Judge Richard Goldstone PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rabbi Yossy Goldman   

Should Judge Richard Goldstone be Banned from our Shuls?


Rabbi Yossy Goldman


Sermon delivered at Sydenham Shul, Friday night, Parshas Tazria-Metzora, 5770 -

16 April 2010


Yom Hashoah was this week. Yom Ha'Atzmaut will be next week. But the one topic dominating the conversation in Johannesburg since last night was neither of those important dates; nor the volcanic ash over Europe, nor even the 2010 World Cup Soccer ticket frenzy. In South Africa and the Jewish world, the hottest topic of conversation was that Judge Richard Goldstone had been ‘barred' from attending his grandson's Bar Mitzvah at one of our sister Shuls here in Johannesburg. 


Many are asking me, "Rabbi what is your opinion?"  "What if the grandson's Bar Mitzvah was scheduled here at Sydenham Shul?" 


I am very happy to answer that to the best of my knowledge, no responsible, recognised Beth Din in the world has put Judge Goldstone into Cherem (a banning or shunning order).  And even if they did, I am not aware that a Jew in Cherem is forbidden to come to Shul.  He may not be counted to a Minyan, but if he wanted to sit in Shul and daven or be inspired to do Teshuvah, I am not aware of anything preventing him from doing so.


Now make no mistake. I am no fan of Richard Goldstone. I have spoken out strongly against the Goldstone Report on Gaza and the terrible mistake he made by agreeing to chair such a United Nations Commission which was terribly unbalanced and biased from the very beginning.


From this very pulpit I said "Judge Goldstone has betrayed not only Israel and the Jewish people. He has betrayed his own Bobba!"


But having said that, I would still defend his right as a Jew to come to Shul - even if it were not his own grandson's Bar Mitzvah.  Would I have given him an Aliyah? I'm sure not.  An Aliyah to the Torah is an honour and a privilege and one can forfeit such privilege by inappropriate behaviour.  We may well have decided to explain to the family why we cannot honour him. But not to let him come to Shul would, in my opinion, be very wrong.


In fact, our slogan here at Sydenham Shul is that we are "a family Shul where every Jew is welcome."  Religious or non-religious, right-wing or left-wing, straight or gay, humanitarian or vegetarian, every Jew is welcome.  Jews are not Al Qaeda, Rabbis are not the Taliban and banning people is certainly not my style. 


On Shabbat morning, when we put the Torah back into the Aron Kodesh, we will say the words from Proverbs referring to the Torah - its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.  Yes, we must take a stand when necessary for our faith, our people, our principles and our conscience - and certainly for Israel. But a family simcha is not the time and a Shul is not the place.  If you want to protest against Judge Goldstone, go to O.R. Tambo International Airport when he arrives and protest.  I may well join you. But at Shul? Lo Zu Haderech - this is not the way. 


Rabbis ought to insist on preserving the independence and integrity of our synagogues as safe havens for all Jews. Denying access to one sets a dangerous precedent for others.


In fact, much damage has been done to South African Jewry over this unfortunate story and a "story" it is.  It all began with a story in the Jewish Report on Page 3, strangely, written by its Cape Town correspondent. It stated that "Mr Justice Richard Goldstone is effectively being barred from attending his grandson's Bar Mitzvah." You may not have known this, but newspapers have special headline editors and this one said "Goldstone ‘barred' from his grandson's Bar Mitzvah."  And the very same line was highlighted on the front page too.


Statements subsequently issued by the Chief Rabbi and the Board of Deputies insist that at no time was Judge Goldstone prohibited from attending the Bar Mitzvah ceremony in Shul.  Rather, when the family was informed by the Shul that leading members of the SA Zionist Federation were planning a protest, they decided that the Judge would stay away voluntarily.


And now the story is out in our general media and has quickly found its way to the international media and even a Jewish Congressman in the United States has made a statement lambasting us. And South African Jewry, its Shuls and its Rabbis, now have egg on their faces.


And how does the newspaper get away with such deliberate distortion and sensationalism?  Through the medium of two tiny squiggles called inverted commas over the word ‘barred!'


And guess what? Yet again, most remarkably, current events can be discovered and  give us insight right here in the Parsha of the week.  This week's Parsha deals with Tzoraas - the ancient leprous-like malady which affected people who were guilty of inappropriate behaviour.  And although there are a number of such misdeeds, the most famous of all is, of course, Loshon Hora.  Now newspapers and the media in general are the world experts in this field.  They specialise in Loshon Hora.  After all, as the old line goes, ‘the public has a right to know.' So this is but one more classic case. 


I am grateful to my friend and colleague, Rabbi Aharon Rose, who brought to my attention one of the contemporary commentaries' insights on this subject.  Why does Loshon Hora result in a disease of the skin davka, he asked?  The answer, he says, is because those who speak, or write, Loshon Hora only investigate ‘skin deep.'  A superficial, half baked bit of gossip becomes the basis for a seemingly credible news report and the story quickly gets a life of its own and the truth soon becomes the consequence and victim.  If they would have gone beyond the superficial and looked a little bit deeper or asked the Rabbis directly involved, a whole different story would have emerged. 


This unfortunate episode is a powerful lesson on the dangers of Loshon Hora and for all of us to be more careful and circumspect before we speak or write.  May the Torah and the Jewish way of life always be seen for what it really and truly is - the way of pleasantness and the pathway of peace, tolerance and mutual respect.  Amen.