What we do

Led by a dynamic young Israeli-born rabbi, Saár Shaked, Beit Emanuel is an energetic and exciting community. Our rabbi encourages participation, spontaneity and the unexpected. We have moved away from the formality of conventional Reform Judaism and instead explore forms of prayer both ancient and modern that encourage participation, touch the heart and bring people together.

Ours is the most diverse Jewish community in South Africa: not only the young and the old, but also Sephardis and Ashkenazis, white and black, gays, Jews by Choice, South Africans, Europeans, Americans and Israelis, the elderly in wheelchairs, and toddlers in prams. Some families have been in the congregation for generations, some are “refugees” from Orthodoxy, some are new converts who have chosen to become Jews and who bring new energy and ideas. We strive for a community in which all these people find ways to participate and are fulfilled by it.

We are encouraged by the strength of our lay leadership, not just the committee members, but a core of active participants. The congregation includes a number of knowledgeable and dedicated members who are accomplished enough to lead services, deliver sermons and discuss Talmud. Beit Emanuel members play key roles in wider Jewish community initiatives such as the annual Limmud conference, the Florence Melton School for Jewish adult education and the religious action group Sacred. There is also professional expertise among highly qualified congregants willing to assist in areas as diverse as technology, marketing, communications, law, financial management and workshop facilitation.

We hold regular cultural and community events to draw in members and make them more actively involved.  These have included public concerts by the choir, signing both liturgical music and secular pop and jazz songs; bingo evenings, get-togethers for older congregants including teas and a Grandparents Sunday; sleepovers and puppet shows for the children. There are also some more serious events, such as the annual Franz Auerbach Memorial Lecture, in which a prominent member of the wider South African public speaks on a human rights topic. The event is held in honour of the late Franz Auerbach, a leading member of our community and an outspoken opponent of injustice.

Through our website, weekly bulletin, email contact and SMS alerts and reminders, we keep in touch with our members to inform them of the range of activities run by professional staff and volunteers.

All ages feel at home at Beit Emanuel

Progressive Judaism

Progressive Judaism is the dynamic growing edge of Judaism. It respects Jewish tradition and seeks to preserve the best of our Jewish heritage. It is also a living tradition, an integral part of the modern world. It confronts the challenges of our time, welcoming advances in all areas of human knowledge, and responding constructively and creatively to changing circumstances.

Progressive Judaism encourages men and women to play prominent and equal roles in leading services and in the running our synagogues. We believe in the full and equal inclusion of all Jews regardless of gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

Morality is at the centre of Judaism. Without ethics the rituals of Judaism have no meaning. The Torah teaches that we exist in order to do what is right. We see ourselves as a holy community which upholds the teachings of Torah and works for truth, justice and peace for all humanity.

Progressive Jews believe that Judaism should be an active force for good in the lives of Jewish individuals, families and communities and that it should contribute to the betterment of human society. Progressive Jews value truth above tradition, sincerity above conformity, and human needs above legal technicalities.

Progressive Jewish Organisations

Progressive Jews are represented in South Africa by the South African Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ). You can find out more about them from the SAUPJ website.

Since the 1920s there has also been an international representative body for Progressive Judaism. It is the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ). Find out more about the WUPJ.

There are important Progressive (also called Reform, Liberal, Reconstructionist) Jewish communities and organizations all around the world. Here are some website links you might find of interest:

Country Organization Web address/link
UK Liberal Judaism www.liberaljudaism.org
UK Movement for Reform Judaism www.reformjudaism.org.uk
UK Leo Baeck College www.lbc.ac.uk
USA Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) www.urj.org
USA Hebrew Union College (HUC-JIR) www.huc.edu
USA Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) www.ccarnet.org
Israel Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) www.reform.org.il
Israel Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) www.irac.org

Shabbat services

Shabbat services We hold Friday evening services in our main synagogue every week from 6.00pm until about 7.15pm.  The services are accompanied by a full four-part choir led by choirmaster Avi Kanar on keyboard. Rabbi Shaked himself often accompanies the choir, sometimes on guitar, sometimes on instruments as exotic as a digiredoo. Community participation, passion …

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Chavura Service

Johannesburg Egalitarian Chavura at Beit Emanuel   A Shabbat service where everyone joins in the singing. And even some dancing. Where anyone can talk back about the sermon. There are drums, guitars and a little meditation. It’s a highly interactive, engaging experience, quite different from the formality of a mainstream Reform service, even though the …

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Care Committee

Beit Emanuel Care Committee   The Beit Emanuel Care Committee are among the unsung angels of the congregation. Their task is to work quietly in the background to support the Rabbi in his pastoral work. Says chairperson Judy Hodes: “We visit the sick, the elderly and those in need. We offer an ear and advice; …

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Choir

A highlight of Beit Emanuel is the choir, which enriches Friday night and festival services with beautiful four-part harmony. The choir is led by Israel-trained composer and music teacher Avi Kanar, who arranges the music, conducts the choir and accompanies them on piano.Avi was brought to Beit Emanuel two years ago, during a major overhaul …

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JTalk discussions

Following the service on most Shabbat mornings, Beit Emanuel hosts an interesting and informed speaker on a thought-provoking topic, usually – but not always – related to Jews or Judaism. Sessions have proved so popular that guests need to come early to be assured of a seat. Some speakers are our own members talking about …

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Progressive Judaism

Progressive Judaism is the dynamic growing edge of Judaism. It respects Jewish tradition and seeks to preserve the best of our Jewish heritage. It is also a living tradition, an integral part of the modern world. It confronts the challenges of our time, welcoming advances in all areas of human knowledge, and responding constructively and …

View page »