Portuguese exploration[ edit ] The modern Jewish history of South Africa began, indirectly, some time before the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope , by the participation of certain astronomers and cartographers in the Portuguese discovery of the sea-route to India.
Portugal's baptised Jews were still free until the Portuguese Inquisition was promulgated in It has been theorised that "a number of non-professing Jews" were among the first settlers of Cape Town. Non-Christian migration to the Dutch Cape Colony was generally discouraged until During the seventeenth and the greater part of the 18th century the state religion alone was allowed to be publicly observed; but on 25 July , the Dutch commissioner-general Jacob Abraham de Mist , by a proclamation whose provisions were annulled at the English occupation of and were not reestablished till , instituted in the colony religious equality for all persons, irrespective of creed.
The s through s[ edit ] Jews did not arrive in any significant numbers at Cape Town before the s. The first congregation in South Africa, known as the Gardens Shul , was founded in Cape Town in November , and the initial service was held in the house of one Benjamin Norden, at the corner of Weltevreden and Hof streets. Benjamin Norden, Simeon Markus, together with a score of others arriving in the early s, were commercial pioneers, especially the Mosenthal brothers—Julius, Adolph see Aliwal North , and James Mosenthal—who started a major wool industry.
By their enterprise in going to Asia and returning with thirty Angora goats in they became the originators of the mohair industry. Aaron and Daniel de Pass were the first to open up Namaqualand , and from to they were the largest shipowners in Cape Town, and leaders of the sealing , whaling , and fishing industries.
Jews were among the first to take to ostrich-farming and played a role in the early diamond industry. Jews also played some part in early South African politics. Julius Mosenthal — , brother of the poet S. Mosenthal of Vienna , was a member of the Cape Parliament in the s.
Helena 25 May ; d. Like Disraeli , too, he early left the ranks of Judaism. At the same time, the Jews faced substantial antisemitism. Though freedom of worship was granted to all residents in , the revised Grondwet of still debarred Jews and Catholics from military posts, from the positions of president, state secretary, or magistrate, from membership in the First and Second Volksraad "parliament" , and from superintendencies of natives and mines.
These positions were restricted to persons above 30 years of age with permanent property and a longer history of settlement. As a consequence of the fact that Boer republics were only in existence from to , unfortunately many residents of the Boer republics had limited access to positions in the upper echelons of government.
All instruction was to be given in a Christian and Protestant spirit, and Jewish and Catholic teachers and children were to be excluded from state-subsidized schools. However, a small number of Jews also settled among and identified with the rural white Afrikaans -speaking population; these persons became known as Boerejode Boer Jews. A measure of intermarriage also occurred and was generally accepted.
In , the Jewish population of South Africa numbered approximately 4,; by it had grown to more than 40, Nearly 2, Jews fought on the British side and the London Spectator counted that were killed. Around 80 were captured and held in British concentration camps in South Africa.
Some were sent as far afield as St. Helena, Bermuda , and Ceylon to where they had been exiled by the British. Some Jews were among the Bittereinders "Bitter Enders" who fought on long after the Boer cause was clearly lost. The vast majority of Jews immigrating to South Africa came from diaspora communities in Lithuania. The The Aliens Act , motivated by a sharp increase the previous year in the number of German Jewish refugees coming to South Africa, brought the migration to almost a complete halt.
Some Jews were able to enter the country, but many were unable to do so. A total of approximately six-and-a-half thousand Jews came to South Africa from Germany between the years and During World War I , many Afrikaners , who had little respect for Britain, objected to the use of "Afrikaner women and children from the British concentration camps" in fighting the German territory of South West Africa on behalf of Britain.
This had the effect of drumming up pro-German sentiment among a population of Afrikaners. The opposition National Party argued that the Aliens Act was too lenient and advocated a complete ban on Jewish immigration, a halt in the naturalization of Jewish permanent residents of South Africa and the banning of Jews from certain professions.
While it is understandable that many South African Jews would feel uncomfortable with formerly pro-Nazi Afrikaners rising to power in , many leading apartheid-era Afrikaner politicians publicly apologized to the South African Jewish community for their earlier anti-semitic actions and assured it of its continued safety in South Africa.
When the Afrikaner -dominated National Party came to power in it did not adopt an anti-Jewish policy despite its earlier position. Malan , became the first foreign head of government to visit Israel though the trip was a "private visit" rather than an official state visit. The proudly Zionistic South African Jewish community, through such bodies as the South African Zionist Federation and a number of publications, maintained a cordial relationship with the South African government even though it objected to the policies of Apartheid being enacted.
South Africa's Jews were permitted to collect huge sums of money to be sent on as official aid to Israel, in spite of strict exchange-control regulations. Per capita, South African Jews were reputedly the most financially supportive Zionists abroad.
Perhaps the most famous South African community founded in Israel is Savyon , which remains the wealthiest suburb in Israel. Large houses were built in the style that the community was accustomed to from their life in South Africa, each with a pool, and developed around a country club. Nadelmann claimed that the relationship developed due to the fact that many African countries broke diplomatic ties with Israel during the s following the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War , causing Israel to deepen relations with other isolated countries.
In , the Israel—South Africa Agreement was signed, and increasing economic cooperation between Israel and South Africa was reported, including the construction of a major new railway in Israel, and the building of a desalination plant in South Africa.
Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi , a controversial Israeli professor of psychology,  wrote in that the alliance between South Africa and Israel was one of the most underreported news stories of the past four decades and that Israel played a crucial role in the survival of the South African regime.
By the beginning of the s, military and economic ties between the two countries had been lost. Moderation and liberalism[ edit ] South African Jews have a history of political moderation and the majority supported opposition parties such as first the United Party , then the Liberal Party , Progressive Party and its successors during the decades of National Party apartheid rule.
See Liberalism in South Africa. The prime example of the more moderate approach is that of the highly assimilated Harry Oppenheimer — born Jewish but converted to Anglicanism upon his marriage , the richest man in South Africa and the chairman of the De Beers and Anglo American corporations.
He was a supporter of the liberal Progressive Party and its policies, believing that granting more freedom and economic growth to South Africa's Black African majority was good politics and sound economic policy. The banner for this cause was held high by Helen Suzman , as the lone Progressive Party member in South Africa's parliament, representing the voting district of Houghton , home to many wealthy Jewish families at the time.
This inspired some Jews to intensify their anti-apartheid activism, but the bulk of the community either emigrated or avoided public conflict with the National Party government. A few rabbis spoke out against apartheid early, but they failed to gain support and it was not until that the rabbinate as a whole condemned apartheid. Although the Jewish community peaked in the s at around ,  , about 70, mostly nominally Orthodox, remain in South Africa.
A proportion are secular, or have converted to Christianity. The Jewish community in South Africa is currently the largest in Africa , and, although shrinking due to emigration, it remains one of the most nominally Orthodox communities in the world, although there is a significantly growing Progressive community, especially in Cape Town.
The current Orthodox Chief Rabbi , Warren Goldstein , has been widely credited for initiating a "Bill of Responsibilities" which the government has incorporated in the national school curriculum. The Chief Rabbi has also pushed for community run projects to combat crime in the country. Ivan Glasenberg , CEO of Glencore The community has become more observant and in Johannesburg, the largest centre of Jewish life with 66, Jews, there is a high number and density of kosher restaurants and religious centres.
In politics, the Jewish community continues to have influence, particularly in leadership roles. Currently, the sole national Jewish newspaper, with a readership of about 40,, is the South African Jewish Report.
Lemba people The Lemba or "wa-Remba" are a southern African ethnic group whose members are to be found in Zimbabwe and South Africa with some little known branches in Mozambique and Malawi.
According to Tudor Parfitt they are thought to number 70, There were, initially, no formal structures in place for Rabbinical education. Note that although the majority of South Africa's Jews are descendants of Lithuanian Jews who venerated Talmudic scholarship, the community did not establish schools or yeshivot for several decades. An important change took place in , when King David School was established as the first full-time dual-curriculum secular and Jewish Jewish day school — the high school was established in Today, King David is amongst the largest Jewish day schools in the world, with thousands of students.
As an institution with hundreds of pupils, Yeshivah College is today the largest religious school in the country. In parallel to the establishment of Yeshiva College, and drawing on the same momentum,  several smaller yeshivot were opened, starting in the s. The Yeshiva follows the "Telshe" educational model, although accommodates students from across the spectrum of Hashkafa Hebrew: This era also saw the start of a large network of Chabad-Lubavitch activities and institutions.
Johannesburg boasts ten Chabad Houses , Cape Town two and Kwazulu-Natal one, all of which offer a variety of Torah classes and adult education and informal children's education programmes. The s saw the establishment of a Haredi kollel , Yad Shaul , as well as the growth of a large baal teshuva "returnees" [to observant Judaism] movement — this was supported by the Israel-based organizations Ohr Somayach and Aish HaTorah which established active branches in South Africa; Arachim also has an active presence.
There are several Haredi boys' schools in Johannesburg, each associated with one of the yeshivot, as well as a Beis Yaakov girls' school. The Progressive Movement maintains a network of supplementary Hebrew and Religious classes at its temples. Relationships with Centrist Orthodoxy in Britain.