Budapest (Sep. 27)
With regard to Jewishness Hungary it seems, will remain a land of remarkable contrasts. On the one hand there is to be found fanatical Jewish piety on the part of an Orthodoxy, which has no peers even in Orthodox Frankfurt-am-Main, and on the other hand there are extremely assimilated Magyar Jews, to whom changing Judaism for Christianity comes as easily and as suddenly as change of clothes or of a seat in the theatre comes to most people.
Sometimes one hears from them the theory that only Hungarian Jewry stood at Mount Sinai and that they alone are the real heirs of ancient Jewry and of the Jewish religion, while the other Jews are only unbelievers or Jewish nationalists and Zionists whose very existence is in direct contradiction to true Judaism, which denotes only a religious grouping but not a nation. But at other times one gets from Budapest a decidedly different ethnology, a reverse belief with regard to the origin of Hungarian Jewry.
DESCENDANTS OF CHAZARS
This is the belief that they are the descendants of the Chazars, the South Russian tribe which in mediaeval times accepted Judaism. Therefore, it is claimed, Hungarian Jews, being descended from pure Slavs, haven’t and needn’t have any connection with Jewish nationalism or Zionism. Since their ancestors were never in Palestine, so they argue, they can have no special feeling for the country.
Of course such theories are historically valueless. The reality of their Jewishness was felt very well by Hungarian Jews until a short time ago. It is not so long since the barbaric anti-Semitism, which had been raging in Hungary for many years after the war, ceased. And this time Hungarian Jewry will not forget so quickly and so easily the deep sufferings which it had to endure just because it was considered a part of world Jewry, and not because of religious prejudice alone. More modern, atheistic, assimilated Hungarian Jews suffered from anti-Semitic persecutions as did pious, Orthodox Jews. In an economic and moral sense all suffered. Neither religious separatism nor extreme assimilation could save them. At home they pretended to protest against intervention on their behalf by the Jewish organizations abroad. But deep in their hearts they are convinced today that these foreign Jewish organizations deserve a great deal of credit for the halt that was finally called to anti-Semitism in Hungary and for the fact that the Hungarian Jews are slowly being granted equal rights throughout the country.
HUNGARIAN JEWISH UNION
These newly aroused sentiments among Hungarian Jews found expression recently in a decision to create a “Hungarian Jewish Union,” which unites all Jewish factions in Hungary, to resume relations with foreign Jewry to become again a part of “Klal Yisrael,” and take up again ties that had been severed sixteen years ago at the outbreak of the World War.
But if this change of sentiment isn’t startling enough, there occurred only the other day a conflict between Jewish lawyers and the Hungarian courts, which shows Hungarian Jewry in a very complimentary light. The Jewish lawyers have refused to come to the courts on Jewish holidays. The Hungarian courts were willing to recognize as a holiday only the first day of Rosh Hashanah, but not the second day. The conflict assumed the character of a fight for principles, of a struggle for the equality of the Jewish religion and of Jewish holidays with the Christian sects and holidays. Most of the Jewish lawyers are certainly not religious, but they demanded respect for Jewish holidays. They therefore not only refused to come to court even on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, but are carrying their fight into the highest judicial instance, demanding that court cases be postponed to other days and that the summoning of Jewish lawyers to trials on Jewish holidays be officially recalled, even when both parties to a case are Christians.
Thus, fortunately there is slowly disappearing the specific character of Hungarian Jewry who may now become a very valuable asset to world Jewry. They have a great number of fine qualities, human and Jewish, which lie buried under a thick layer of assimilation. During the past few years there has been noted a certain process of regeneration among them. Gradually a more Jewishly-conscious youth is growing up in Hungary. It is only a question how long it will take before there will arise a new and spiritually more emancipated Jewish generation in Hungary which will not have to proclaim the resumption of diplomatic relations with World Israel.