Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

March 3, 2005

The Rabbi Prince of Safed

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:35 pm

People come from all sorts of interesting backgrounds, to do all sorts of things, but this one is pretty amazing.

Natan Gamedze is the grandson of a former King of Swaziland — and an orthodox Rabbi in Safed, Israel. And it doesn’t hurt that he speaks (at least) 14 languages.

His story is told very well by Steven Plaut in this article. His web page is here. There is another interview with him here.

At “Wits” University [i.e., the University of Witswatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa] he studied a series of European and African languages. One day he was sitting next to a student who was doing some homework in a language with bizarre-looking letters. “What alphabet is that?” he asked. “Hebrew,” was the response.

The following semester the Russian language class he wished to take was fully booked. So instead he signed up to study Hebrew. Most of the other students in the class were non-religious white Jewish students with whom he would form many long-lasting friendships. His brothers and sisters poked fun at him for his choice of courses, nicknaming him “The Rabbi” in jest.

Toward the end of his studies there, he was approached by an Israeli professor on sabbatical from Hebrew University. The professor suggested that the prince come to Jerusalem on fellowship to continue his language studies. He jumped at the chance and entered Hebrew University in 1988. Some of his Jewish friends from “Wits” were now also in Jerusalem, several studying at the Ohr Sameach yeshiva there. The prince would visit the yeshiva to see his South African friends, occasionally sitting in on evening classes. He soon started reading on his own, particularly the works of Maimonides.

In the fall of 1989, he traveled to Rome while Hebrew University was shut for the religious holidays. One morning he woke up in a hotel near the Vatican feeling hungry and went down to the breakfast room. Sitting there, he stared at the food, but each time he took some in his hand, his arm felt weary and seemed to resist the notion of carrying the food to his mouth.

Back in his room, he recalled that he had heard that Jews have one day a year when everyone, regardless of level of observance, fasts. Curius, he checked his Hebrew University calendar. Sure enough, this was that day – Yom Kippur.

But the real change in his life came a few days later. He stood in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and contemplated the centuries of suffering the Jews had experienced at the hands of the Church. It was there and then that he made up his mind. He was going to convert to Judaism. Back in his hotel near the Vatican, he recited the “Shema Yisrael” for the first time.

One Response to “The Rabbi Prince of Safed”

  1. Mamasitha Mahlaha Says:

    Pls kindly help me. I am looking for the email address of
    Rabbi Natan Gamedze

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