Muslim scholar talks on progressive Islam


Muslim scholar talks on progressive Islam


The South African Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity (SACRED) recently hosted Professor Taj Hargey (pictured at left), a distinguished Oxford-based academic on Islam and the Middle East, at Bet David in Johannesburg, with a lecture on “Progressive Islam: Tolerant or Intolerant?”

by OWN CORRESPONDENT | Jul 07, 2015

Prof Hargey, who hails from South Africa, is also the director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, which promotes a progressive, pluralistic Qur’anic Islam and runs a newly-formed think-tank called the Oxford Centre for British Islam.

clip_image004Prof Hargey spoke about perceptions of Islam in the modern world and with his push for a more egalitarian, pluralistic way of practising Islam, talked about resisting the covert imposition of the patriarchal shariah or Muslim religious law into modern society.

RIGHT: SACRED chair Rabbi Julia Margolis with Professor Taj Hargey

He has publicly opposed Wahhabi-Salafi theological propaganda, and has courageously led a national campaign to ban all forms of facial masking, including the non-Qur’anic burka and hijab in the United Kingdom.

Prof Hargey also spoke about The Open Mosque, launched in Cape Town last September where he was invited to deliver a sermon. The mosque calls itself Qur’an-centric; gender-equal; non-sectarian; inter-cultural; and independent. It was subject to attacks from local Muslim clergy, as well as several arson attacks, but has gained widespread publicity and international praise, he says.

He serves as the imam of the Oxford Islamic Congregation, the most progressive body of Muslims in the UK. It made European history a decade ago by welcoming women to conduct sermons and leading the weekly Friday prayers in mixed-gender assembly.

This was Sacred’s second evening of interest” this year and gave its audience a much needed, different take on Islam.

“We had guests from other synagogues, as well as the broader Jewish community,” said Rabbi Julia Margolis. “Muslim and Christian friends joined us too.”

Next month Sacred will host a discussion on why different faiths and religions pray over food and beverages, specifically investigating the subject of water and prayer. 

The South African Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ) welcomes the decision of the US Supreme Court to legalise same-sex marriage across the country.

In his immediate response to this court decision their president, Barack Obama, proudly declared to the world, “This ruling is a victory for America.  This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts…when all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”  We wholeheartedly agree and as a worldwide movement of Progressive Jews we have for many years made similar statements in regard to same-sex marriage in Judaism. 

In December 2006, South Africa became the fifth country in the world to grant same-sex couples the same status and rights as heterosexual marriage partners. The SAUPJ, encouraged by the World Union for Progressive Judaism, was in fact one of the first faith groups in the country to allow its clergy to conduct same-sex marriages. The first Jewish same sex marriage took place in Cape Town.  In a press release at the time we marked that event with our statement “The SAUPJ honours the divine within all human beings, and their right to live with dignity.”

In celebration of the Supreme Court’s ruling, and of the many couples of all faiths who will finally be able to legally marry, the SAUPJ calls out to all Jewish same-sex couples who wish to get married to take up their place under the chuppah.  Please feel free to contact our office at to get more information or to book your rabbi for the event..


Alvin Kushner

National Chairman

South African Union for Progressive Judaism


Rabbi Greg Alexander


South African Association of Progressive Rabbis



SACRED Talk: SACRED kicks off exciting new series

On May 27, Beit Emanuel Progressive Synagogue in Johannesburg hosted a talk by the South African Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity (SACRED) entitled ‘SACRED geometry’.

SACRED Geometry: Greg Margolis speaks at organization's monthly talk

SACRED Geometry: Greg Margolis speaks at organization’s monthly talk

This was the first event held under SACRED’s new Chair, Rabbi Julia Margolis, and was very well attended. SACRED Geometry was the first in a series of monthly ‘Evenings of Interest’ planned by SACRED to deepen Progressive Jewry’s knowledge of the organization’s work in furthering interfaith co-operation and progressive religious ideas.

Motivational speaker Greg Margolis delivered the ‘SACRED geometry’ presentation, during which where he analyzed the links between the sacred geometry of many religions, both ancient and modern.

The next SACRED gathering  in the beginning of July will be given by a representative of the Open Mosque, South Africa’s progressive Islamic place of worship.


SAAPR response to arson attack on Benedictine Monastery Tabgha

The South African Association of Progressive Rabbis (SAAPR) has reacted with dismay to the alleged arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes (attached to the Benedictine Monastery Tabgha) at the Sea of Galilee, Israel. The monastery has been the target of repeated attacks by radical religious Israelis in recent years. Two people suffered smoke injuries, while graffiti containing passages from the “Aleinu” Prayer was scrawled on the walls of the monastery.

The chairman of the SAAPR, Rabbi Greg Alexander (Cape Town), stressed that attacks against members of other religions are contrary to the spirit of Judaism. It was especially inappropriate to invoke the Aleinu Prayer, which contains the eschatological vision in which all religions respect each other, by recognizing God’s dominion.


Celebrating Freedom – Remembering Responsibilities

Last weekend, Bet David Progressive Jewish congregation in Sandton, Johannesburg joined thousands of Jewish communities around the world in celebrating Pesach, the festival of Freedom. Celebrations included Festival Services and a family Seder on the first night. More than 100 members and guests followed the invitation of Rabbi Schell and Rabbi Margolis to join the congregation for the Festival Evening and Shabbat service, and most of them stayed for the Family Seder.

The Guest of Honour was the Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, who opened the Seder by remembering the strong connection of the festival with the Land of Israel, not only in the past, but also today, and how important it is to maintain such connections. In her sermon, Rabbi Margolis pointed out the important role of women in the Exodus narrative, while Rabbi Schell focused on the personal responsibility everyone has to protect the freedom Jews can enjoy today and to take part in the process to expand this freedom to every human being.

Bet David is the only Jewish Congregation in South Africa with a female Rabbi as part of the rabbinic leadership of the congregation. Both Rabbi Margolis and Rabbi Schell were ordained at the Abraham Geiger College in Berlin, Germany.


Guest of Honour: Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk


Bet David’s Chairman Desmond Sweke and Ashley Sweke, Chayim Schell, Rabbi Adrian M Schell, Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, Rabbi Julia Margolis and Gregory Margolis


70 members and guests joined Bet David’s Family Seder.

Public lecture at St. St Augustine College of South Africa


Rabbi Shaked delivered a public lecture at St Augustine College of South Africa, one of the prominent catholic institutions of higher education. Looking at the ‘Paschal Lamb of God’ as a shared theological category, Rabbi discussed a number of parallels between Jewish Pesach and Christian Easter, and how the two traditions mutually influenced one another throughout the ages.

Initially we were a bit worried about attendance, as the public lecture has been scheduled before the long weekend, but Rabbi’s presentation attracted almost 80 people, including some of his friends-disciples from ‘Jews by Choice’ class.

We hope that this talk will mark the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between Beit Emanuel Progressive Synagogue and St Augustine College.

Rabbi Sa’ar Shaked

Beit Emanuel Progressive Synagogue,

38 Oxford Rd, Parktown, 2193.

Phone: 011 6466170/1/2  Fax: 011 6462035


Jewish Report: Rabbi Adrian M Schell: Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

Rabbi Schell - Bet David

Parsha in this week’s Jewish Report: Rabbi Adrian M Schell: Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei 5775 / 13-14.3.2015 Bet David Morningside

With this Shabbat’s Torah reading, we end the series about the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. In the last weeks, Jews all over the world have studied these instructions and have discussed the meaning of the Mishkan and of the Temple, which replaced the Tabernacle in later times.

Progressive Jews may have added their very own views to these discussions, as they no longer believe in a need for a Temple, a centralized “holy place” for worship and sacrifices, following the prophetic words that God is with us, wherever we are, and that prayers are the offerings God favours most.

Jews have proven over centuries that the covenant with God does not need a Temple. Jews could and can practice Judaism in a meaningful way everywhere in the world.

I can relate to this approach, because I, personally, cannot see any sense in going back to a system that limits our encounters with the Eternal to only one place.

“But tell me one thing Rabbi,” a congregant asked me once, “if you believe in the Temple, why do you support the campaign for an egalitarian Western Wall? Why should Progressive Jews, or Jews at all, pray at the Kotel?”

From a religious point of view, I stick to the position above because I am convinced that Jews don’t need the Kotel to encounter the Eternal. But Judaism is not a religion alone. It is so much more than that. It is a covenant between individuals as well – we are one people – “Am Israel”. We share a common history, common values and a common heritage. We are all connected in an invisible chain from the past to the future – “Le Dor va Dor”.

Our Sages, who, after the destruction of the Temple, transformed Judaism into a religion without the temple cult, did an amazing job. They detached “religion” from the place, but kept the people connected through and to this place. Even though they turned Judaism upside down, they kept Jerusalem as the centre of Judaism. Not only as a place where God should be worshipped, but as the centre of our hope and of our people, giving us strength in the most daunting moments in our history.

Our Torah reading ends with the powerful image of God taking possession of the Mishkan that was erected, “in the view of all the house of Israel”.

It was the centre of the camp, visible to all Israelites, and it was the stronghold of the people, giving them hope and much more of a sense of belonging together.

The Western Wall has always been a symbol of this and is still the central point of the Jewish People. The Western Wall therefore belongs to all Jews, no matter where we are, what we are, or how we pray.

As long as we are all facing Jerusalem, in prayer, song and thought, and sharing our common heritage, we are not losing the bond that connects us as one people – “Am Israel”.

Rabbi Adrian M Schell is the Community Rabbi of Bet David in Morningside.

Unveiling of heritage plaque at Temple Israel

The unveiling of the Heritage Site Plaque awarded to Temple Israel took place on 22 November 2014. It was a truly auspicious occasion. They were honored by the presence of Rabbi Julia Margolis, with Rabbis Jacobs and Shaked coming after their own services. Steve Lurie, Honorary Life President SAUPJ, Giddy Lief, Chairperson WPJ, Steve Cohn past Chair SAUPJ, and members of both Beit Emanuel and Bet David were present. Leah Livni & James Lomberg from SACRED, and Aviad Sela from the Israel Centre were present.

In addition we had good representation from several  Christian organizations in the area. Notably, Impact for Christ Ministries and The Lutheran Church.   There were brief articles in the  Jewish Report both prior to, and after the event. Charisse Zeifert from Chai FM interviewed me after the event .

My special thanks to Jacob Hurwitz, Serona Reitzik and Temple Israel staff  for all the work they put into making this event the success it was. Letters of congratulations were read out from Rabbi Joel Oseran, Vice President WUPJ, and Alvin Kushner, Chair SAUPJ.

For the record, herewith short press release:

Unveiling of the Heritage Plaque at Temple Israel Hillbrow

Temple Israel in Hillbrow is the oldest Progressive Synagogue in South Africa, having been established in 1936. The synagogue, which has operated continuously since then, has recently been accorded heritage status and the Blue Heritage Plaque will be unveiled on 22 November 2014. Temple Israel still serves a small but active congregation and holds services weekly.

The Chairperson of the synagogue, Reeva Forman, has expressed her gratitude to the Johannesburg Heritage Council for their decision to confer heritage status on Temple Israel.

“Temple Israel represents a genuine commitment to the inner city of Johannesburg,” she said. “It represents the early history of progressive Jews in South Africa, and holds important memories for our congregation. Our first Rabbi, the late M.C. Weiler, was a great proponent of human rights and believed that the essence of Judaism is a commitment to others. Under his leadership the congregation established a primary school in Alexandra – now known as the MC Weiler School – and continued to grow and support the school throughout the dark days of apartheid. He was also deeply committed to women’s rights and was the first South African Rabbi to promote the equal involvement of women in all aspects of Jewish practice. So, we have a proud history. At the same time, Temple Israel is a contemporary institution, a home for Jews from a variety of backgrounds, and a welcoming space for visitors. We engage with our neighbours in the Churches and in the residential communities and we are committed to the ongoing improvement of the area.”