Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein
Rabbi Dr. Warren GoldsteinNo credit

The Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, has rewritten the Shabbat prayer for South Africa in response to the local government’s public support for Hamas, according to the South African Jewish Report.

Following the amendment, Jews will pray for the people of South Africa, not the government, the report said. Rabbi Goldstein spoke to a number of rabbis online on October 18 and followed up the conversation with a letter to explain the reasons for the change.

The current prayer for the Republic of South Africa was composed by the late Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris in 1994. It reflected the country’s transition to democracy, and beseeched G-d to protect and guide the president, the deputy president, and the ministers of South Africa with wisdom.

Rabbi Goldstein noted that the prayer has been changed before, writing in his letter to the rabbis, “You may recall a similar instance a few years ago, at the height of state capture, when I changed the prayer so that we would not be praying for President Jacob Zuma who was inflicting suffering on 60 million people for the purposes of self-enrichment. Such a change is reserved for extreme situations, for government violations of morality so grotesque they undermine the integrity of praying. This is an issue of being true to our Torah values. We mean what we pray for; our prayers reflect our deepest hopes and aspirations, and our deepest values.”

The chief rabbi continued, “The [current] change is, clearly, due to the South African government’s ongoing support for Hamas. How can we pray for a government that supports an organization responsible for the worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust – an organization 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?”

“It’s not a decision that was taken lightly,” Rabbi Goldstein added. “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 tefillot [prayers] every time the government makes a decision we don’t like. But when the government crosses the line and adopts a stance this immoral, we can’t in good conscience pray for them.”

“Note the main difference in the prayer is that from now we will be praying only for the country and the people of South Africa, and not for the government. When explaining this to your congregants, it’s important to emphasize the critical distinction between the South African government and the South African people,” wrote Rabbi Goldstein.

Anti-Israel sentiments remain prevalent in South Africa, where the government has frequently accused Israel of applying a policy of “apartheid” towards Palestinian Arabs.

This past summer, a South African lawmaker called for a Cape Town-based Jewish day school to be “deregistered” due to the fact that many of the school’s graduates go to Israel and enlist in the IDF.

Earlier this year, South Africa Rugby withdrew an invitation to Israeli club Tel Aviv Heat to compete in a second-tier competition.

Last year, South Africa's former chief justice was ordered to apologize for comments he made two years earlier pledging support for Israel.

In 2019, the country announced plans to downgrade its embassy in Tel Aviv.