Rabbi Urges South African Jews to Provide Moral Lead to Just Society

South African Jews were urged to give a “moral lead” in the achievement of a just society in this country. Rabbi Norman N.M. Bernhard of the Oxford Synagogue Center in Johannesburg, declared in the keynote address to the 1978 Cape Conference of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies that Jews should “take a firm stand in favor of equity and fair play and dignity for every human being in this country” without fear of consequences.

He said he was disappointed that fear of losing popularity and profit and self-protection inhibited Jews from taking a moral stand. Jews are not just free agents but are committed to a set of spiritual and moral values that they must strive to uphold, he stated. “Dissension itself is not going to cause anybody his living, let alone his life, ” Bernhard said. “You will not endanger your lives as with Soviet Jewry just speaking out.”

He observed: “We have a set of principles and a set of attitudes and a set of laws to which we are committed and which make us Jews. The extent to which we are loyal to those attitudes, outlooks and laws is the index of our Jewishness. We have to see how we can maintain our integrity in a situation which, without question, is basically intolerable in terms of the attitudes and the ideas to which we are heir.”

He noted that while he has often criticized the Nationalist government, he believed “that the rate of change and the conscious opening of doors by the government which it knows can never again be closed, are telling, reliable indications of the government’s intention to pursue meaningful detente within South Africa as well as beyond its borders.”

Dr. 1. Abramowitz, who brought greetings from the Board’s executive council in Johannesburg, said that while South Africa faced a difficult period he did not believe that meaningful Jewish life in this country would “just wither like grapes on the vine.” He said it was true that many Jews had left and might be planning to leave South Africa for a variety of reasons. But, he believed that in the fore seeable future the vast majority would remain.

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