayed to G-d and told Him that if it’s my time, he must just take me. I managed to crawl out the bed and banged on the window to get the nurse’s attention. After fixing my remote, I felt that maybe the flow of oxygen was too much, making it even more difficult to breathe. As she slightly decreased the flow of oxygen, an overwhelming feeling of relief came over me as I could finally breathe.”
His oxygen levels went down to 86%, and he was put on a high flow oxygen system. “This delivers humidified oxygen up to 60 litres per minute. They left me for two hours flat on my stomach to see if they could get my oxygen levels back to at least 95%. This is an incredibly uncomfortable experience. The head nurse checked my SATS again – 89%. She added a re-breather mask. I’m now on the highest amount of oxygen before they ventilate you.”
Lipman was then moved to ICU, where he saw things that no 21-year-old should see – “the weeping cries of people saying goodbye to their family members, people getting intubated in front of you, and people passing away.
“The head nurse promised me he would do everything to get me out of there alive and said I needed to keep positive. I’ve learnt that as much as COVID-19 is a physical fight, it’s also a mental fight.”
His parents were allowed to visit him in ICU. “As my father left, I begged him to get me out of there. Every day in ICU was the same. Imagine a blood gas every morning? To stop this pain, my doctor decided that I would need an arterial line for blood to be taken at any time without having to stab a needle into my artery. I would basically become a ‘blood tap’. As the line was inserted, I screamed in pain. As soon as the doctor flushed the line, my entire hand started to burn. An intense burning never experienced before in my life.”
Eating was a huge battle, as “every time that mask came off for a few seconds, I would need to catch my breath. Just slightly adjusting my body so that the physios could work on my back would feel like I had run a marathon.
“Each day, the physios push you to your max with breathing exercises as well as physical exercises. It took six days to get me standing and another five days to learn how to walk again.”
Lipman slowly and miraculously recovered. “I couldn’t believe I survived. I constantly feared death. It was too close for comfort.”
Before he left the hospital, he returned to the ICU one more time to thank them. “All I needed to say was ‘thank you all for saving my life’ to turn me into a complete emotional wreck. ‘I could have died, I could have died,’ I cried. ‘But you didn’t. You were given a second chance at life – now take it,’ they said.
“This experience has taught me so many things, but mainly, to be grateful for every single moment,” he says. “I was nearly on a ventilator, fighting for my life, and endured traumatic events that will most likely haunt me forever. My parents were vaccinated and I wasn’t. Please get vaccinated.”
Community called to back anti-corruption body
A proposition for a new, independent anti-corruption body landed on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s desk on Tuesday, 24 August, and those who have spent years toiling to make it happen are asking the South African Jewish community to support it in any way it can.
“Our community was burnt by the actions of the ‘Gupta minyan’ during state capture,” says community stalwart Mark Hyman. He is the founder and director of a new organisation called Citizens for Integrity, and played a key role in putting together the memorandum sent by nongovernmental organisation (NGO) Accountability Now to the president this week.
“Corruption has decimated other Jewish communities living in failed African states. This is relevant to us all. As Jews, we cannot stand by and let corruption happen. We need to get behind this process.”
Accountability Now proposes the formation of a Chapter Nine anti-corruption body provisionally called the Integrity Commission. Chapter Nine institutions refer to organisations established in terms of Chapter 9 of the South African Constitution to guard democracy.
One of Accountability Now’s directors, Paul Hoffman SC, says that this specialist, elite, and independent anti-corruption body would help to prevent, combat, investigate, and prosecute the corrupt in our midst.
“Serious corruption, be it in the form of state capture, ‘covidpreneurism’, or orchestrated looting and rioting is the number-one threat to the rule of law and the success of our Constitution,” says Hoffman.
Accountability Now has advocated the need for such a body for more than a decade. It believes it has now become a matter of urgency due to the shrinking economy and unrest being fomented. “The beauty of the Chapter Nine umbrella is that the body cannot be closed down as easily as the Scorpions were dissolved,” says Hoffman.
In the memorandum that was sent to the president and Parliament this week, Accountability Now called for the introduction of a constitutional amendment and enabling legislation for the establishment of constitutionally compliant anti-corruption machinery of state in South Africa.
“Serious forms of corruption like grand corruption, state capture, and kleptocracy in South Africa are criminal violations of fundamental constitutional and human rights. They are literally killing many South Africans, mostly the poorest, and some of the whistle blowers,” says Hoffman.
“The anti-corruption machinery of state in South Africa isn’t fit for purpose, especially regarding serious corruption in all its forms,” he says.
Hoffman says Ramaphosa was asked in Parliament in 2019 to consider the establishment of a Chapter Nine anti-corruption body, to which he replied that he would “mull over” the “refreshing idea”.
Then, in August 2020, the African National Congress (ANC) National Executive Committee (NEC) instructed cabinet to set up new anti-corruption entity. It envisaged a stand-alone, single, permanent, and independent body, capable of dealing with corruption without fear, favour, or prejudice. That resolution hasn’t been acted on openly yet.
However, in his State of the Nation address in February, Ramaphosa announced that there was a long-term plan for a new anti-corruption body that reported to Parliament, but he would need to consult about it over the next two years.
“He clearly didn’t see it as urgent then, but we disagree, as South Africa is sliding toward failed-state status,” says Hoffman. “So, we sat down and prepared a constitutional amendment and enabling legislation. To get there, we have proposed a divorce between the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority] and the justice department so as to secure the independence of the NPA and eliminate the influence of the executive branch of government over it.
“We also proposed a definition of serious corruption which is those cases in which more than R5 million is involved. Only cases of serious corruption will be dealt with by this new commission. The idea is that it will be a ‘one stop shop’ with a branch in each province. It will investigate and prosecute under one leadership, as the Scorpions did before it was disbanded,” he says.
“All aspects of serious corruption will be dealt with by this one body,” he says. “It will be overseen only by Parliament, and have its own accounting officer. Parliament will determine the name of such a body in the process of legislating it.
“The Hawks will carry on – they will lose jurisdiction only in dealing with serious corruption. The NPA will also continue, but the prosecuting of serious corruption will go to this new body. We also say that this new body must be given guaranteed finances – it should be entitled to 0.03% of the national budget in the preceding year.
“It will have civil jurisdiction and the capacity to recover loot, seize and preserve proceeds, and ensure that they are restored to those who were looted,” says Hoffman. “We hope that a good half of the estimated R1.5 trillion of state-capture loot will be recovered within a year of this body being formed. The longer we leave it, the harder is it to chase up. Already, banks and professionals caught up in state capture and exposed at the Zondo Commission are low-hanging fruit.”
He says the reason they have done this now is because “we believe its time has come. First, the ANC NEC asked for it. There might be slightly different terminology, but nothing we are proposing is different to what it asked for in August last year. Then, in July 2021, the Democratic Alliance announced that it wanted the Hawks to be converted into an anti-corruption body under Chapter 9. This is a step in the right direction, but we believe it’s not enough in the current circumstances. The NPA is unable to do its work on corruption because of saboteurs planted within it by [former president, Jacob] Zuma. Rather than swim against the tide, handpick independent experts for a new organisation so that it can do its work properly.”
Hoffman says this change is important and urgent for us all, but particularly for the business community, which holds the key to turning the beloved country around.
“New investment in South Africa won’t occur if the perception is that it is a corrupt country. But if the government ‘walks the walk’ on countering corruption, confidence will grow that investment is safer. Also, it’s about keeping to the rule of law and realising the promise of the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Poverty, inequality, and joblessness can best be addressed via the vigorous growth of the economy.”
Willie Hofmeyr, the retired head of the asset forfeiture unit at the NPA, and also a founder and director of Citizens for Integrity, has also put his weight behind the initiative. “Given where we are in South Africa, we need a body whose sole focus is corruption,” he says. “The Jewish community has always been at the forefront of change in South Africa. Corruption is our biggest challenge since apartheid. It’s the biggest threat our country faces, and it’s a war that we cannot afford to lose.”
Hoffman is asking the community to be “active and participative citizens, and write to the president and the secretary of constitutional review in Parliament expressing your support”.
In addition, he says, “Accountability Now is a small section 18A compliant NGO that’s entirely reliant upon donations to do its work. All directors and trustees are unpaid volunteers, and its overheads are kept to the barest minimum. If you are of a mind to support Accountability Now, a pay gate portal is available on its website.”
Visit the integrity commission page, www.accountabilitynow.org.za, for more information and a look at the draft bills proposed.
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