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Johannesburg, South Africa

JOHANNESBURG, largest city in the Republic of *South Africa ; center of the world's most important gold producing industry. The city was founded in 1886, when gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand. The first Jewish inhabitants came mainly from Britain and Central Europe, but they were soon followed by immigrants from Eastern Europe, chiefly Lithuania, who later formed the bulk of the city's Jewish population. Some leading Jews – most of them not recent East European immigrants – were prominent among the "Uitlanders" whose demands for greater rights precipitated the South African War of 1899–1902. In 1896 there were 6,253 Jews in the city, more than half of them from Eastern Europe. By 1899 the Jewish population had risen to between 10,000 and 12,000. After the South African War ended the number increased rapidly, making the Johannesburg Jewish community the largest in South Africa, with half the country's total Jewish population. In 2001 Jews numbered approximately 48,000, about 66 percent of all Jews in South Africa. The vast majority live in the northern and northeastern suburbs.

Jews have been prominent in Johannesburg life from its earliest days. They were among the leaders of the gold mining industry and helped build up the city as South Africa's commercial, industrial, and financial center. Prominent among the Jewish "Randlords" were the colorful Barney *Barnato , Solly *Joel , and Samuel *Marks . From the earliest days of local government Jews were members of the municipal councils and Johannesburg had a long line of Jewish mayors, first of whom was Harry Graumann (1910). Jewish contributions to all aspects of cultural life have been considerable. Between the World Wars there was an active Yiddish theater with Sarah Sylvia as the leading actress. Four weekly Jewish newspapers (one in Yiddish, others in English) were published in Johannesburg and three monthly journals – one in English and the others in Yiddish and Hebrew. Jews are well represented in the teaching staff and student body of the Witwatersrand University and in the professions.

Communal Life

The first congregation in Johannesburg (the Witwatersrand Old Hebrew Congregation) was formed in 1887 and the first synagogue built in 1888. In 1892 the Johannesburg Hebrew Congregation built the Park Synagogue, which was opened by President Paul Kruger and served the community until the Great (Wolmarans Street) Synagogue was built. J.H. *Hertz was rabbi of the Old Hebrew Congregation (1898–1912); J.L. *Landau became rabbi of the Johannesburg Hebrew Congregation in 1903 and chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation in 1915. He was succeeded from 1945 to 1961 by L.I. *Rabinowitz and by B.M. *Casper in 1963. C.K. *Harris became chief rabbi of the whole of South Africa in 1988, a position he held until the end of 2004 when he was replaced by W. Goldstein. After its foundation in 1892, the Johannesburg Orthodox Hebrew Congregation, whose members were primarily Eastern European immigrants, opened a synagogue the following year and moved to new premises (Beth Hamedrash Hagodal) in 1931. The first minister was Moshal Friedman and later incumbents were Isaac Kossowsky (1877–1951), who came to South Africa in 1933, and his son Michel (1908–1964). The growth of Johannesburg's suburban areas led to the establishment of many new congregations and synagogues. They numbered 55 in 1969, including three Reform temples, whose chief ministers have included rabbis Moses Cyrus Weiler (d. 2000) and Arthur Saul Super (d. 1979) and one Masorti congregation. There are 33 Orthodox synagogues, three Reform temples, and one Independent temple, affiliated to the Conservative movement. There has been a large growth in the ba'al teshuvah movement (returnees to Judaism), and 27 small shtieblach (synagogues) function in and around Johannesburg. The Lubavitch movement has made inroads into the community since its establishment in 1972. Ohr Somayach, Aish HaTorah, and Bnei Akiva also run highly successful programs. Bnei Akiva inaugurated a synagogue at its headquarters.

Johannesburg has a number of educational institutions set up or supervised by the South African Board of Jewish Education: a seminary for training teachers; three King David primary and two high schools (with a total enrollment in 2001 of 3,300). There are 18 Hebrew nursery schools. More intensive religious Jewish education is provided for approximately 2,000 pupils by Yeshiva College, the Torah Academy of the Lubavitch Foundation, the Bais Yaakov Girls' School, the Sha'arei Torah Primary School, Yeshivas Toras Emes, Yeshiva Maharsha, the Johannesburg Cheder and Hirsch Lyons. Yeshiva College, the largest of these schools, began as a part-time yeshivah in 1951 and became a full-time day school in 1958. The Menorah School (later called the Laila Bronner School) for girls was added in 1969. In 2004, Yeshiva College had a total of 850 students from nursery age to matriculation.

The United Hebrew Schools of Johannesburg provides Jewish education for pupils attending the government schools. Two religion schools are maintained by the S.A. United for Progressive Judaism in Johannesburg. There is a department of Hebrew with a full-time chair at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The Johannesburg Jewish Helping and Burial Society (Chevra Kaddisha) is the most important welfare institution in Johannesburg. Founded in 1887, in 2004 it incorporated a number of other important welfare institutions under its umbrella, amongst them the Jewish Women's Benevolent Society, Jewish Community Services, the Arcadia Jewish Orphanage, and the two Jewish aged homes – Sandringham Gardens and Our Parents Home. Other important welfare institutions include the free-loan societies the Witwatersrand Hebrew Benevolent Association (founded 1893) and the more recent Rambam Trust, the Selwyn Segal Home for Jewish Handicapped (1959), Yad Aharon, Hatzollah (medical rescue), Kadimah Occupational Centre, B'nai B'rith, and Nechama (bereavement counselling).

Zionism took early root in Johannesburg. The South African Zionist Federation was formed there in 1898, and the Zionist Center built in 1958 became an important cultural center until it was eventually sold in 1999. The headquarters of all Jewish national and many semi-national institutions are situated in Johannesburg. In addition to the three major organizations – the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), and the South African Board of Jewish Education – a large number of other institutions have their head offices in the city. In 2000, the SAJBD, SAZF, Union of Jewish Women, Israel United Appeal-United Communal Fund and a number of smaller organizations moved into single, shared premises, known as Beyachad. A range of welfare institutions, including the Chevra Kadisha and the South African Union of Jewish Students are affiliated to the SAJBD. The Jewish community is not to be measured merely in terms of its numerical strength. The intensity of Jewish life and identity and its strong Zionist devotion is to many a model for community organization.

During South Africa's dark apartheid period, a building boom crowded the city with cheap shoddy apartments and poor black people from the suburbs looking for work.  These individuals were exploited by landlords and eventually grew frustrated and began to settle illegally in the more affluent areas of the city, causing an urban decline and an exodus of the European immigrants who had settled in the area during the 1960's and 70's.  This exodus included most of inner city Johannesburg's Jewish population and forced many of the historic synagogues to shut their doors or move to a different location near where their congregants were moving. The Great Synagogue in downtown has moved four miles from it's original location and shut down in 1994.  It now serves as a Church, but there are still remnants of the Jewish structure including a Star of David on top of the building's dome and a message etched in stone on a building across the street that reads "Hebrew High School".  Temple Israel in the Hillbrow neighborhood and the Lion's Shul in Doornfontein still open their doors for prayers on a weekly basis, although they do not get nearly as many congregants as they used to and are low on funds.  Temple Israel cannot afford to employ a Rabbi full time and it is in an inconvenient location for most of their worshippers, as they stayed in the city and did not move their synagogue after the white exodus in the 1980's and 90's.  The Doornfontein synagogue also known as the Lion's Shul is the oldest still functioning synagogue in Johannesburg. Completed in 1905, the synagogue recieved it's informal name from the two lion statues at the front entrance.  Currently the synagogue is run by Rabbi Ilan Herman and none of the congregants live in the surrounding neighborhood. Even Orthodox members of Herman's congregation drive to the synagogue for Shabbat services. 



L. Herrman, History of the Jews in South Africa (1935), 238–40; P.H. Emden, Randlords (1935), passim; G. Saron and L. Hotz, Jews in South Africa (1955), index; L. Feldman, Yidn in Johannesburg (Yid., 1956); Bernstein, in: South Africa Jewish Year Book (1956), 29–39; M. Gitlin, The Vision Amazing (1950), index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Kaplan and M Robertson (eds.), Founders and FollowersJohannesburg Jewry, 18871915 (1991).

[Louis Hotz and Gustav Saron / David Saks (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.