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Op-eds

Looking back with gratitude and forward with confidence

  • ChiefRabbi
This past Sunday, we celebrated an historic occasion: the extraordinary legacy of Rabbi Moshe Kurtstag, Rabbi Boruch Rapoport, and Rabbi Zadok Suchard. These three names are synonymous with Jewish life in South Africa. They are three pillars of the community, and three dayanim who have devoted a staggering combined 105 years of service between them as the leaders of the Beth Din.
by CHIEF RABBI DR WARREN GOLDSTEIN | Nov 28, 2019

As a tribute to that selflessness and service, three sifrei Torah were dedicated, one for each of the dayanim who retired last year. Rabbi Kurtstag has also recently been awarded the honorary title of Emeritus Rosh Beth, in recognition of his years of service in heading up the Beth Din.

No one who was there will forget it. The atmosphere was charged with a love and reverence for Torah, and for those who have devoted their lives to upholding it. The event was a celebration of all these respected dayanim have accomplished over decades. But it was also very personal and heart-warming. We all have stories of how our lives have been personally touched through their chesed (compassion), their wisdom, Torah, and humanity. Personally, I have deep gratitude for the warmth, support, advice, and encouragement they have given me. We have worked together for 15 years, and I will always treasure the time I’ve spent learning and receiving from them. Indeed, I continue to do so.

These Torahs are a fitting symbol of Rabbi Kurtstag, Rabbi Rapoport, and Rabbi Suchard’s impact on the community as a whole, for the Beth Din they built and maintained over decades. Simply put, they established an institution that provides the community with the Torah infrastructure required to be a Jew in South Africa – a comprehensive range of specialist services essential to the preservation of Jewish life, overseeing everything from kashrut and the arbitration of monetary disputes, to marriage authorisation, divorce proceedings, and conversions.

Without the work of the Beth Din, Jewish life in South Africa would be unthinkable. We can all live here as proud Jews because the Beth Din provides the foundations for us to do so. It has done so with a level of distinction that has ensured our halachic standards – and therefore all marriages, divorces, conversions, and kosher certification – are recognised and accepted across the globe – in Israel, the United States, and across the diaspora. They have maintained a single, unified institution that is the envy of communities worldwide.

This is not something to take for granted. It’s not something that every Beth Din automatically enjoys. It’s something that has been achieved through decades of hard work, excellence, and attention to detail.

The mishna in Pirkei Avot says, “The world stands on three things – justice, truth, and peace.” (Avot, 1;18). Justice, truth, and peace are the cornerstones of any successful and enduring society with good moral foundations. It is precisely these three values that a Beth Din represents and upholds, and which our Beth Din in particular has brought to our extraordinary Jewish community. The blueprint for how to create a world with justice, truth, and peace, is G-d’s Torah and the Beth Din gives practical expression to its divine system of ethics, values, and laws.

A community steeped in justice, truth, and peace is Rabbi Kurtstag, Rabbi Rapoport, and Rabbi Suchard’s great legacy, and it’s a legacy that they are passing on to a new generation of similarly principled, conscientious, compassionate, and accomplished dayanim who they continue to mentor.

Even as the sun sets on this golden generation of dayanim, we take great comfort as a community in knowing that our Beth Din is in safe hands. In Johannesburg, Rabbi Dovid Baddiel, Rabbi Yoel Smith, Rabbi Dr Shlomo Glicksberg, and Rabbi Gidon Fox, and in Cape Town, Rabbi Desmond Maizels, Rabbi Reuven Suiza, and Rabbi Matthew Liebenberg, are continuing the great work of their predecessors.

These dayanim are all working together as a team of equals, in a spirit of partnership and unity. They are continuing to serve and lead in a spirit of unity and compassion, with care and concern for the needs of all, with integrity and humility, loyalty and dedication, with selflessness and wisdom, thereby establishing justice, truth, and peace as the pillars of our community.

This is a time of transition. As a community, we look back on these glorious decades, and, at the same time, we look forward to the future with confidence and hope. A vibrant Jewish future here in South Africa depends on our connection to our ancient values, to our divine heritage that has sustained, empowered, and inspired Jews for thousands of years. The Beth Din has the leadership it needs to continue to preserve our Torah heritage, making it accessible and embracing to all, thereby ensuring a bright Jewish future for our community.

May G-d bless Rabbi Kurtstag, Rabbi Rapoport, Rabbi Suchard, their rebbetzins and entire families, with good health, with continued blessings, and with a deep sense of satisfaction at all they have accomplished, all they have built, and all they have given us. And let us, together with our new generation of dayanim, continue the vision of a vibrant, proud Jewish community connected to our divine values and legacy.

  • Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein has been the Chief Rabbi of The Union of Orthodox Synagogues of South Africa since 2005. He has a BA, LLB (Unisa), and a PhD. in Human Rights and Constitutional Law (Wits).

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