Louis Rabinowitz

JEWISH opposition to apartheid is not necessarily related to political or religious affiliation. This was well-proven by an Orthodox rabbi and supporter of Herut who died last year: Louis Isaac Rabinowitz. A leading figure in the Orthodox rabbinate and considered by many as Chief Rabbi material, Rabinowitz served from 1944-1961 as Chief Minister of the Great Synagogue in Johannesburg. His nephew Isaac Newman writes: “Whilst he enjoyed the service of black domestics as most other whites, he bitterly and forcefully opposed the inhumanity practised by several of his congregants, engaging, as they did, chain gangs. He visited these farms, sometimes successfully persuading their owners to humanize their attitudes and practices. On occasion, the South African Board of Deputies felt politically ‘obliged’ to denounce the forceful preachments and activities of their Chief Rabbi.” Scholar, preacher, politician, “he loved personal glamour and publicity and the heroic gesture”. He was a modernist on such halakhic issues as “who is a Jew?”, autopsy, organ transplants and Reform marriage, yet he considered the English United Synagogue a model of (orthodox) religious pluralism. Opposition to apartheid and support of Herut might seem to many to be a contradiction in terms. In Rabinowitz’s case it seems that the man’s breadth of character and his personal integrity enabled him to embrace both positions.

Jewish Quarterly Autumn 1985

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