This past Sunday, we celebrated an historic occasion. We celebrated the extraordinary legacy of Rabbi Moshe Kurtstag, Rabbi Boruch Rapoport, and Rabbi Zadok Suchard – three names synonymous with Jewish life in South Africa, three pillars of the community, three dayanim who have devoted a staggering combined 105 years of service between them as the leaders of the Beth Din.
As a tribute to that selflessness and service, three sifrei Torah were dedicated, one for each of the dayanim, who retired last year. Rabbi Kurstag has also been given the honorary title of Emeritius Rosh Beth, in recognition of his years of service of heading the Beth Din.
No one who was there will forget it. The sight of these Torah luminaries, these community leaders, majestically carrying the Sifrei Torah through the streets of the city, surrounded by an exuberant crowd, with song and dance, the atmosphere charged with a love and reverence for Torah and for those who have devoted their lives to upholding it.
The event was a celebration of all these respected dayanim have accomplished over decades. But it was also very personal and heart-warming. We all have stories of how our lives have been personally touched through their chesed, their wisdom, their Torah, their humanity. Personally, I have deep gratitude, for the warmth and support and advice and encouragement they have provided me. We have worked together for 15 years, and I will always treasure the time I’ve spent learning from them and receiving from them. Indeed, I continue to do so.
The hachnasat sifrei Torah, the ceremony introducing these three new scrolls, each adorned with a special commemorative cover, graciously made available by Cyrildene shul, will be housed at the Yeshiva College campus. But they will be made available, on a loan basis, to any minyan or shul in need of them. Like the dayanim in whose name they are dedicated, these Torah scrolls are there to serve the community, with loyalty, devotion and sincerity.
These Torahs are therefore a fitting symbol for Rabbi Kurtstag, Rabbi Rapoport, and Rabbi Suchard’s impact on the community as a whole – for the Beth Din they built and maintained over decades. Simply put, they established an institution that provides the community with the Torah infrastructure required to be a Jew in South Africa – a comprehensive range of specialist services essential to the preservation of Jewish life, overseeing everything from kashrut and the arbitration of monetary disputes, to marriage authorisation, divorce proceedings and conversions.
Without the work of the Beth Din, Jewish life in South Africa would be unthinkable. We can all live here as proud Jews, because the Beth Din provides the foundations for us to do so. And they have done so with a level of distinction that has ensured our halachic standards are recognised and accepted across the globe – in Israel, in the US and across the Diaspora. And they have maintained a single, unified institution that is the envy of communities worldwide.
This is not something to take for granted. It’s not something that every Beth Din automatically enjoys. It it is something that has been achieved through decades of hard work, excellence and attention to detail.
The mishna in Pirkei Avot says: “The world stands on three things – justice, truth and peace” (Avot, 1;18). Justice, truth and peace are the cornerstones of any successful and enduring society with good moral foundations. And it is precisely these three values that a Beth Din represents and upholds, and which our Beth Din in particular has brought to our extraordinary Jewish community. The Torah is G-d’s blueprint for how to create a world with justice, truth and peace.
A community steeped in justice, truth and peace is Rabbi Kurtstag, Rabbi Rapoport, and Rabbi Suchard’s great legacy – and it is a legacy that they are passing on to a new generation of similarly conscientious, compassionate and accomplished dayanim who they continue to mentor.
Even as the sun sets on this golden generation of dayanim, we take great comfort as a community in knowing that our Beth Din is in safe hands. In Johannesburg, Rabbi Dovid Baddiel, Rabbi Yoel Smith, Rabbi Shlomo Glicksberg and Rabbi Gidon Fox, and in Cape Town, Rabbi Desmond Maizels, Rabbi Reuven Suiza and Rabbi Matthew Liebenberg, are continuing the great work of their predecessors. They are continuing to uphold the highest halachic standards, in a spirit of unity and compassion, care and concern for the needs of all, service and dedication to the community. They are continuing to serve this community with selflessness and wisdom, with justice, truth and peace.
So, as a community, we look back on these glorious decades, and we look forward to the future with confidence and hope.
May G-d bless Rabbi Kurtstag, Rabbi Rapoport, and Rabbi Suchard, and their rebbetzins and entire families, with good health, with continued blessings, and with a deep sense of satisfaction at all they have accomplished and all they have built and all they have given us. And lets us, together with our new generation of dayanim, continue the vision of a vibrant, proud Jewish community connected to our Divine values and legacy.