Reform funeral for Chaskalson

FORMER Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson, revered for his contributions to human rights in South Africa, was buried in the Reform section of Westpark cemetery on Monday December 2, 2012. The funeral, attended by President Jacob Zuma, drew the largest-ever crowd of mourners for a Progressive Jewish funeral. Despite pouring rain, about a thousand people attended.

The Chaskalson family, who are members of the Beit Emanuel synagogue in Johannesburg, specifically requested that Justice Chaskalson be buried in an ordinary grave in the Progressive section of the cemetery, rather than the “Hero’s Acre” section of Westpark, which had been offered by the Orthodox rabbinate.

The service in the Ohel was conducted by Rabbi Robert Jacobs of Bet David, who is chairman of the SA Association of Progressive Rabbis. The service at the graveside was conducted by Rabbi Dr Robert Ash of Beit Emanuel. Kito Holz, the executive director of Beit Emanuel, made the announcements.

Among those in attendance were President Zuma and former president Thabo Mbeki, who despite their political differences, marched at the head of the procession as pallbearers, one on each side of the coffin. Also there were the current chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, several cabinet ministers and judges and Reserve Bank Governor Gill Marcus. The Orthodox Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein attended by invitation, his presence a landmark in itself: the first time an orthodox South African rabbi has attended a progressive ceremony.

Geoff Budlender, a co-founder of the Legal Resources Centre with Justice Chaskalson in 1979, delivered a powerful eulogy which described how they challenged the system from within the system, with remarkable results, including an early victory that made the notorious pass law system unworkable.

The SA Union for Progressive Judaism issued the following statement: “We mourn the passing of the Hon. Justice Arthur Chaskalson. A member of President Nelson Mandela’s defence team in the Rivonia Trial and first President of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, he remained ever true to his liberal vision of a society founded in justice, law and equality.

“Justice Chaskalson regularly stated his progressive view of life, the world and religion. He spoke at the 70th anniversary celebration of the Mother Synagogue of the Progressive movement, Temple Israel in Hillbrow in 2006. His family’s association with Progressive synagogues including Beit Emanuel and Bet David remains as an enduring statement of their commitment that their father and grandfather made to those values through his daily living.

“We extend our sincere condolences to his wife Lorraine, children Mathew and Jerome, grandchildren and the many students, disciples and colleagues whom he mentored through a long, illustrious and internationally acclaimed career aimed at building a society founded in the precept of Torah, Tzedek tzedek tirdof – Surely, it is justice that you shall pursue.