Official statement of the South African Association of Progressive Rabbis
M any of us have seen the posters, the ads in the Chronicle and Jewish Report and, for the Herzlia parents, even received packs at school. If this is the first you are hearing, let us explain in a nutshell that the Orthodox Chief Rabbi has launched an initiative that he describes as “a call to all South African Jews to come together from across the spectrum to keep one complete Shabbos together as a community.” He has marked this Shabbat coming as a national campaign for all Jews in South Africa to keep Shabbat. Many people have asked whether the Progressive community is joining the campaign.
We share with the Orthodox Chief Rabbi the desire to see all Jews keep Shabbat, and have always emphasised the value and importance of making Shabbat holy, a day apart from the week, where family, friends and community come together. We would like to support his call to encourage everyone to keep Shabbat, except that he has defined Shabbat only as the way that Orthodox Jews observe Shabbat, as if there is no other way, and has never been one. Progressive Judaism recognises that different Jews keep Shabbat differently. For some, Shabbat might include a hike on the mountain, some gardening or skyping with family in London on Friday night. For others it includes driving to shul, to Shabbat dinner or to the beach for a sunset. For some, it might look and feel exactly as the Shabbat that is being promoted in the Shabbos Project.
Does that mean that anything goes and if it’s on a Friday night or Saturday it’s then keeping Shabbat? No, clearly not. Shabbat must be holy, sacred, a day unlike the rest of the week, where work is set aside for the duration of the day. Being Progressive does not mean that we cannot be wholly committed to Shabbat, and if this initiative has encouraged anyone to rethink their Shabbat observance and to strengthen their dedication to doing so this week, that is to be commended. So, whatever your Shabbat looks like, we support you doing it passionately and inspirationally this Shabbat, and every one following too.