South African Rabbis, Clerics Join in Appeal to Government for Judicial Inquiry into Detainees
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South African Rabbis, Clerics Join in Appeal to Government for Judicial Inquiry into Detainees

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South Africa’s Orthodox and Reform rabbis have joined with church spokesmen in urging the government to institute a judicial inquiry into the recent death of a political detainee and the hospitalization of another. But while the rabbis publicly expressed their concern, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies took the position that it could not speak for South African Jewry on the matter and decided to take no stand. The detainee who died was one of 20 persons arrested in police raids under the Terrorism Act and held without trial.

A groundswell of opinion against the arrest without-trial laws has developed here. Chief Rabbi B.M. Casper and Rabbi A.H. Lapin of Cape Town, both Orthodox, were joined by Reform Chief Minister A.S. Super of Johannesburg and Dr. David Sherman, Cape Town’s Reform leader, in associating themselves with the protests. Each rabbi delivered a sermon last week on the subject.

Rabbi Casper observed that while the State had a heavy responsibility to maintain stability and good order, the tragic events had increased growing disquiet over the treatment of political detainees. “Where human lives are involved, official responsibility becomes great,” he said. Rabbi Super said “The teachings of Judaism compel us to join in the demand for a full judicial inquiry into the fate of detainees. Justice and humanity and the good name of South Africa also demand it.”


The Board of Deputies, at their monthly meeting, took the position that the rabbis were entitled to speak out where they felt moral principles were impugned and were fully within their rights to have taken a position which they believed to be correct on moral grounds. G. Saron, general secretary of the Board, said it was difficult to present the complex position of South African Jewry in a manner that could be easily understood overseas. However, he insisted that this does not mean, as some overseas critics have charged, the South African Jews take a neutral position. Saron said there was no monolithic structure in the Jewish community here and the same differences exist among Jewish citizens on political matters as among non-Jews.

Therefore, he said, the Board of Deputies, as the community’s central representative institution, was not in a position to take a communal stand. Some deputies noted that Jewish youth in particular was critical of the Board’s refusal to take a stand. Others contended that it was natural for youth to be critical of the Establishment but the Board was correct in standing outside of the political arena.

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