This is the season of political conventions. Over the next few months the
Republican and Democratic parties in the United States will gather at
spectacular conventions to rally in support of their respective presidential
candidates as America heads towards elections in November.
Africa, the African National Congress is preparing for its 53rd conference
amidst a fierce battle for the presidency of the organization and of the
country. Political conventions are held throughout the democratic world,
reflecting a deep psychological need to gather in large numbers to debate, to be
inspired, and, of course, to rally the party faithful on the journey
This phenomenon is found in other spheres as well. Take a
wedding, for example. The bride and groom could get married with just a few
people present, and yet grand wedding parties are ubiquitous. A wedding banquet,
with its speeches, dancing and other ceremonies, is an opportunity for people to
come together to pay tribute to the couple and to the institution of marriage,
as well as to celebrate and reaffirm the bonds between family and
There is a deep human need to come together to celebrate and
reaffirm the values and ideals we hold precious, and to unify around a shared
moral vision. This imperative is expressed by the mitzva of the pilgrim
festivals, when the entire nation of Israel thronged to the Temple in Jerusalem,
on Passover, Shavuot and Succot, to celebrate the precious values represented by
these festivals – freedom, the Divine revelation of the Torah, and the joy of
Divine protection, respectively. The streets of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount
were filled with the bustle and excitement of an entire nation mobilized around
its history and moral vision for the future.
Today the commandment to
ascend to Jerusalem on these festivals does not apply, because the Temple has
yet to be rebuilt; but on Yom Tov we gather in large numbers in our synagogues
across the globe to celebrate and reaffirm the values sacred to us. There is
power in numbers.
There is strength and inspiration in communities
uniting in celebration of shared values.
In two weeks’ time South African
Jewry will rally together in cities across the country for our annual national
convention, Sinai Indaba.
“Indaba” is the Zulu word for a discussion at
the gathering of the tribe, and it is truly a spectacular convention, with
leading international Jewish thinkers sharing fascinating Torah insights on
family, spirituality, Israel, politics, happiness, and more.
its scholarly firepower, Sinai Indaba is not only about an intense intellectual
experience but about the emotional and spiritual energy and cohesive power which
come from being part of a great Torah convention which rallies a
So often we lose our sense of direction and inspiration, as
individuals and as a nation. We all need to rally together around a shared
vision, which is unifying, inspiring and life-giving.
And that is what Sinai Indaba is about.
It celebrates, reaffirms and strengthens the moral
vision of some of the core values which form the pillars of South African
One such value is unity. At Sinai Indaba, Jews of every kind
participate, including Jews from national-religious, haredi and hassidic
communities, as well as traditional and secular Jews, those who are affiliated
members of shuls and those who are not.
All come together to share the
same space, hear the same lectures, eat the same food and, most important,
connect with fellow Jews, transcending the barriers which usually lead to
fragmentation in the Jewish world.
The other aspect of the moral vision
which is reaffirmed, explored and celebrated at Sinai Indaba is that the Torah’s
wisdom and values are relevant and inspiring for all times.
principle of the convention is that Torah is not merely a religion, confined to
the transcendent or the ceremonial, but rather is an all-encompassing way of
thinking and living. The philosophy of Sinai Indaba is the Mishnah in Pirkei
Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) which states, “Turn it [the Torah] over and over
for everything is in it,” and the Midrash which says that G-d “looked into the
Torah and created the world.”
Torah is indeed the blueprint for every
facet of human existence.
Through His Torah, G-d teaches us a way of
thinking and living which has the ability to transform and sanctify all human
endeavors – medicine, government, psychology, history, agriculture, economics
The Torah offers us the framework with which to create a
loving marriage and nurture children, to be ethical in business, to be sensitive
in our interpersonal relationships and to be compassionate and generous with
those in need, to run a modern economy and a judicial system, and to relate to
G-d and lead a meaningful life, connecting to the ultimate truth.
Indaba brings together a diverse mix of speakers who have the knowledge,
experience and eloquence to enlighten and inspire participants from different
levels of education and religious observance, representing the depth and breadth
of the Torah’s wisdom. For example, at this year’s convention, Rabbi
Dr. David Pelcovitz, renowned psychologist and professor at Yeshiva
University, will speak about how Torah values inform and guide us on marriage,
parenting and emotional well-being; David Weiss, screenwriter for some of the
most famous Hollywood movies including Shrek 2 and The Smurfs, will speak about
life as a Torah Jew in Hollywood; Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a leading analyst of the
Middle East, will speak about the geopolitical and military situation of Israel;
Rabbi Yissocher Frand, eminent Rosh Yeshiva at Ner Yisrael Yeshiva in Baltimore,
will speak about Torah ethics and spirituality and the Jewish mission; and many
The common feature uniting this rich array of topics and speakers
is the acceptance of the basic tenets of Judaism as defined by the 13 principles
of faith set out by the Talmud and codified by the Rambam. At the heart and soul
of Sinai Indaba is the principle that G-d gave us His Torah for all times, all
places and all circumstances; and, therefore, its breadth and depth are
limitless, as is its capacity to inspire, enlighten and guide Jews in every
(Visit www.sinai-indaba.co.za for videos and more.) The
writer is chief rabbi of South Africa.