Jerusalem Post 50 Most Influential Jews: Number 21 - Rabbi Warren Goldstein

The Good Shabbos Rabbi.

Warren Goldstein  (photo credit: EITAN AROM)
Warren Goldstein
(photo credit: EITAN AROM)
South Africa’s Chief Rabbi, Dr. Warren Goldstein, is best known for being the founder of The Shabbat Project. What began as a local “unity initiative,” bringing together South African Jews from across the religious and geographical spectrums to celebrate and keep Shabbat together, became a full-blown global grassroots movement. Its aim is to strengthen family and community relations, uniting Jews as well as sharing in aspects of Judaism that everyone can connect to on various levels.
Last year’s Shabbat Project involved more than a million Jews in 919 cities and 85 countries around the world.
Goldstein was appointed South Africa’s chief rabbi on January 1, 2005, and at the age of 33 he was the youngest person to hold the position, as well as the first to have been born in South Africa. At his official induction ceremony, then-president Thabo Mbeki said, “By their personal example, and through the wisdom of their teachings, religious leaders, such as Chief Rabbi Goldstein, can imbue our country with values of honesty, compassion and self-discipline that are so vital in establishing a truly just and moral society. Indeed, we are blessed to have a chief rabbi who is a formidable Torah scholar [and] whose doctorate is in human rights and constitutional law, including that of our own Constitution.”
Goldstein studied at the Yeshiva Gedolah of Johannesburg, where he received his rabbinic ordination and later qualified as a dayan (religious judge) through the Eretz Hemda Institute in Jerusalem. He has a BA-LLB (Unisa), and a PhD. from the University of the Witwatersrand. In the past decade, he has been the leading force behind a range of interfaith and Jewish initiatives, both in South Africa as well as globally. In addition, Goldstein has shown true leadership qualities by eloquently speaking up for Israel in both South African and international media.
He is the author of four important books: African Soul Talk: When Politics is not Enough (with Dumani Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson); Defending the Human Spirit: Jewish Law’s Vision for a Moral Society; Sefer Mishpat Tzedek (a detailed analysis of Torah business law and ethics, with particular focus on competition law); and The Legacy: Teachings for Life from the Great Lithuanian Rabbis (with Rabbi Berel Wein).
This year, Goldstein has set November 11 (Lech Lecha) as the date for the Shabbat Project to be celebrated internationally, and he told The Jerusalem Post that his hopes are for the initiative “to spread further and deeper.”
How do you think the Shabbat Project has affected world Jewry?
The Shabbat Project has unified Jews from across every conceivable divide – language, culture, background, geography and level of observance. It transcends the barriers that seem to separate us and demonstrates what the world can be when all of those divisions disappear. Ultimately, the Shabbat Project has shown that we can reclaim our spiritual heritage and become better people, through experiencing the depth and beauty of Shabbat together. It has rejuvenated family and community life, restored Jewish pride and identity, and strengthened Jewish unity across the globe. The Shabbat Project has shown that together we can achieve great things... It has shown that we can come together, not only when we are forced to, through the hatred of others, but through the pride and joy of our incredible Jewish heritage.
For too long now, true Jewish unity has evaded us, and I think to some extent, the Jewish world has been at somewhat of a loss for what to do. We have seen Jewish unity become something of a pipe dream, an unattainable utopia. But the Shabbat Project has reminded us that it needn’t be.
The Shabbat Project has also shown people the beauty of a Shabbat experience. A unique tranquility and intimacy permeates our homes on Shabbat. No one has to answer the phone or rush off, no one is distracted by the screens of information and entertainment that saturate our world. We are left with a remarkable, uninterrupted haven of love and connection, which allows us to appreciate and focus on what we have in our lives.
Sometimes we give up on making the world into a better place. The Shabbat Project shows that Jews can come together all around the world, in the spirit of unity and inspiration, and change the world for good. If we work together, anything is possible!
What are the plans for the upcoming Shabbat Project?
The plan for this year is for the project to spread further and deeper. What has been remarkable over the last few years has been the sheer number of people who have been involved in driving the project In 2014, there were 1,800 people around the world who partnered in making the project happen. In 2015, that number grew to 5,000. The reports coming in so far show that the level of interest of those on the ground in most cities is higher than ever, and people are excited and passionate about bringing the Shabbat Project to their communities.
Do you have plans for other projects that could potentially affect world Jewry on a similar scale?
Yes. The Shabbat Project began in South Africa, and we have a number of other innovative social and educational projects which have been so warmly embraced by the South African Jewish community – which we would like to share with Jews all around the world. So watch this space! Also, the Shabbat Project itself has created a worldwide movement of proactive and capable partners. These partners are people who have realized that there is so much opportunity to create a bright and optimistic Jewish future. I believe that this network of passionate leaders will ultimately start to produce new and exciting projects and initiatives that will have a profound effect on our shared future..