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J.D.B. News Letter

(By our Johannesburg correspondent)

An ever-increasing number of applications from would-be proselytes is coming in to the local rabbis, creating a formidable question for the leaders of the Jewish community in South Africa. Dr. J. L. Landau, Chief Rabbi, in an interview thus describes the problem:

“The question of proselytism is causing me and, indeed, the whole community, deep anxiety and endless worry,” Dr Landau stated. “My post brings every week new applications and it is quite impossible to consider them all, for various weighty reasons. In former years when people lived scattered in far-flung Boer farms and villages, where there were no Jewish women, and it was difficult–in certain cases well-nigh impossible–to get the consent of a Jewish girl to settle in those distant and isolated places, there was then some reason–though from our point of view, by no means a satisfactory one–for inter-marriage. Those reasons no longer prevail. There are thousands of young Jewish women who are well able to make excellent wives, and the Jewish community resents the fact that Jewish men in good positions, able to establish Jewish homes, light-heartedly marry out of their faith and thus create for themselves and the community conditions which as a rule prove most unfortunate and intolerable.

“I am drawing my knowledge from an experience extending over almost 25 years in this country, apart from the fact that I have studied this question very closely for the last 40 years in various large Jewish centres in Europe, and my experience and knowledge fully justify me in stating most emphatically and with a feeling of absolute certainty that with very few exceptions all such marriages prove fatal errors, a source of discord and unhappiness. This fact forms the keynote of Dr. Nordau’s drama, ‘Dr. Kohn’ and of Ludwig Lewisohn’s recent novel ‘The Defeated.’ And from a Jewish communal point of view it is much worse still. One does not only marry a Christian wife, one establishes family ties with all her relations. It is folly on the part of the man to expect his young wife to sever all connections with her nearest and dearest, to be able to emancipate herself from their potent influence, just as it is impossible for her to tear from her very blood the roots of beliefs and traditions and prejudices which have grown with here from early infancy and have become interwoven with the very fibres of her heart and soul. And those alien. nay, those anti-Jewish influences become later in the Jewish family new factors of considerable harmful force. All these facts are taken by me into serious account when I am called upon to consider the merits or demerits of an application for proselytism.”

“What kind of application is considered favorably?” the Doctor was asked.

“Those of families whose parents inter-married many years ago, some more than two decades ago, who by their Jewish life during all those years have shown a keen desire to identify themselves with the Jewish community and have made every effort to have their children brought up, as far as they find it possible, in a Jewish environment. Yes, many of them, even observe Jewish rites to the best of their knowledge and ability. It is not a rare occurrence in this country that boys of Christian mothers and Jewish fathers are called up to the Torah on the day of their “Barmitzvah.” It happened for instance, in the old President St. Synagogue and in the Jeppe Synagogue, and in smaller congregations in the four Provinces, owing to the fact that their parents either conceal the fact of the inter-marriage or are really under wrong impression that their children have, through circumcision, performed by some ignorant or irrsponsible Mohel, acquired the privilege of being considered as Jewish boys.

“It must also be admitted,” added Dr. Landau, “that the parents of those children are not altogether to blame as they sincerely wished them to be received into the Jewish community, but the leaders of the community for reasons which I am not prepared to discuss at this moment, refused to admit them. There are also other very exceptional cases, the genuineness of which is beyond suspicion and I often feel that I should not be justified in rejecting their application both from a Jewish legal and social point of view.”

“What is the attitude of the great rabbis in other countries on this matter?”

“Their attitude towards this problem I am unable to state,” replied the Doctor, “as I have not sufficient knowledge of the principles by which they are guided. I know for instance that many applications rejected by me here have received favorable consideration in England. It is quite possible that the rabbis there were not fully acquainted with the details of those cases.

“The orthodox. rabbi, of Hamburg, with whom I discussed this subject some years ago, told me that he made no proselytes and made no exceptions, as he did not believe in the sincerity of the applicants. In his opinion there is always some arriere pensee. My late friend, Dr. Chajes, told me about three years ago that his Beth Din admitted about four hundred proselytes per annum. Of course, it must be borne in mind that the Jewish population in Vienna is nearly two hundred thousand. There is yet another important reason which he had to consider. The Jewish weeklies from Vienna publish in every issue the names of a large number of Jewish families which embrace Christianity. The figures are appalling and distressng, and my late friend thought that it was his duty not to drive those into the arms of the church who still had the earnest and sincere desire to remain within the Jewish fold. He tried to save as many as he could.”

The Doctor was asked: “What would you suggest as the manner in which the community should meet this problem?”

“In view of these facts,” replied Dr. Landau. “it would certainly be most advisable for the leading men of the Jewish community of this sub-Continent–both spiritual leaders and others–to meet and lay down a definite policy to be pursued in connection with this very serious problem. An excellent opportunity would be afforded by the Jewish Ministers’ Conference, combined with the proposed Educational Conference. Owing to the great distances in this ##, it is not possible for those men to meet very often. Indeed the discussion of this problem deserves their foremost attention above all others that are at present facing the Jewish community here.”

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