So. African Jewish Board of Deputies Deplores Sermon of Rabbi

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies issued a statement here deploring remarks made by Rabbi Solomon Poupko, spiritual leader of Johannesburg’s Sydenham-Highlands North Hebrew Congregation, in the course of a sermon which dealt with the daubing by an unknown miscreant of a swastika on the wall of his synagogue.

A leading Johannesburg newspaper, “Die Transvaler,” reported that it had received a telephone call to send a reporter with a tape-recorder to the synagogue to report the sermon and that, after the service, it had received another call, asking that the tape-recording be handed over to the rabbi. In both cases, the caller would not give his name.

“Die Transvaler” reported that, in his sermon. Rabbi Poupko said he knew it was a “German hand”, which had done the swastika daubing; that the atom bomb should have been dropped on Berlin; that a “monster Germany” had been built from the ashes of the Second World War, with weapons again being placed in the “bloody claws” of Germans; and that Nazis were able to come into South Africa as a result of the country’s “liberal attitude towards immigration.”

The “Transvaler” report evoked expressions of horror that a spiritual leader should talk in such terms. Schalk Botha. chairman of the Afrikaans-German Cultural Union, said that present-day Germany had disowned Nazism and made anti-Semitism a crime, that it had paid heavy reparations to Israel; and that there was no evidence the swastika dauber — not yet tracked — was a German.

Maurice Porter, chairman of the S.A. Jewish Board of Deputies, in a statement to “Die Transvaler,” said that while “despicable acts” like the swastika daubing “must naturally arouse deep emotions of revulsion, bearing in mind all that the swastika connotes, it is to be regretted that the rabbi concerned, in his indignation at these acts, should have made certain of the statements attributed to him, in particular that the offender belonged to a specific ethnic group or nationality. Even if this were the case, it would be a serious injustice on that ground to condemn the group as a whole for the misdeeds of one of its individual members. We have always strongly deprecated generalizations of this character.” The Board statement also pointed out that Rabbi Poupko was speaking “to his own congregation, and not on behalf of the community as a whole.”

The same issue of “Die Transvaler” carried a statement from Rabbi Poupko, denying that he had invited the press to listen to his sermon, or that he was aware that a tape-recording was being made. “Had I been aware of this, I most certainly would have objected,” he said. He stated that his sermon had to be assessed in the light of the outrage done to the synagogue, and the hateful memories associated with the swastika. “If I spoke strongly, my words were directed not against those who have felt and shown signs of penitence and made reparations, but against the spirit of German Nazism as it is regrettably manifested in neo-Nazi circles,” he declared.

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