Religious Practices are under the spotlight in South Africa. Are we ready as the Jewish Community to withstand scrutiny from outside?

The Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Rights Commission established by Parliament has, over the past month launched an urgent investigation into the “Commercialization of Religion” in South Africa with a view to establishing a legislated Framework for the Regulation of Religions.

It’s Chairperson has been outspoken on the fact that they are “summonsing” and not requesting the various heads of religions, including our own Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein, to appear before the Commission to engage on the topic of interest.

On the face of it, this Commission is doing and saying all of the correct things given recent unacceptable events, particularly within some of the more Charismatic Black Churches in this country. Snake Eating, Swallowing Petrol etc. all in the name of Religion.

Constitutionally however some commentators believe that this Commission is treading on exceptionally thin ice in endeavoring to regulate Religions and Religious practices.

It’s less interesting to debate whether such a Regulating Framework should be introduced, with more than sufficient evidence favoring its introduction and thereafter its enforcement given the recent goings on. What is more interesting is to try and understand the motivation in activating this sleeping giant in such an emotionally charged and laden arena of interest.

Many commentators seem afraid that the Commission may step on the Constitutionally-assured right every SA citizen has to worship as they want in whatever way they choose i.e. to Religious Freedom.

What the Commission seems to be primarily interested in is the capacity of each listed Religion to self-govern the activities of ordained religious practitioners in a way befitting a common acceptable and civilized standard of application.

The question on everyone’s mind is apparently how “Intrusive” this Commission may want to become?

In a First World Country, with Ethically defensible Norms and Practices, this endeavor may be common and expected. However in a country such as our own with as questionable a culture of morality and ethical subversion, evidenced in-particular by our own Government’s level of corruption, greed and obvious bias against Jews in-particular, such a project on the face of it, appears nefarious, questionable and sinister. Particularly if one takes into account the undue influence which the Muslim community has managed to gain, over the ANC/SACP alliance in Government.

However there is no question that the standardization and regulation of the sector is long overdue. In my recent Radio Today interview with the Deputy Chairperson of the Committee, Professor David Mosomo, the Podcast of which can be found on the Facebook Page: Contemporary Business, he goes to pains to assure listeners that the Committee is intent on being procedural rather than intrusively substantive. It is looking for common standards both of practice and of administration and it is focused on ensuring a common application of self-governance rather than governance by the State or worse, intervention by the State.

What ultimately should that standard guide? The capacity of every religion to administer members collectively? The ability to administer to members the services generally acceptable in this environment meeting the expectations of those who have chosen to worship to a particular deity in a fashion based on custom and practice? The ability to manage a budget based in reasonable sources of income and objects of dissemination? Importanntly, and an areas where many established religions fall short in, the ability to establish standards of application for religious practitioners both of a lay and also a full-time variety culminating in a standardised formula and system for ordination. In the case of Jewish practitioners this would go beyond Smicha and entail both the training and the professional certification of Community Rabbi’s, Chazan’s and even possibly Community Rebbetzin’s focusing on how they work within and administer to a community of followers either in established Synagogues or in what has become known as Shtible Synagogues. Indeed it may be argued that even and especially those people within our community who work with the Youth should be covered by such a strategy, including Teachers and Heads of Departments in our Schools.

The question we need to answer as a Community which will inevitably be effected by such a standard and presumably at some stage having to report and account into a National structure of some kind. Is simply under which competency or capacity within our community should this accountable Jewish Community fall?

Should it be the Chief Rabbi’s Office? In my opinion not. The Chief Rabbi is the CEO of the Jewish Community of South Africa. He is not the Beth Din, nor is he the spiritual head of our communities’ soul. His job of work is quite different from those who minister to the needs of congregants or manage, regulate and ultimately confer ordination of practitioners, nor should his office ever be in-charge of these functions. He is not a Community Rabbi, nor should he be expected to be one or even master that function. He is a Beauracrat. A Community Politician. His skill set needs to be different from that of a spiritual or community-based practitioner.

Moses and Aaron were completely different and neither pretended to have the others skill-set or competence. Aaron was the Rabbi and Moses was the Politician.

In non-religious parlance, it would be a Professional Body which ultimately is responsible, within any particular Industry or Sector, for the training, development, life-long learning, professional designation and importantly the moral and ethical behavioral monitoring and regulation of all its Professionally designated Practitioners.

There cannot be any question that this competency and responsibility lies with our Rabbinical Association and has to be driven by the President of that Association. When summonsed in the past weeks to the hearings by the “Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Rights Commission” it should have been the President of our Rabbinical Association who was delegated to attend and NOT someone from the Chief Rabbi’s Office.

The imminent threat posed by this investigation into the way we practice and who leads us as a Jewish Community in those practices is that a single, standardised Professional Body for ALL religions is established and sanctioned by Parliament. This would be exceptionally dangerous and detrimental to our way of life as Jews because at its worst where he-who-shouts loudest dominates, and where other religions in-particular the Charismatic Churches and the Muslim Judicial Council will dominate such a structure, we may very well lose our identity and where our constitutionally enshrined rights to self-determination may become threatened.

What we HAVE TO DO imminently is establish our own model of a Professional Body. We need to have it registered by the South African Qualifications Council and we need to subject every Synagogue, every Practitioner and every Gabba in our Community within its scope.

Simply put. If we do not take charge of our own affairs in a manner which satisfies the world that we are a practical, accessible and self-governed community then we will find ourselves subject to external interference of the like we have never previously experienced nor any we have ever been subjected to.