Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Av 5766 - August 1, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











The South African Jewish Community is 80 Percent Orthodox!

by Yated South African Correspondent

The South African Jewish community continues to show exceptionally high levels of commitment to Jewish religious practice and identity, and correspondingly low levels of intermarriage and assimilation, according to a comprehensive new attitudinal survey. Jewish attitudes towards the country have shown a dramatic shift towards greater acceptance and optimism in the future since the last survey was conducted in 1998.

Like its 1998 predecessor the survey, which was conducted under the auspices of the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research at the University of Cape Town and funded by Kaplan-Kushlick Foundation, was based on a sample of a thousand respondents, proportionately divided between Johannesburg (650), Cape Town (250), Durban and Pretoria (50 each). Highlights of some of the findings were presented to the Jewish communal leadership at the Chief Rabbi Harris Communal Centre at the Great Park Synagogue on Sunday, with Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein being one of the participants.

Mendel Kaplan, chairman of the Kaplan-Kushlick Foundation and one of the leading benefactors of the Jewish community, said that he had decided to commission another survey after President Thabo Mbeki, speaking at the SAJBD national conference in 2003, had expressed concern over the fact that in terms of the previous survey, so many Jews were expressing negative feelings about South Africa and intended to emigrate.

However, this time round, only 7 percent of respondents said that they were "very likely" or "fairly likely" to leave South Africa, compared with more than one in four seven years previously. Overall, every question relating to attitudes towards the South African economy, political system, future prospects and whether or not Jews were better off than they had been in the apartheid era revealed significant shifts towards more favorable attitudes than had been the case in 1998.

The survey findings not only bore out the remarkably low intermarriage statistics of the 1998 survey, but even showed that these had declined still further. 95 percent of respondents were married to, or in a long-term relationship with another Jew, compared with 93 percent in 1998. Contrary to what might have been anticipated, intermarriage figures did not increase amongst the under-45 age group, with the 45- 54 age group instead showing slightly higher rates in this regard. Nearly 80 percent of respondents believed that it was "very important" (the great majority) or at least "important" to marry within the faith, whereas comparable surveys in the United States show that three-quarters of American Jews no longer regard intermarriage as a problem.

Intermarriage rates were relatively higher amongst Progressive and secular Jews, although even here the percentage — 20 percent — is much lower than those of secular and Progressive Jews in other countries. Of the four cities covered, Johannesburg (98 percent) had the highest in- married rate, followed by Pretoria (95 percent), Cape Town (89 percent) and Durban (85 percent).

Johannesburg and Pretoria had the highest levels of religiosity, both in terms of belief and actual practice. Over a third believed that the Torah was the actual word of G- d while a slightly higher percentage regarded it as the inspired word of G-d although not everything should be taken literally word for word. Less than a quarter regarded it as an "ancient book of history and moral precepts recorded by man." Only 13 percent of respondents believed that the universe had come about by chance while nearly 80 percent agreed, often strongly, with the statement that the Jewish people had a special relationship with G-d.

The overall percentage of respondents classifying themselves as Orthodox rose to 80 percent, with the Progressive proportion remaining the same at 7 percent and the balance classifying themselves as secular or "just Jewish." However, only 14 percent defined themselves as being "Strictly Orthodox," with the proportions of those in this category being higher in Johannesburg and Pretoria and lowest (5 percent) in Cape Town. 4 percent of respondents were converts to Judaism, with the Progressive share in this regard (45 percent) being relatively higher to their percentage of the overall community.

Commenting on the ongoing shift towards greater religiosity amongst Jews, Rabbi Goldstein said that the statistics pointed to a community that was becoming more and more Jewish over time and could look forward to the future with confidence.


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