Eshed Cohen, a junior madrich of Netzer CT, has decided to investigate the controversial relationships amongst the complex array of South African Jewry:
Our South African Jewish Community has approximately 60 000 congregants. These congregants include Orthodox Jews, Secular – traditional Jews, Chabad, Lubavitch, Sephardic and several more. Each of us has our own way of practicing the same religion.
The Jewish population is spread all over the country, from Kimberley to Cape Town and from Witbank to Johannesburg. Progressive and orthodox Jews live in the same suburbs; send their children to the same schools etc. In Cape Town, one of the larger regions, I am exposed to the many different types of Judaism. Thus, it is not to say that the different communities are not exposed to and aware of the different types of Judaism, in fact, we are literally living next door to each other.
So what is the reason for some of the prejudices and parallel relationships that the different communities have? Why is there no regular interaction?
Why is there such a fuss regarding what adjective you have before the word “Jew”?
These are some of the questions that bother me about our community. We have such a wonderfully diverse and culture rich community but why is it that there is friction between the different people?
I wanted to find an answer, that’s why I choose to write this article. I interviewed Rabbi Ephraim Levitts, and also Rabbi Greg Alexander who are Orthodox and Progressive Rabbis respectively. I wanted to find out about the relationship between Reformed/Progressive Jews and Orthodox Jews. I felt that they expressed the two ends of the Jewish spectrum; the very liberal, to the very orthodox. Rabbi Levitts explained that orthodoxy has several issues with Judaism and that they do not consider the majority of Jews, Jewish. Bohme . “Another reason for little interaction”, he says, “is because Reformed/Progressive Judaism and Orthodox Judaism do not share the same ground rules, therefore making it difficult to co‐operate.
Rabbi Alexander explained that he has no issues with orthodoxy, besides the prejudices and attitudes towards Progressive Judaism. He views Judaism as a spectrum, and it doesn’t matter where on that spectrum people find their inspiration: ’The most important adjective that should come before the word “Jew” should be “inspired”.’
After interviewing both Rabbis I learnt that the relationship between Progressive Judaism and Orthodox Judaism is mostly a parallel one, both groups caring for their own congregants and communities. Interaction between the two is not entirely non‐existent, but there are lots of opportunities for co‐operative ventures which have yet to be taken. Whether it is a good or a bad thing is not for me to decide, but in my opinion, it is a great pity that I cannot celebrate Simchat Torah with my orthodox friends as well as my reformed ones in a single environment, that, we have to be separated on the High Holy Days, and cannot celebrate the festivals under the holistic name “Jew”.