Statement regarding the attack on the Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

South African Association of Progressive Rabbis

“For death had come through our windows into our strongholds” (Jeremiah 9:20)

Together with all the Jewish people, together with all good and decent people, we feel great pain over the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We grieve with the families of those who were murdered and send our wishes of recovery to those who were wounded.

This hate crime was performed by an individual, but it has a wider context, aiming to spread fear and distress, to keep the different groups who build society apart and to try reinstall an old order.

Here in South Africa, we remember well what the outcomes are of such an ideology which tries to keep society in constant dread, refusing to recognize our obvious shared human heritage. Clearly, we are far away from perfection, but South Africa had long moved away from those notions. In a way, the whole dispensation of the new South Africa is intended to ensure that our different communities could come together to live in equality, prosperity and peace.

Our answer to this act of hate will be fortifying our efforts to reach out to one another. We call upon all educators, religious and community leaders to invest in creating an atmosphere of respect, where all voices are heard and appreciated and where diversity is acknowledged as a source of strength.

Though our heart is full of sadness today, we put our trust in The Eternal One, whose wisdom is beyond our grasp. We pray that out of this hard moment shall come forth maturity and understanding, fulfilling the word of the prophet: “They shall not hurt nor harm My holy mountain, for the earth shall be filled with knowing The Eternal, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 9:11)

Rabbi Sa’ar Shaked, South African Association of Progressive Rabbis

Passing of Rhona Lubner

It is with deep sadness that we advise of the death last night in London of Rhona Lubner.

Rhona grew up in Johannesburg and was a member of Temple Israel Hillbrow. Rabbi Weiler conducted her Bat Mitzvah, and she remembered this occasion at her second Bat Mitzvah at Alyth Synagogue last year.

Rhona was well known for the many charitable organisations she either founded or worked with. Her contribution to the Jewish world will be remembered for years to come.

May her memory be only for blessings.

Please pass this news on to your congregations. We will inform you as to where condolences can be sent in due course.

(Fri 2018-09-21)

Passing of Ellie Visser

Netzer Cape Town issued the following statement regarding the tragic passing of Ellie Visser, one of their Madrichim:


It is with great sadness that we announce the untimely passing of one of our Madrichim, Ellie Visser.

Ellie was an active part of Netzer SA and our Cape Town branch for the last six years. She was one of the most enthusiastic and charismatic Madrichim we could have asked for.

We ask that you respect her family’s privacy at the moment, during their time of mourning. Should you wish to pass a message on to her family, please get in contact with Jason via his email (, who will pass it on.

The funeral will take place Tuesday, 14 August at 12:00 at Pinelands Cemetery .

May Ellie’s soul find rest and may her memory be for a blessing.

Kind regards,

Jason Bourne

Head of Cape Town Netzer South Africa


The SAUPJ and all its congregations and affiliates join with Ellie’s family and Netzer Cape Town in mourning her passing.

Ellie was 21, and we understand that she died in theatre while being operated on for blood clots on her lungs.

Solidarity with the Muslim community of Malmesbury

The SAUPJ and its affiliates issued the following declaration of solidarity and condolence with the Muslim community of Malmesbury following the recent horrific attack on the mosque there:

Tamuz 5778 – Ramadan 1439 – June 2018

To the Muslim community of Malmesbury

Shalom dear friends!

Kindly accept our solidarity with you during this sad and horrific time following the inexplicable attack in your mosque. We are highly troubled that such a crime should take place at all, not to mention in a house of worship.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims, the members of your congregation that were present, and to your community.

With blessings and wishes of strength,


Rabbi Saar Shaked

Chair, South African Association of Progressive Rabbis (SAAPR)

Monica Solomon

Chair, South African Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ)

Rabbi Julia Margolis

Chair, South African Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity (SACRED)


To the Muslim community of Malmesbury

Bet David opens its new Synagogue

First new Progressive Synagogue built on the African Continent in decades – Bet David opens its new Synagogue

In a meaningful and moving ceremony Bet David in Morningside opened and dedicated its new synagogue on Wednesday, 20 September 2017, Erev Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). The dedication service was led by Rabbi Adrian Michael Schell.

After nearly 12 months of construction, the new synagogue was opened in time for Rosh Hashanah. Once completed, the new campus of the Progressive congregation in Morningside (Johannesburg), will encompass a Shul, Nursery School, the Mitzvah School, the Middleton function hall, and offices of the congregation and the Progressive Movement of South Africa. The synagogue is the third shul built on the property over a period of 45 years, and reflects the current needs of the congregation.

The design of the synagogue is a modern one, whilst incorporating many elements of the two previous synagogues that stood on the property. The new floor to ceiling windows, which constitute nearly 50% of the outside walls of the shul shall give worshippers a feeling of being part of the surrounding environment, and reflect the openness of Bet David.

After the Torah scrolls had been carried into the new shul by members of Kehillah (Bet David’s Sisterhood), the Trust and Bet David’s Management Committee, Eric Milner, Chairman of Bet David, welcomed the community to their new home and expressed the wish that the new shul will become a place where the Jewish community will come together in prayer, study and a sense of camaraderie and togetherness.

Rabbi Schell emphasised in his sermon the idea that the architecture found in synagogues worldwide mirrors the communities in which Jews live and simultaneously speaks the unique language of the Jewish people by reflecting the values of God, Torah and Israel. Rabbi Schell said: “From the time we entered into a covenant with God, there was always the vision of a sanctuary, a Mishkan, in which our relationship with God and our fellow humans can grow. The Greek word, synagogue, meaning, gathering or assembly, reflects that which we have built. Our synagogue echoes that covenant – to create a gathering place for Jews, the community, and God.” Rabbi Schell’s fervent wish for the new Shul is that “this Shul becomes a shelter for all who seek it, a place of worship of God and a place to encounter one another.”

“The shul is not yet entirely complete – some of the final touches still need to be done, but we are thankful that we could use it to celebrate the beginning of the new Jewish year. The opening of the campus will take place on 10 February 2018 with a special gala dinner,“ said Eric Milner, providing an overview of the next steps in the building process.


Picture gallery of the opening: – All pictures are free for publication in connection with the above-mentioned opening of the new Synagogue. © Bet David/private


Eric Milner
Phone: 011-783-7117



I have just returned from an exhilarating few days in Jerusalem the 37th World Zionist Congress. Since Theodore Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland on March 29, 1897, the gathering of world Jewry has been the forum to move forward the Zionist enterprise, the national liberation of the Jewish people. While the work of nation building continues, much of the focus has shifted from building Israel the state to shaping Israel the society.

The Congress, made up of 500 delegates from Israel, North America and all around the Jewish world, ( 6 from South Africa) met in Jerusalem in the midst of the current wave of violence and incitement. At the Congress, delegates vote on resolutions that range from constitutional and budgeting procedures to passionate statements of values that reflect the diversity of Jewish community, practice and beliefs. The Congress then serves as the vehicle whereby the budgets and positions of influence in Israel’s national institutions are determined. These resolutions impact future priorities, programming and practices.

This matters as the Congress is a vehicle that allows Arzenu’s values, democracy, religious equality, religious pluralism, human rights, peace and social justice to be reflected in the policies of Israel’s government and its national institutions.(Jewish Agency, World Zionist Organization, the Jewish National Fund and the Israel United Appeal)

Arzenu’s pre-Congress Program surrounding the WZC gave us the opportunity to meet with high level individuals that left significant impressions. During the opening session we were challenged by Rabbi Michael Melchior, the former Cabinet Minister to raise the level of discourse in the Congress. Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the IMPJ took us through the growth of the Israeli Reform Movement and its impact on Israeli society. We spent an afternoon in the Knesset, meeting with MK’s from across the political spectrum. This was inspiring and challenging as they pulled no punches. We benefited immensely from meeting MK Michal Biran -Labour (Zionist Union) MK Michael Oren -Kulanu MK Ayman Odeh – Joint Arab List MK Benny Begin – Likud MK Tammy Zandberg – Meretz

The keynote address of the Congress was delivered by Prime Minister Netanyahu. He described the “ten lies that the Palestinians are telling”. Included in his remarks was a statement about the second World War, claiming that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem convinced Hitler to annihilate the Jews rather than simply expel them. We heard from the leader of the opposition, Yitzhak Herzog, who offered a more conciliatory message, and Minister of Defence Yaalon, whose address on the situation facing Israel was a highlight.

Yet the most important messages coming out of the 37th Zionist Congress were those delivered by the delegates themselves. Their votes indicated that Zionism has entered the 21st century with increasing focus on the character of Israeli society. The defining is enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. By passing resolutions that called for the combatting of racism and hate crimes, fostering democracy and equality, promoting religious pluralism and supporting protections for the LGBT community, the delegates gave a clear message that the work of Zionism has entered a new phase.


With a vote of 359 – 190. we passed an historic statement supporting the LGBT community. It called for the World Zionist Organization and the Education Minister of Israel to support and develop educational programming for the LGBT community and to “enforce complete equality of their admission to Zionist entities and within National institutions”.

We insisted ( 382-163) that the government recommit its efforts to building an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. The ARZENU group stood on that new platform by Robinson’s Arch on Wednesday, and envisioned what it will look like in the near future – it will be an incredibly proud gift to the Jewish people.

We overwhelmingly (525-24) passed a resolution against hate crimes committed in our name. After a summer that saw the rise of “price Tag” retributive violence committed by small groups of Jewish terrorists, this resolution was profoundly important.

Several resolutions were passed, sometimes by disturbingly narrow votes, reaffirming the Declaration of Independence’s vision of an Israel committed to the values of democracy and freedom for all its inhabitants.

We echoed the US Congress’s call for the recognition of the rights of Jewish refugees historically expelled from Arab lands and northern Africa..

We passed vital resolutions regarding the protection of Israel’s environment and precious water resources.

We affirmed classic Zionist mandates of promoting Aliya, supporting the best practices of absorbing immigrants into Israel, and promoting education and outreach to the communities of the Diaspora, especially in the face of growing worldwide anti-Semitism.

We also passed critical resolutions for transparency and clean government within the Zionist organizations and under this umbrella.

With our coalition partners, we also beat back some resolutions that proposed an alternative, and deeply troubling, vision of Zionism. While we all oppose BDS, attempts to combat the BDS movement can be twisted to suppress real democratic debate. Thus, there were resolutions that would sanction legitimate left-wing organizations within the Zionist tent, or would stifle the right to dissent and debate within our own community. I am proud to say that we stopped those resolutions in their tracks.

Clearly resolutions do not immediately establish realities on the ground, but they do give the indication to the direction in which Zionist thought and Israeli society, is trending. I came out of the Congress aware that our vision of a strong, proud, pluralistic and inclusive State of Israel is alive and well.


My thanks go to Arzenu Executive Director Dalya Levy in Jerusalem, for all her assistance, to my deputy, Reeva Forman, and to the following : JAKAMaR Trust, The Victor Daitz Foundation, and the Lazzarus Family Trust.

Prof Antony Arkin


2015 Annual Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture

21 Cheshvan 5776
3 November 2015

Vatican 1The 2015 Annual Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture held at St Joseph’s Church hall in Durban on the evening of Thursday, 29 October featured Rabbi Hillel Avidan, Cardinal Wilfred Napier and Sheik Saleem Banda addressing two Vatican statements, “Nostra Aetate” (from Pope Paul VI in October 1965) and “Laudato Si” (from the current Pope Francis).
Rabbi Avidan praised both papal declarations and gave credit to Pope John XXIII and Cardinal Bea who, between 1958 and 1963, did the groundwork for “Nostra Aetate”. Rabbi Avidan recounted how this declaration recognized the validity of non-Christian religions and repudiated the doctrine of ‘no salvation outside the Church’. The charge of ‘Deicide’ was lifted from the Jewish people and all negative references to Jews and to Judaism were to be expunged from the Catholic liturgy. He went on to say that this was particularly pleasing to the Jewish people because negative Catholic prayers and statements in the past had done so much harm. Rabbi Avidan gave credit to the many popes who had denounced the forced conversion of Jews (as in Iberia from 1390 onwards) and the infamous “blood libel” which first appeared in the English city of Norwich in 1144 and persisted in to the 20th century.

Vatican 2Despite papal protection of the Jews the Roman ghetto was the last one in Western Europe to be dismantled (in 1870) and during the Nazi period, while thousands of Jews were saved and sheltered by individual Catholics and Catholic institutions, there was no public papal condemnation of Nazi policy.

Turning to “Laudato Si” Rabbi Avidan, as a committed environmentalist since 1961, praised the commitment of Pope Francis to environmental care. Pope Francis, he said, is the single most important figure in the struggle to save our planet from further degradation at the hands of industrialists, arms dealers, multi-national companies and uncaring or shortsighted governments.


SAUPJ Press Release: No meeting with Hamas

Press Release on behalf of the South African Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ) and the South African Association of Progressive Rabbis (SAAPR)

20 Oct 2015

It has been reported in the media that Hamas representatives will meet with a “Progressive Jewish Group” during their visit to South Africa. We have no knowledge of the source of this notice and have no dealings or intentions of meeting with Hamas.

We call on Hamas to distance themselves from anti-Semitism and terror and to remove from their Charter the aim of killing Jews.

Rabbi Greg Alexander
SA Association of Progressive Rabbis

Alvin Kushner
National Chairman
SA Union for Progressive Judaism


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