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What if… R’ Meir Rabi on Emulating What Works and Dispensing with the Ridiculous

March 10, 2014 – 9:34 am23 Comments

By Rabbi Meir Rabi:

beth din2I recently visited Johannesburg, South Africa and wondered what does South Africa have that we in Australia do not?

Why do I ask that question?

Because after having observed their community and having chatted with their Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Goldstein; and their Senior Dayan, Rabbi Rappoport [distant Mishpocha with my wife] and Dayanim, congregational rabbis and members of the various congregations; I observe that they have:
* Shules and Rabbanim and Minyanim that are active throughout the day,
* a functioning Beis Din,
* a community that respects their rabbinic leadership,
* a community in which even the non-religious respect the Beis Din and its authority
* a Beis Din whose expert services of Din Torah are used by everyone in the community to resolve their conflicts
* a Beis Din that authorises every single marriage in South Africa – and heaven help that rabbi who does not comply
* many many more Kosher eateries than we do in Melb or Syd,
* almost all foods bear Kosher certification; all the large companies Nestle, Unilever etc are in on this
* Jewish schools
* Yeshivos
* Shules and Minyanim
* a Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Warren Goldstein who is visible active, admired, loved and respected
* a Chief Rabbi who unified and mobilised the community and promoted a campaign to successfully bring 20,000 people to keep a Shabbos from whoa to go
* rabbis, well qualified rabbis, learned rabbis who are everywhere and are actively engaging with the general community
* a thirst for learning Torah that is sincere, determined and serious

And this is my answer:
South Africa has more than 100 years of recent Jewish history. That history is predicated upon a unified Jewish group who were like-minded and shared common ambitions and common Halachic customs and common Jewish world views – they all originated from the same geographic location and shared very similar Jewish tendencies – they were also Lithuanian, which I think may also contribute to their ability to put personal preferences and rivalries aside and work for the common good.

This long period of time and shared outlooks and willingness to work to build for the future, has created a core community leadership system which is very powerful, and has momentum. It is an edifice with deep solid foundations that curbs the tendency of human rivalries to get out of control, and nips in the bud, those petty power grabbing empire building surges that human weakness seems to gravitate towards.

Just try to imagine for one minute a Beis Din in Australia that every single Rabbi had to submit to – every single marriage must be approved by this Beis Din and Heaven help the rabbi who fails to comply.
I was sitting with the senior dayan, Dayan Rapoport, in his office – when they were in fact dealing with one such rabbi. For whatever reason, he had failed to complete all the paperwork, it was assumed that the Chupah had proceeded as scheduled and the Dayan was preparing to drag this rabbi in for a reprimand. It’s no joke – the Shule would sack their rabbi if so instructed by their Beis Din.

The respect the community shows their community leaders is wonderful. I Davenned with the Chief Rabbi on Shabbos, he is a local product and a very modest approachable and likeable man. When he is called up to the Torah, everyone and I mean everyone in the Shule stands up as he moves from his place to the Torah.
Allow your brain to cook that piece of information and digest what that actually signifies. Think about that and our Shules here in Melbourne.

The Beis Din has a purpose built court-house, imposing and designed to honour the Dayanim and put the litigants on notice. I asked Dayan Rapoport how often it is used, and was staggered when told, about once a week. So may Dinei Torah? I asked. He enlightened and delighted me – by far the majority are for the non-religious community, who prefer the speed, cost and privacy of the Beis Din.

But I pointed out that the most important aspect of this is – the Beis Din is trusted and respected.

Now process that in your brain and heart and then think about our Melb and Syd communities.

I wrote an article here on Galus about the ridiculous, insulting, corrosive and divisive “Minhag Melbourne” to Kasher the exclusively Kosher kitchen at Werdiger Hall if Heaven Forbid it has been used with the OTHER Hechsher meat or caterer. We have so grown accustomed to this ridiculous foolish and destructive behaviour, that we no longer see it as a problem. Of course a rabbi does not eat of his own Hechsher, nor use the Eruv he approves of etc. Oh, how fortunate we are to be so enlightened and blessed to have such holiness amongst us. [sounds of angels playing the harp]

South Africa does have a separate Shechitah for a “more” or perhaps better described a “different style” Mehadrin but it is under the auspices of the Beis Din.
And GET THIS – one can order such “other” Mehadrin meat in the restaurants there – now hold on to your hat, Peyos and don’t let this blow your sock off – the Mehadrin special will be served on the same crockery, eaten with the same cutlery and cooked in the same kitchen and with the same utensils used to prepare the non-Mehadrin meat.

I think Gd and His angels dance and sing when they see this going on in South Africa, and weep and gnash their teeth when they look upon Melbourne and Sydney.

I suspect that the community of South Africa is welded together by love for one another and love for Torah. [yes of course there are fights and they have their fair share of human weakness and nonsense, but nevertheless] Even those who are not orthodoxly religious, love and respect the Torah and the institutions that represent the Torah. On the other hand, the religiously inspired Yidden in Melb and Syd, seem to have somehow not quite mustered the same dedication and Love of Torah. Perhaps it is because we don’t glorify, with the same passion, the honour of the Torah and those who dedicate themselves to it, the institutions that embody the Torah. In Melbourne and Sydney it is too common a perception that Torah is used as a weapon against those who are not liked for one reason or another, those who different ideals or political perspectives are inconvenient, and those who are not of our tribe. At the same time the Torah is conveniently manipulated to provide shelter behind which, cover is taken for one’s own protection. Gd’s Torah, or better said, interpretations of Gd’s Torah, are perceived to be used disingenuously. There is a sinking feeling in the community when the opinions, attitudes and world-perspectives of out holy Torah are presented as though the different perspectives [of which Gd orders that there MUST be many and they MUST be diverse, just have a look at any page of our Talmud] are presented as being the ONLY possibly legitimate perspective, that only one group knows what Gd wants.

You know in the Ohr Sameach of Glenhazel, Johannesburg, South Africa; there would be more than 100 people coming daily for Micha MaAriv in the various Minyanim there. And the Jewish and their “frum” population is significantly less in numbers than ours in Melb.
They have an energy and a passion for Torah, without it reeking of evangelism, fanaticism or their being distorted.

I sat at the wedding of [and danced as well] Nom Chester and Yehuda O [Mazal Tov Phil and Ilana] there was a Mechitza – for the dancing, I was begged to join the various Rabbanim with their wives – I will repeat that – WITH THEIR WIVES at the same table – what a breath of fresh air – May Gd preserve and protect them from the fanatics.

Human nature, by Gd’s design, is competitive. Our Sages teach that even though envy is not an honourable nor a truly productive motivator, nevertheless when it exists it should be harnessed to energise our excellence in Torah knowledge.

We would love to see our institutions dedicate money, time and energy into promoting Torah learning. We have seen in recent years an astounding resurgence and energy in the Tikkun Leil Shavous learning programs of Melbourne. Imagine, if we would have such a program running 10 times a year. 10, 8 hour sessions provided over 12 months, in a dozen participating Shules, or all the Shules and communities coming together in a common location; is that not a beautiful thought?

Imagine if on every second Sunday, 20 odd times a year, we would see a successful thriving hour family learning program sweep across Melbourne and Sydney. Torah, the soul and sole generator of our nation’s miraculous continuity throughout and despite, the vicissitudes and malicious machinations of history, the sheep amongst the seventy wolves, as our Sages describe it, would not only be outsourced to professionals who are dedicated and doing a great job, but would also be an active pulsing power from within our family.

As the Ponevicher Rov, the charismatic Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Kahanaman said, “I am dreaming – but I am not sleeping.”

Are we dreaming but not sleeping?

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