Bethal (Mpumalanga)

Bethal, situated approximately 152 km east of Johannesburg, is said to be one of the richest agricultural districts in Mpumalanga, (formerly part of the Transvaal), with maize and potatoes as the principal crops.

There is little information available as to when the first Jews arrived in the area but by as early as 1903 Jacob Sherman had settled in the area and was performing duties as a shochet (ritual slaughterer).

The Jewish farmers played a very major role in the town’s wealth; many Jews were and still are, very active in the farming community. Most of the early settlers were traders and shopkeepers but by 1939 the Jewish shopkeepers had all but disappeared.

The Bethal Hebrew Congregation was established in 1910, although the numbers of the original membership have not been conclusively established.The synagogue was completed in 1914 and opened by Prime Minister General Louis Botha. A new synagogue was built in 1956.

To date, services are still held on High Holy Day Festivals with Jews from the neighbouring towns coming in for services. The communal hall adjacent to the synagogue was sold.

The Jewish cemetery has been in existence since 1905 and has always been maintained by the congregation.

In 1918 there were 200 Jews in Bethal; in 1936 there were 351. Until the mid-1960s there were over 200 Jews in Bethal. By 1976/7 the number had dropped to 124 with a steady decline over the years. In 1991 there were 31 Jews and in 1995, 12 families were recorded living there.