Many of the Jews who moved into Green and Sea Point differed from the Jews who had moved into District Six and Woodstock a generation before. They were locally born with English, not Yiddish, as their home language. They had gone to local government schools, not cheders or yeshivot. They were better educated in secular subjects and better off financially than their immigrant parents who had found themselves in a land immeasurably different from der heim, culturally, socially, politically, religiously and by every other criterion. They soon dropped arduous and unfashionable practices. Modern dress and haircuts were adopted, head coverings laid aside, names changed so that they looked like their non-Jewish neighbours.

The changes related directly to the process of modernisation, to new political and economic conditions, residential and educational patterns. Practices indicating group identity were observed by almost all - ceremonies dealing with birth, death and bar/batmitzvahs. Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which involved group participation were the most frequently observed religious practices, whereas honouring the Shabbat and keeping it holy was the least observed.[i] The least observed practices were those they could do by themselves - the laying of tefillin, covering the head, and grace after meals. The religious highlight of the week was the Friday night, not the Saturday morning service as elsewhere. On Saturday they worked. The Sea Point Jews took electricity, telephones, motor cars, rugby and cinemas for granted while remaining proud Orthodox Jews, in what Dr Jocelyn Hellig, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, had termed ‘non-observant Orthodoxy.’[ii] They retained strong identities as Jews, but it was a South African Jewish identity, not an Eastern European Jewish identity. Most were not learned in Jewish matters and identified their previous Jewish experiences as representing Jewishness.

Reflecting on his childhood, Haim Pogrund [iii] wrote “We considered ourselves to be Orthodox Jews by all prevailing standards in the South African tradition. By definition in those days, this included keeping kosher at home, having separate utensils for the Passover, lighting the candles on Friday evenings, and going to the synagogue on the major festivals, and for my folks, Yahrzeit for their parents, of course. An occasional kiddush on Erev Shabbat and on festival eves completed the process. There were no kippot or ritual fringes to be seen, nor was there much superfluous hair except amongst the older generation.”

In the later part of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, a form of Judaism emerged and developed in Europe called orthodoxy which was in its essentials a remnant of what had been traditional rabbinic Judaism but, because of the community’s reaction to the new age, was assuming different complexions and degrees of intensity under different leaders and in different countries. What became known as South African Orthodoxy contained most, but not all, of the elements of Orthodoxy, as observed in Eastern Europe, along with a number of anomalous elements such as an English sermon.[iv] It  included full participation in modern society together with aspects of traditional religious behaviour and belief, unlike the minority Haredi groups, that had not formed part of the Litvak traditions - these self-consciously insulated themselves from Western culture, rejecting temptations like television and modernity and priding themselves on being punctiliously observant.

[i] Schrire, Gwynne, “Is it True What We’re Told about Zeyde? Some Realities behind our Eastern European Immigrants”, Jewish Affairs, 1997: 52: 2


[ii]This phrase was first used in relation to South African Judaism by Jocelyn Hellig in various published works, including "South African Judaism: An expression of Conservatism Traditionalism", in Judaism, Vol. 35 No. 2 Spring 1986. Quoted IN  Simon, John, A study of the nature and development of Orthodox Judaism in South Africa ...


[iii] Pogrund Haim , "A Litwak at the Cape, and Further" - an autobiography by Haim Pogrund, Israel


[iv] Simon, John, op cit