Amidst the pain we all feel in the wake of these heinous attacks in Israel, we have also been outraged by the reprehensible stance the South African government has taken in supporting Hamas.
In light of this, I have changed the wording of the official prayer for South Africa (originally composed by Chief Rabbi Harris ztl) recited in shul on Shabbos mornings since 1994. From this Shabbos onwards, we will pray only for South Africa and her people, and not for the government.
We simply cannot, in good conscience, pray for a government that supports an organisation responsible for the worst killing spree of
Jews since the Holocaust – an organisation whose official policy is to murder Jews, and which poses an ongoing threat to the safety of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
At the same time, we must draw a critical distinction between the South African government and the South African people. A blessing we have here in South Africa is the prevailing atmosphere of tolerance and kindness among people of very different backgrounds. Baruch Hashem, at this point, the surge of anti-Semitic attacks around the world has not happened here. The people of South Africa have once again shown how the value of unity in diversity is held dear by many.
We are not our government. The people of South Africa exist apart from the government. We elect the government – they serve us and are accountable to us. In a democracy, the government draws its mandate from the people – the people are, in fact, higher than the government. Hence, the South African constitution begins with the words, “We, the people…”
The decision to change the prayer for South Africa was not taken lightly – in any democracy there will be government policies certain population groups will vehemently disagree with. And we certainly can’t change the text of our prayers every time a government makes a decision we don’t like. But when it crosses the line and adopts a stance this immoral we can’t in good conscience pray for them.
Such a change is reserved for extreme situations, for government violations of morality so grotesque they undermine the integrity of our prayers. This is an issue of our Torah values. We mean what we daven for; our prayers reflect our deepest hopes and aspirations, and our deepest values.
We look forward to a time when this government reverses its support of Hamas so that we can again include them in our prayers.
“May Hashem grant His people strength, and may He bless His people with peace”.
Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein
• Published in the November 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.
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