Questions and answers about same-sex marriage

Why are we taking this decision now?

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. Our rabbis and lay leaders have, after long and thoughtful deliberation, and in the spirit of what Progressive Judaism is about – inclusion of all Jews regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity – decided that the time is right to give full recognition to same-sex couples who commit themselves to each other in a Jewish marriage.

Are we the first movement to do this?

The Progressive movement has come a long way on this question. Our fellow movements across the world have over the past 15 years made clear statements of where they stand. The Reform movement in America recognises the right of its rabbis to officiate at same-sex chuppahs, while the British Liberal Movement performs blessings over same sex unions. The American Conservative movement recently allowed gay and lesbian rabbis to be ordained by its seminaries, at last bringing them in line with all other non-Orthodox seminaries in that country.

However, due to civil legislation, none of these movements has been in a position to consecrate same-sex marriages both religiously and civilly. Due to South Africa’s legislation, we are able to do that. In November 2006, Israel’s highest court ruled that same-sex marriages that were legally performed in other countries will now be granted legal recognition in Israel.

What is the Orthodox position on this?

Orthodoxy has also moved a long way on this question. Where in the past there was blanket condemnation of homosexuality, over the past 30 years several recognised Orthodox rabbinic authorities have accepted that homosexuals do not have a “choice” over their orientation and that, while any homosexual act would be condemned as a “ma’aseh aveirah” (a sinful act), an outwardly gay man or woman can be a fully functioning member of an Orthodox community so long as they remain celibate.

This has not been seen as going far enough by a great number of Orthodox members as can be witnessed by the screening here of “Trembling Before God” and the visit of the Orthodox homosexual rabbi, Steve Greenberg.

Why are we calling them “Marriages” and not something else?

To call a Jewish ceremony recognising the lifelong commitment of a same sex couple to each other anything other than a marriage would imply that we see them as different from a heterosexual couple. This would defeat the purpose of our decision which is to grant equal recognition to all Jewish couples.

But this is against God’s law!

While this may be against Orthodox halachah as it stands today, there is no way of knowing what God feels on this subject. Judaism has always been concerned with trying to understand God’s intentions through study of Torah, and that is exactly what we have done in this case. The overwhelming principle that we have followed is that we are all made b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, and that requires that we do not in any way diminish or separate out the loving commitment of two Jews to each other, whether they be of the same or different sex.

Halachic sources over the past 2000 years do not deal with the possibility of a lifelong monogamous loving relationship, since they were written in societies that did not permit such things to take place. We can understand the existing laws as protecting men and women from abusive sexual relationships, which we fully support.

OK, but doesn’t the Torah clearly condemn same sex relationships?

The Torah condemns many things which rabbis over thousands of years, uncomfortable with the ethical implications, have sought to redress. Early examples are the stoning of a rebellious son (ben sorer u-moreh Dt. 21:18) which the Mishnah uses legal arguments to restrict to the point of practically impossible; the requirement of two witnesses in a legal case (al pi shei eidim Dt. 19:15) which the Talmud reduced to one in the case of confirming the death of a husband in order to allow his wife (the agunah) to remarry; and Hillel’s prozbul which allowed Jewish businesses to bypass the forgiving of debts once every seven years (Dt.15:1-2). In the last case, the Mishnah (Gittin 4.3), simply states: “Hillel established the prozbul in order to repair the world.”

That was then. What about more modern examples?

A much more modern Orthodox example is the case of a deaf person. According to the Talmud, a deaf person was considered to be retarded, mentally incompetent, an imbecile not able to serve as a witness or to be counted in a minyan, or to effect marriage or divorce. After visiting the Vienna Institute for the Deaf, Orthodox Rabbi Simcha Sofer (late 19th Century) saw that their impaired speech and hearing had nothing to do with their intelligence and accountability, and urged altering the older Rabbinic judgement. New information must lead halachah to respond anew.

In the Progressive movement, we now take for granted the equal involvement of women as rabbis and cantors, being counted in a minyan, called up to the torah and leading services in our synagogues. Our movement does not recognise the demeaning labels of mamzerim (bastards) and agunot (women unable to remarry). In all these cases, Progressive Judaism has taken its stance despite the Torah’s apparent stance.

Jewish law can’t just change to suit new fashions

That is true – but homosexuality and lesbianism are not fads. They have existed as long as human beings have and psychology and now legislation are recognising that fact. In the past, halachah has tried to respond to new information and social realities, and it needs to do so now too.

Are we not separating ourselves from the Jewish community?

Judaism is a wide umbrella that covers a full spectrum of observance and belief. While we don’t expect everyone to agree with our position, there are a great number of Jews who do, and those who don’t we ask, as we do in all matters, to respect it. We believe that Judaism needs to speak to the issues of the time, and in that respect not taking a positive position on this issue would be avoiding a major source of pain and prejudice in the Jewish community today.

Across the world, the entire Jewish community is currently debating and reviewing its position on the issue, and who knows where the other movements will be in 25 years time. We, the Progressive Movement, are not prepared to wait for them to catch up. We will take the lead, and others can decide whether or not to follow.

Can’t we just keep this all quiet – what someone does in their own home is entirely up to them?

Once again, the reason that the SAUPJ has made this declaration public is because we believe that a loving, monogamous relationship, irrespective of the gender of the couple, deserves to be sanctified in front of one’s family and community. Keeping this private would not achieve the egalitarian aim of this decision.

Find out more

For more information, call Rabbi Greg Alexander on 021 552 2484 or email him at

What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

Most biblical commentators, Jewish and Christian, hold that the Bible is unambiguously opposed to homosexuality. But Professor Frederick Greenspahn argues that the scriptural references are often misinterpreted. From the CCAR Journal, a US Reform quarterly. (In PDF format: 67kb)

A quick guide to Progressive Judaism

Progressive Judaism embraces our traditions, and works to make them meaningful parts of contemporary life. Personal responsibility, egalitarianism, community and local tradition are the hallmarks

Minhag South Africa

Document outlining the current practices of congregations affiliated to the SA Union for Progressive Judaism (In PDF format:100kb)

Questions and answers on Progressive Judaism

Ten questions and answers about South African Progressive Judaism, as described in the 1980s by the late Rabbi Dr David Sherman of Cape Town. (Note: Some of these practices have since changed)

Landmark decision to allow same-sex marriages

In a landmark decision, the South African Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ) has decided to allow marriages between Jewish couples of the same gender.

“This decision was arrived at after long and thoughtful deliberation, and in the spirit of what Progressive Judaism is about – inclusion of all Jews regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity,” said Steve Lurie, chairperson of the SAUPJ.

At the National Assembly of the SAUPJ held in Durban on 6 May, it was agreed that there should be no distinction in the status of religious marriages of same-sex partners and heterosexual couples.

“This is a matter of justice and principle and we believe it is what Judaism requires of us in this day and age,” said Lurie. “As an inclusive movement, and one with a strong commitment to ensure that injustice is not done in our communities, we believe that this move goes a long way to repudiate prejudice.”

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 honours the divine within all human beings, and their right to live with dignity,” said Lurie.

Questions and answers about same-sex marriage

Rabbi Greg Alexander explains the reasoning behind the SAUPJ decision and how this relates to Progressive Jewish principles.

What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

Most biblical commentators, Jewish and Christian, hold that the Bible is unambiguously opposed to homosexuality. But Professor Frederick Greenspahn argues that the scriptural references are often misinterpreted. From the CCAR Journal, a US Reform quarterly. (In PDF format: 67kb)

A quick guide to Progressive Judaism

Progressive Judaism embraces our traditions, and works to make them meaningful parts of contemporary life. Personal responsibility, egalitarianism, community and local tradition are the hallmarks

Minhag South Africa

Document outlining the current practices of congregations affiliated to the SA Union for Progressive Judaism (In PDF format:100kb)

Questions and answers on Progressive Judaism

Ten questions and answers about South African Progressive Judaism, as described in the 1980s by the late Rabbi Dr David Sherman of Cape Town. (Note that some of these practices have since changed)

Netzer beat the Argus challenge

WHAT started as a dream four months ago when I arrived in Cape Town, became a reality last Sunday (11 March 2007), when 20 Progressive Jews wore the same cycling top and went riding together on the 2007 Argus cycle challenge. All of them finished.It all started as an idea of Vered Margalit, the shlicha in Gauteng, and myself, the Cape Town shaliach, to ride, just the two of us, in the biggest cycling race in the world.We then realized there was potential to bring more people together through the love of the sport. Vered and I, together with Navot Naor, our Durban shaliach, went out to our fellow congregants looking for cyclists and donors to make the event a fundraiser for our Netzer youth.

I turned to a designer and together we created a shirt that represents some of our youth movement’s main ideas: Zionism (blue & white shirt with a Magen David), Progressive Judaism (Temple Israel’s logo) and a strong connection to the greater Jewish community (the Jewish agency and MASA logos).

The response was very good. And so, on the last Friday before the race, we got together in Temple Israel, Green Point, in Cape Town for a special service and a carbo-loading Shabbat dinner (See group picture of us below).

Progressive cyclists from all around the country (Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg) gathered for this special event. The Shabbat service, beautifully planned and performed by the young leaders of Netzer, was as always, full of songs and happiness, welcoming the Shabbat in our special way.


Our much respected Rabbi Greg Alexander helped lead the service with great spirit and advice. He also gave the cyclists a welcoming blessing and Birkat Haderech (a cyclist before a race can never get too many good lucky wishes).
After the service, we all met in the big hall for a lovely dinner made for us by Liza and Tzuriel.

The cyclists were presented with their specially designed tops and spirits were high. What a great thing it is to combine the love of sports, the feeling of togetherness and the Mitzvah of helping our youth!

Without doubt, the peak of the weekend was the Argus Cycle Challenge itself. Almost 40,000 participants, men and women, from young to old, all riding together around the most beautiful city in the world.

Each and every one of the Progressive team successfully completed the race, with a huge smile on his or her face and a big sense of accomplishment. Once again, together we’ve proved that we are happy and proud to be Progressive Jews in South Africa!

Thanks to all cyclists and to everyone who helped us make this dream come true!

Showing no signs of exhaustion, Ishai Aloni and Vered Margalit, the Netzer Shlichim, beam happily after crossing the finish line 

Making Judaism fun for tomorrow’s leaders


The Progressive Jewish youth movement, Netzer, provides regular events for young people ranging from Grade 1 to post-matric

Passing the light to the next generation


What happens when the youth are no longer so young? They join TaMaR, the young adults movement

Netzer’s mini camps





Netzerniks from across the country gathered for our two mini-machanot (mini camps) in Cape Town and in Gauteng.Minimach Otzar (treasure), from the 30th March to the 1st April, was held for our Cape Town chaverim (members) on our beautiful Glen Cairn campsite. The weekend was jam-packed with fun, excellent peulot (activities) and fantastic experience for our new madrichim (youth leaders).A special feature was an uplifting Shabbat. Coming together as a community with ru’ach (spirit), song and togetherness is always done in our signature Netzer style!Three weeks later, Minimach Chofesh (freedom) was help at Camp Nelu, an amazing site near Britz in the North Western Province, for our Gauteng and Durban chaverim.

Minimach Chofesh also featured our distinct and loved Netzer spirit, but we also had the advantage of sharing the game reserve with ostriches, baboons and crocodiles!

Some of the highlights were: night-survival activity in the bush, machanaim (a ball game), swimming in the pool, a bonfire and drumming session at night.

We were lucky to have three madrichim from the Israeli Tsofim (scouts) movement join us, and their brilliant activities enhanced our tzevet (staff) and strengthened our ever-present Zionist expression.

On both weekends a great time was had by all! Yeshar koach to all involved and we hope that Netzer will only go from strength to strength for the rest of the year.

The rest of the year ahead holds many wonderful possibilities for Netzer. This month will be full activities for Lag Ba’omer, Yom Yerushalaim, and Shavu’ot of course.

Nilmad V’Na’aseh! We will learn and we will do!

Meghan Finn


Click the image for an enlarged view of this group picture of Minimach Chofesh

Related articles

Netzer’s big summer camp

Get a taste of the fun you can have! Check out these photographs of Netzer’s December camp in 2006 at Glencairn, near Cape Town.

Beating the Argus

Twenty youngsters in Netzer shirts take on the Argus cycle challenge … for the sake of Progressive Judaism

Making Judaism fun for tomorrow’s leaders
The Progressive Jewish youth movement, Netzer, provides regular events for young people ranging from Grade 1 to post-matric

Passing the light to the next generation
What happens when the youth are no longer so young? They join TaMaR, the young adults movement

Caring for our environment

The South African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute is an institute of people of many faiths, united in our diversity through our common commitment to earth-keeping. Our aim is to support the faith communities in fulfilling their environmental & socio-economic responsibility. The institute was founded in July 2005. Rabbi Hillel Avidan, chairperson of the SAAPR, is the SAUPJ representative on SAFCEI.

In the spirit of our respective faiths, through collaboration, networking, research & action, our objectives are to:

  1. Raise environmental awareness
  2. Engage in formulating policy & ethical guidelines within our faith communities
  3. Facilitate environmental responsibility & action
  4. Confront environmental & socio-economic injustices
  5. Support environmental training and learning.

We uphold as core values the principles of the Earth Charter:


Respect Earth and life in all its diversity

  1. Care for the community of life with understanding, compassion and love.
  2. Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful.
  3. Secure Earth’s bounty and beauty for present and future generations.

Protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems, with special concern for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain life.


Eradicate poverty as an ethical, social, and environmental imperative.


Strengthen democratic institutions at all levels, and provide transparency and accountability in governance, inclusive participation in decision making and access to justice.

Treat all living beings with respect and consideration.

Promote a culture of tolerance, non-violence and peace.

Some issues SAFCEI is addressing

Climate Change:
Climate change is being generated by greenhouse gases, primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal-fired electricity generation, and by motor vehicle emissions. If we don’t take urgent remedial action, climate change could be devastating. We need to ensure that it is placed on the agenda of faith communities.

How we generate energy and the amount we use is closely linked to climate change. There is a need to bring faith communities into greater awareness of the need to use renewable energy. If we are to prevent catastrophic climate change, we need to move from our present policy of high capital, high-tech, high energy development, to renewable, people-centred electricity generation that is in the control and hands of local communities.

Economics and Ethics:
There are huge economic injustices and disparities in our world today. We won’t get our economics right or stem environmental degradation, unless we get our ethics right. Ethics is obviously an area faith communities should be involved in.

Biodiversity and Extinction:
As people of faith, we believe God brought life into being. It is not for us to destroy it. Life on our planet is dependant on the interconnectedness of the variety of species. If too many species are destroyed, the very fabric of life is threatened. Our present rate of extinction is alarming. Among our faith communities we need to promote an attitude that has a high regard for life.

Food Security:
We believe our people have a right to know what food they are eating. Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) food is not labelled. We are also greatly alarmed at the monopolistic control, notably by Monsanto, of sale of seed and distribution in South Africa. It is obviously essential for our African farmers to be able to continue saving seed for the next season. This is not possible with GMO seed under the control of multi-national corporations. Our food security is in jeopardy.

In all these environmental issues it is the poor who will be most effected, as climate change brings an end to their traditional farming, or fish stocks decline, or arable land is taken over by hungry developers, for example, housing and golf estates.

Waste Management:
The amount of rubbish and waste that we are generating is becoming unmanageable. We can do much through recycling, and composting of biodegradable waste.

Reduce, Recycle, Re-use:
We all need to learn to reduce our consumption of water or energy and there is much that every individual family can do to change direction so that we get onto a sustainable path for the future.

For the future of life the faith communities need to be involved. Our goal is to build a sustainable future for life on earth.

Contact us

Enquiries: Rabbi Hillel Avidan
Durban Progressive Jewish Congregation
Tel: +27 31 208 6105

Fax: +27 31 209 2429

For further information, go to our website:

Questions and answers on Progressive Judaism

1) What is the basic idea of Progressive Reform?

The basic idea is the principal of growth. There can be no life without growth. Progressive Judaism maintains that Judaism has not reached the end of its road. It is not and never was, something fixed, static and changeless, but something vital and dynamic.It is still capable of growth and adjustment in terms of the changing needs and conditions of life.

Historically it can be shown that Judaism is not all of one piece – the same today as in the time of Moses. The Judaism of the Talmud is different from the Judaism of the Bible. Instead of the Temple with its animal sacrifices, the Talmud substituted the Synagogue with its service of prayer in order to meet the challenge of Diaspora living.

In the 12th century, Maimonides gave to Judaism a new philosophical formulation in answer to the intellectual questionings of his day, and in a similar manner, Progressive Judaism represents an answer to the challenge of our modern scientific world outlook. Judaism survived because it never stood still; because it had the power to adapt itself to the requirements of each new challenge as it arose.

2) How has Progressive Judaism improved the status of the Jewish women?

Traditional Law (Halachah) is patriarchal in structure. The rabbis have heaped praise and flattery on Jewish woman, and they have also tried to protect her against certain abuses. But they cannot give her a position of equality in Law.

In the Synagogue, she is segregated in the women’s gallery, and cannot be counted for a minyan. She cannot be called up for the reading of the Torah nor sing in the choir. In Jewish Court (Beth Din), except in certain special cases, her testimony cannot be accepted.

Progressive Judaism has abolished all these disabilities and given the women a position all equality in the Temple, including as women rabbis and cantors.

Even more important are the disabilities faced by women in connection with the Jewish Laws of Get, Agunah and Chalitaz.

An Orthodox rabbi will not remarry a divorcee unless she obtains a Get (ritual divorce) from her former husband through the Beth Din. As only the husband can initiate the Get, the woman is at a serious disadvantage. A wife can also refuse to accept the Get, which puts the husband at a disadvantage. For humanitarian reasons, Progressive Judaism is prepared to provide relief in all such cases.

Similarly, Progressive Judaism adjusts to the situation of the Agunah (the deserted wife who can never remarry until the husband returns to give her a Get or is officially declared deceased). Chalitzah originally intended to protect the childless widow, now often leads to victimisation and abuse.

Before the childless widow can remarry, she is involved in a humiliating ceremony with her husband’s brother. Consequently Progressive Judaism has abolished the practice of Chalitzah altogether.

Rabbi David Sherman (left) lands at Cape Town airport, 1944, to be met by the movement’s founder, Rabbi Dr MC Weiler, as he takes up his post as rabbi

3) What is the Progressive Judaism’s attitude towards ritual and ceremonial practice?

Ancient religions made no distinction between moral Laws and ceremonial ritual Laws. In Orthodoxy, both are of equal value. The obligation to lay tefillin is just as important as the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal”. Progressive Judaism makes a distinction between the great moral and spiritual principles we cherish as the permanent element in Judaism, and the ceremonial forms which we believe can and should be changed in accordance with modern requirements.

This does not mean that we are opposed to ceremonial practices. We believe that they perform an important function, adding grace and dignity to the religious life as well as inspirational value, and they call attention to great spiritual ideals.

The test of ceremonial therefore, is its inspirational potential. If it still has the capacity to inspire us, we practise it.

4) Is Progressive Judaism just a religion of convenience?

Progressive Jewish practice may seem more convenient because it is more closely related to the real needs of the modern Jew. The test of Progressive Jewish practice is not based on any question of convenience, but rather on its relevancy, its relatedness to the actualities of present day life.

On the other hand, to speak of Progressive Judaism as choosing the easy way is to ignore the history of the Progressive Jewish struggle.

In the early days of our Movement, the Reformers were a small handful, waging a lonely fight against an entrenched and militant Orthodoxy. They were banned and denounced by the rabbinic authorities. Indeed, even today in certain parts of South Africa and in Israel, it takes courage and self sacrifice to carry on the struggle for Progressive Judaism.

5) What is the attitude of Progressive Judaism to the State of Israel?

How does it stand on Zionism? In the early days of Zionism there were Progressive Jews as well as many Orthodox Jews who were opposed to the idea of Jewish state. In the last 50 years however, the overwhelming majority of our rabbis have been pro-Zionist and many of them have taken a leading part in Zionist work. Among them we had such outstanding figures as Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, who played an important role in the establishment of Israel.

The official attitude of the Progressive Reform Movement is best indicated by the fact that our Prayer Book contains a prayer for the restoration of Zion, and the Guiding Principles of Progressive Reform Judaism affirm the obligation of all Jewry to aid in Israel’s development. Toward this end, the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) has transferred its headquarters to Jerusalem. Our movement arranges Israel tours for Temple youth and promotes Aliyah (immigration to Israel). It has established two Progressive Reform Kibbutzim in the Arava desert [and others throughout Israel].

6) Is there a tendency to eliminate Hebrew from the Siddur (Prayer Book)?

No. Hebrew is the traditional language of Jewish worship and serves to unite us with our people all over the world. It helps to preserve the traditional character of our service, and conveys certain emotional values that cannot be translated.

Although some Hebrew prayers have been shortened, modified or translated, we retain others intact which are most expressive of the great basic ideals of Jewish worship. We have also included new prayers in English, which make the Service more beautiful, particularly for those of our Congregants who do not understand or read Hebrew fluently.

7) What is the Progressive Reform attitude to the Chumash? (The Five Books of Moses)

Can we regard the Bible as the word of God? We in Progressive Judaism believe that the Bible is a record of the religious experience of the Jewish people over a period of many centuries. It contains great religious truths and ethical insights which serve as an inspiration to the whole civilisation. But it also contains Laws and customs that were intended for people at an early stage of their development. Progressive Judaism believes that God reveals Himself gradually in terms of our ability to grasp the significance of His revelation. Hence all truth is not limited to the Bible and not everything in the Bible is necessarily binding on all, for all times.

8) What is the Progressive Reform attitude to Kashrut?

Here again we must refer back to the distinction between moral Laws and ceremonial Laws. Progressive Judaism does not regard the dietary Laws as having the same force as the moral principles of Judaism. This does not mean that we are opposed to the dietary laws as such. There is no commandment in Progressive Judaism that says you must not keep kosher. Many Progressive Jews find spiritual value in keeping kosher and we respect them for this. But we do not consider those who fail to observe these laws as guilty of a serious moral offence.

At congregational functions, however, we do not serve any forbidden foods, as an example of Jewish practice, and out of respect for those who do want to observe these laws.

9) Why do some Progressive Reform congregations differ from others?

The basic idea of Progressive Judaism is adjustment to the particular needs of the community. Every community has its own local customs, which has always been the practice in Jewish life. Moreover, as you travel around the world, you will also find wide differences of custom and practice in Orthodox congregations. These differences between Progressive Jewish congregations are highly exaggerated, as all use pretty much the same sort of Prayer Book, follow the same pattern of congregational organisation and conduct similar programmes for Jewish education. Some communities celebrate two days Rosh Hashanah – to recognise the tradition – while others celebrate one day only. Although you may find minor differences of detail here and there, the basic principles are pretty much the same.

10) Is Progressive Judaism a half-way house to assimilation?

On the contrary, one of the purposes of Progressive Judaism is to combat assimilation by making Judaism more meaningful in terms of the experience of the modern educated Jew. Progressive Judaism has brought back to Judaism those who left it, and has involved them in active participation in the life of the Jewish Community, particularly the Youth.

I asked God

I asked God to take away my pain.

God said: “No. It is not for me to take away, but for you to give it up.”

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole.

God said: “No. Her spirit is whole, her body is only temporary.”

I asked God to grant me patience.

God said: “No. Patience is a by-product of tribulations; it isn’t granted, it is earned.”

I asked God to give me happiness.

God said: “No. I give you blessings. Happiness is up to you.”

I asked God to spare me pain.

God said: “No. Suffering draws you apart from worldly cares.”

I asked God to make my spirit grow.

God said: “No. You must grow on your own, but I will prune you to make you fruitful.”

I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life.

God said: “No. I gave you life so that you may enjoy all things.”

I asked God to help me love others as much as He loves me.

God said: “Ahhh… finally you have the idea.”


Have you bought a copy?

“Judaism: A growing tradition”A selection of the writings and sermons of Rabbi Dr David Sherman, Z’L.
Imaginatively illustrated in full colour and easy to read.Copies available @ R130 per copy (incl. postage in Southern Africa) from Temple Israel, Cape Town offices: Green Point +27 21 434-8901. Wynberg +27 21 762-1745.

A quick guide to Progressive Judaism

Progressive Judaism embraces our traditions, and works to make them meaningful parts of contemporary life. Personal responsibility, egalitarianism, community and local tradition are the hallmarks

Minhag South Africa

Document outlining the current practices of congregations affiliated to the SA Union for Progressive Judaism (In PDF format:100kb)

WUPJ hosts exciting conference in May 2013

The World Union For Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) will be holding its 36th biennial international convention, Connections 2013, in Jerusalem in May 2013.

The WUPJ is the international umbrella
organization of the Reform, Liberal, Progressive and Reconstructionist movements, serving 1,200
congregations with 1.8 million members in 45 countries. The World Union strengthens Jewish life in
Israel and worldwide by establishing and supporting modern, pluralistic congregations and institutions,
developing Jewish communal and youth leadership and advancing social justice.

The World Union’s biennial international convention is a unique event – full of spirit, learning, sharing
and fun – where Reform, Progressive and Liberal Jews from around the world connect with
each other and help shape the future of their movements.

The theme of the 36th convention is “Being the Difference.” It aims to highlight the integration of
Progressive Jews as well as their commitment to Tikkun Olam, by creating the opportunity to learn,
explore, question, involve and inspire our family from across the globe, showcasing the diversity of our
progressive Jewish world, celebrating our achievements, and building closer links and bridges between our
communities worldwide to shape our future. The focus is on what it means to be a Progressive Jew in
the 21st century.

From the opening ceremony on the evening of Wednesday, May 1st through the closing Gala evening
event on Sunday, May 5, the convention will offer workshops and panel discussions, walking tours and field trips,
study and entertainment, and the most uplifting and universal Shabbat celebration observed anywhere in
the world.

Connections 2013 will include a lineup of inspiring keynote speakers, including Professor Irwin
Cotler, Ruth Messinger, David Grossman and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, as
well as amazing musical performances (Ahinoam Nini), festive opening and closing
ceremonies, a Tamar conference and Netzer presence, and the most inspiring Shabbat in the world – all this while allowing opportunities to connect and exchange ideas with one another!

Discussion topics include:

  • How to use the community for social and environmental change
  • The role of the family in Jewish education and Jewish continuity
  • Changing the face of Israel from within – bringing Progressive Judaism to secular Israelis
  • Digital Judaism
  • The Inclusive Synagogue: How open can our tent afford to be?
  • New models of Jewish education
  • Building an Israel-engaged congregation
  • New directions of Tfillah
  • Engaging Youth and Young Adults through Tikkun Olam activities
  • Ethical, legal and social challenges to mitzvoth
  • Advocating for Israel
  • Coexistence; Minorities and everything in between
  • Saving our planet
  • Partnerships for a better world
  • Greening our synagogues
  • Making change through music
  • Teaching a Fish or Giving a Fish: Tzedek or Tzedakah
  • *Refuge to refugees or refuge from refugees- a global dillema
  • Technology as a vehicle for social change
  • Caring communities
  • *Pikuach nefesh
  • Social protests
  • Teaching Tikkun Olam
  • Prayer as a means of tikkun atzmi
  • Zionism as a force for Tikkun
  • * Text studies

For more information, visit the Connections website at:

A South African Aliyah

Gold is an incredibly precious and valuable commodity, but in this story, it’s not the precious metal that has affected my life. Leaving behind one city of gold – Johannesburg – to make my life in another – Jerusalem – is quite symbolic. Egoli to Yerushalayim shel zahav – using the strong foundation of my past to build my future – gold on gold. What stronger possible building blocks could I wish to have.Now, I may not be living in Jerusalem yet, but there is a good chance that this magnificent, spiritual city is where I’ll end up eventually. Currently, I’m the wandering Jew – and I mean “wandering” in its literal sense. I’ve been living in the desert since I arrived two months ago, but I’ve spent only three weekends here. When I haven’t been studying Hebrew in ulpan, I’ve been travelling to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva and back again.I’m living on a Kibbutz in the Negev desert, south of Be’er Sheva, the place in which you can find Abraham’s well among other historic sites. I’m attempting to learn Hebrew – although my mind is struggling to remember all the millions of words we’re learning each day – and enjoying the new friends I’ve made.Leaving South Africa was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make, mostly because of my family and friends, but also because of how much I love the country, the people and the experiences.

Making Aliyah to Israel, however, was one of the easiest decisions I’ve made, even though it was a very recent one. Israel has always had a special place in my heart and when I was here in 2006, I fell in love, with Jerusalem, with Israel, with the people. I had never contemplated making Aliyah before, so most people were surprised, to say the least, after hearing about my move. And the fact that I was doing it so quickly had many of them astounded. But they all got used to the idea very quickly.

I arrived in July, part of the fourth Aliyah flight from South Africa of that year, and the Jewish Agency put us all up for a night in Jerusalem. On our first afternoon, there was a special ceremony at the Kotel (Western Wall) for the olim chadashim (new immigrants) where we were given our new Israeli ID cards (which we need to carry as new citizens).

I was one of two olim asked to make a speech at the ceremony. Not only was this a great honour, but it was also incredibly meaningful to be speaking at such a significant occasion – in my life and in that of nearly 150 other olim chadashim! With the Kotel behind me and a sign saying “Welcome home!” in front of me, it was a moment I’ll never forget. And from that moment on, the whirlwind that is my life in Israel began!

The past two months have been really amazing. I thought I’d arrive in Israel, have a welcome ceremony in Jerusalem and then arrive on the Kibbutz in the desert for my six-month ulpan (intensive Hebrew learning). Instead, I’ve been on the Kibbutz, in Jerusalem, back on the Kibbutz, then in Tel Aviv for 10 days to cover the Maccabiah Games, then back to the desert, into Be’er Sheva a few times, back to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and even spent a few weekends “chilling” in the desert. It has been fun and exciting, but also extremely exhausting.

Suitcases, suitcases, suitcases … the new immigrant at the airport.

During my Maccabiah experience – I wrote articles and took photos for the Israel News Agency on what happens behind the scenes – we were taken on a trip to Sderot to speak to the Mayor about the Gaza war and the incessant rockets. He spoke about how the municipality is rebuilding the city and creating more parks to encourage the residents to spend time outdoors now that things are relatively calm.

We were also taken to a heart-warming place in the desert called Aleh Negev. Similar to Selwyn Segal, it is a “village” that was started by the well-known and controversial Major General Doron Almag (you can Google him), whose son was born with a severe mental disability. The residents are all adults over 21 who don’t have anywhere else to go and it is a warm and loving environment with many health care workers and many volunteers who give selflessly of themselves. There is also a clinic and a rehabilitation centre, and children who are mentally ill or need rehabilitation and physical therapy are also welcomed.

The highlight of Maccabiah Chai (18) was the closing ceremony. Not only did I get to run around freely as press taking photographs, but I got to meet President Shimon Peres and shake his hand. I’m sure he’ll never remember who I am, but it was an honour to have the opportunity. I can now boast having met three presidents – Peres, Thabo Mbeki, and most importantly, Nelson Mandela.

Part of the Ulpan programme includes monthly excursions. Our first one was experiencing the Makhtesh Ramon in the Negev desert. This makhtesh (crater) is the largest in the Negev and is at the centre of two large nature reserves, Har Hanegev and Matsuk HaTsinim. Makhtesh Ramon is 40 kilometres long and nine kilometres at its widest point – and we walked the entire distance, ending up at a waterfall splashing into a pool surrounded by interesting fauna and flora. The hidden wonders of the desert are truly amazing.

As you can see, I’ve had a very full and exciting two months with many interesting (and frustrating) adventures and wonderful, rewarding experiences. I’m sure my life here will eventually settle down into relative calm and normality (not that I know what that is), but definitely not in the next month or two.

By the time you read this article, I will have been to Tel Aviv twice and Jerusalem over a five-day period. I will be covering an historic event for the Jewish Agency – nine Aliyah flights from Russia bringing in about 500 olim chadashim simultaneously. This auspicious occasion has drawn in the Minister of Absorption, Head of the Jewish Agency and many more, who will address the olim at a special ceremony in Jerusalem. I have also been asked to sit on a panel for Ashoka Israel, an international foundation that assists social entrepreneurs to succeed in their remarkable ventures. The organisation needed a third person to help choose the next Ashoka fellow and I was the only experienced panellist in Israel having sat on two panels in South Africa.

And finally, I will be experiencing my first High Holy Days period in Jerusalem, the place that enticed me to Israel. Not only is it a beautiful city, but its spirituality and warmth, and its place in Judaism, keep me returning to feed my soul. The next six weeks till after Simchat Torah will certainly be hectic in my calendar, but I’m sure that after taking care of my work needs, learning the language of our homeland, and looking after my soul, I’ll return to the desert revived and ready for more wanderings and challenges.

B’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalaim. I hope to see you all “Next year in Jerusalem” and I wish you all Shana Tovah and Chag Sameach.

09-sept-darrylDarryl in front of the Kotel, holding her brand-new Teudat Zehut (Israeli ID card)


How green is Judaism?

“The Eternal God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to keep it and to watch over it.(Genesis 2:15)

Later rabbinic commentary on that verse adds detail to God’s instructions to Adam: “Look at My works! How beautiful and praiseworthy they are! And everything I made, I created for you. Be careful [though] that you don’t spoil or destroy my world—because if you spoil it, there is nobody after you to fix it.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13). As modern stewards of creation we too must be especially careful not no destroy this earth beyond repair.

Jewish tradition emphasizes many additional values speaking to our nation’s need for energy policies that are environmentally responsible and that pay due attention to the public health and safety of both present and future generations. Humankind has a solemn obligation to improve the world for future generations.

Among the many insightful Jewish environmental quotes and ancient teachings, these are some of the most poetic texts dealing with environmental integrity and eco-justice:

Genesis 9:9-10: “Behold, I establish my Covenant with you, with your children after you, and with every living creature that is with you, of the birds, of the cattle and of every wild animal of the earth with you.”

Exodus 23:6: “do not subvert the rights of your needy.”

Leviticus 19:15: “do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich.”

Deuteronomy 20:19: “When you besiege a city a long time, to make war against it in order to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them; for you may eat from them, and you shall not cut them down. For is the tree of the field a man, that it should be besieged by you?”

Deuteronomy 22:6: “Do not take the mother bird with her young.”
Rabbi Nachmanides interpreted this to mean that we are prohibited from taking actions causing the extinction of a species. Someone who kills mother and children in one day, or takes them while they are free to fly away, is considered as if having destroyed the species.

Psalm 24:1 “The Earth is God’s, and the fullness thereof.”

Psalm 33:5: “God loves righteousness and justice; the Earth is full of God’s loving-kindness.”

Rabbi Isaac b.Sheshet, Resp. 196, 14thc: “One is forbidden from gaining a livelihood at the expense of another’s health.”

Genesis Rabah 10:7, Shabbat 77b, and Exodus Rabah 10:1. “Of all the things God created, nothing was created in vain — not even the things you may think unnecessary, such as spiders, frogs or snakes. All beings are part of the greater scheme of creation of the world.”

Sefer HaChinuch 529; 13th Century: “Righteous people … do not waste in this world even a mustard seed. They become sorrowful with every wasteful and destructive act that they see, and if they can, they use all their strength to save everything possible from destruction. But the wicked … rejoice in the destruction of the world, just as they destroy themselves.”

Avot de Rabbi Nathan, 31b: Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai … used to say: “if you have a sapling in your hand, and someone should say to you that the Messiah has come, stay and complete the planting, and then go to greet the Messiah.”

Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Noach: When Noah came out of the ark, he opened his eyes and saw the whole world completely destroyed. He began crying for the world and said, God, how could you have done this? … God replied, Oh Noah, how different you are from the way Abraham… will be. He will argue with me on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah when I tell him that I plan their destruction… But you, Noah, when I told you I would destroy the entire world, I lingered and delayed, so that you would speak on behalf of the world. But when you knew you would be safe in the ark, the evil of the world did not touch you. You thought of no one but your family. And now you complain? Then Noah knew that he had sinned.

Exodus Rabah 2:5: When we ponder why God appeared to Moses in a lowly bush, the rabbis tell us it is to illustrate that nothing in creation is without God’s holy presence, not even the most common bush.

The Talmud explains: While the sage, Choni, was walking along a road, he saw a man planting a carob tree. Choni asked him: “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?” “Seventy years,” replied the man. Choni then asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise, I am planting for my children.”

The principle of pikuach nefesh – saving lives above all else – is the greatest Jewish moral obligation. In order to fulfill this obligation we must do everything in our power to protect the environment as a vehicle for saving the lives of millions of humans and diverse species worldwide, especially those unable to adapt to a changing climate.

“It is not required of you to complete the task but neither are you free to desist from it” ( Pirkei Avot 2:21)

Article adapted with permission from the Greening Resources section of the Union for Reform Judaism in the USA.

Go low-watt on shabbat

Shabbat is a time when we are asked to slow down and remind ourselves that we are part of God’s creation. This holy day emphasizes the importance of appreciating nature and taking conscious actions to protect the environment.

It is especially appropriate to think about where our water, food, and electricity come from, so that we can make better decisions about how we use and preserve these resources. Article from the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

The eco-friendly shabbat