Berlin (Nov. 9)
The Zionist members of the Boards of the Jewish Communities in Prussia have held a conference here to-day to consider the new Jewish Communities Draft Law which has just been completed by the Prussian Government, and decided to oppose the enforcement of the new law, because by permitting the establishment of separatist Jewish communities it will endanger the principle of a united Jewish community, and also because it denies foreign Jews resident in Germany the right of participating in the Jewish communal elections and the activities of the Jewish communities.
It is understood that the Draft Law will be submitted to the Prussian Diet for approval during the present Parliamentary session.
Dr. Max Kollenscher, one of the leading Zionist constitutional authorities, writing this week in the German ionist organ, the “Juedische Rundschau”, on the new draft law, said:
Every new law regulating Jewish affairs in this country must take into account the question of the autonomy of the Jewish communities, as laid down in Article 137 of the German Constitution. In this regard, he said, the Prussian State has acted admirably in extending State regulation to the Protestant Churches. The Churches have adopted autonomous constitutions, which the State has recognised. Prussian Jewry must demand that the Jewish Communities Constitution which it has drawn up should similarly be given State recognition.
In the spring of 1928, he explains, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Prussia, unanimously agreed upon a Jewish Communities Law, and submitted it to the State Government for approval.
The objection that the Jews of Prussia do not constitute a unity, but are divided into separate communities is unjustified. The tendency of the Jewish Law of 1847 was to break up the Jewish population into single communities, but the inner forces of Jewry have always been driving them towards unification.
There is another objection, he said, which we have to the new draft law, so far as it concerns the question of secession from the Jewish Communities. The law provides that members may secede from the Community without leaving the Jewish faith, which means that they are presented with an easy way of escaping Jewish communal taxation. This is a grave danger to the existence of the smaller Jewish communities, Dr. Kollenscher argued, because some of their wealthy members may decide to make use of this opportunity of getting out of paying their community dues, with the result that these Communities would find themselves practically bankrupt.
There is the further danger, he said, that some members may be able to exercise undue pressure on their communities by threatening that unless certain things are done or not done, they will secede, and the Community, fearing the loss of revenue or their influence or administrative ability, would have to give way to their demands.
In the case of the Christian religious communities, be claims, there is no such thing as leaving the community without at the same time leaving also the religious faith.
There is a third objection, Dr. Kollenscher wrote – the discrimination against foreign Jews living in Germany.
The draft law which was drawn up by the Prussian Federation of Jewish Communities provided for equal, direct and secret voting in the elections to the Jewish Communities. Whether the elections should also be general, was left to each particular community to decide for itself. Each Community was thus left free to decide for itself whether foreign Jews should or should not have the right to vote or to be elected. In the Christian religious communities, the election rights of foreigners is legally established.
A fourth objection, Dr. Kollenscher said, is the provision that all Rabbis must be German citizens. Prussian Jewry, he declared, will refuse to accept this Constitution, which the Government is trying to foist upon us.
THE CLAUSE ABOUT GERMAN CITIZENSHIP: THE FIGHT OF THE EAST EUROPEAN JEWS IN GERMANY FOR EQUAL RIGHTS IN JEWISH COMMUNITIES
Only persons of German citizenship can be Rabbis, teachers of religion, or chairmen or vice-chairmen of the Doard of the Community, is the wording of the clause in question in the Government draft law, adding, however, that exceptions can be made only with the approval of the State authorities.
The question of the rights of East European Jews in Germany in the affairs of the Jewish Communities has for years agitated Germany Jewry.
The formation of the projected All-German Federation of Jewish Communities has been held up on this account. The Federation of Jewish Communities in Prussia held its first Conference as long ago as June 1925, and Herr Leo Wolff, who was at that time President of the Berlin Jewish Community, said in opening the Conference, that it was the first really representative Conference of the Jews of the country, having been elected by general, direct and secret ballot, and that it would be the forerunner of a union of all the Jews of the German Republic.
In 1929 a draft Constitution of the projected All-German Federation of Jewish Communities, which had been adopted by all the other Federations of Jewish Communities in the various German States was rejected by the Conference of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Prussia, whose approval would have been the final step to the formal constitution of the All-German Federation, because the Zionist and Centre Party representatives voted against the draft Constitution, objecting that it provided for the constitution of the new Federation by linking together the various existing Federations, each of which would have appointed its representatives on the new body, and their demand was that the All-German Federation should be constituted by means of fresh elections throughout the Jewish communities of the country. They objected mainly to the linking-up scheme, because the Federations of Jewish Communities in Saxony and Hessen do not give the franchise to East European Jews.
A resolution was adopted by the Conference protesting against the action of the State in interfering unjustifiably in the affairs of the Federation by putting a demand to it that foreign Jews should not be eligible for election to the Council of the Federation.
The matter came to a head in May 1929, when Dr.Wlee, the leader of the Zionist Fraction in the Berlin Jewish Community and the Federation of Jewish Communities in Prussia, declared at a special meeting of the Federation Council, that rather than agree to the Government’s demand to withdraw the vote from the foreign Jews living in Prussia, the Prussian Federation of Jewish Commuities would go without its statutes being legalised.
The meeting had been called for the special purpose of considering what action to take in face of the Government’s refusal to legalise the statutes of the Federation, because they give foreign Jews the right to vote in its elections.
The Federation of Organisations of East European Jews in Germany, at its sixth annual conference, held last January, stated in its annual report that the past year had been particularly severe, the elections to the Federation of Prussian Jewish Communities and to the Berlin Jewish Community having been a great trial of strength for it. The Federation emerged successfully, however, from the test, it continued, and it had an opportunity during the year to demonstrate that the east European Jews are a not inestimable cultural factor in Jewish life in Germany.
One of the most important points in the programme of the Federation, it stated, is the fight which it is conducting to obtain equal rights for the East European Jews in the Jewish Communities in Germany. This fight will go on, it declared, until the theoretical recognition of our demand for equal rights is granted in actual practice. The Jewish communities, it concluded, stand only to gain from the collaboration of the East European Jews. who act as a revivifying element in the life of the Jewish Community.
At one of the first meetings of the new Berlin Jewish Community after the last elections, the question of the East European Jews in Germany was brought up by Herr Waldman, one of the leaders of the People’s (Zionist) Party, who recalled the feeling of animosity against the East European Jews which had been aroused in the heat of the election campaign to the Berlin Jewish Community, and urged that in face of the difficult period through which German Jewry as a whole was passing they ought to establish a united Jewish front.
Herr Heinrich Stern, the President of the Liberal Party, and Dr. Guttmann thereupon assured the Board that the Liberal Jews had never made any distinction between Jews born in Germany and Jews born abroad.
A few weeks later, many of the leading German Jews attending the celebration of the 80th. birthday of Judge Jacob Teitel, the President of the Federation of Russian Jews in Germany, took the occasion to pay tributes to the vital influence of the East European Jews in Germany on German Jewish life. Dr. Julius Brodnitz, the President of the Central Union of German Citizens of Jewish Faith, for instance, spoke glowingly of the way in which Western Jewry was enriched by the added stream of virile Russian Jewry.
THE PARALLEL OF THE VLAD LAW IN ROUMANIA
Similar objections (on the point of the Separatist Jewish Communities) were made by the Jewish Communities of Roumania, who joined unanimously in the summer of 1929 in opposing the new Jewish Communities Law drawn up by M. Vlad, the Minister of Education and Public Worship in the Maniu Government, giving recognition to the right of establishing separatist Jewish communities in place of the unified Jewish Communities. Processions were held in the streets of Bucharest, to protest against the law, and protest mass meetings were held throughout the country. The Union of Roumanian Jews and the Jewish Parliamentary Club united in the opposition to the law, the leaders of both sections, Dr. Filderman and Dr. Ebner, speaking strongly against the attempt to disrupt Jewish communal life, and the Chief Rabbi, Senator Dr. Niemirover, said that M. Vlad’s law made it possible for every hundred Jews to set up a separate community, and the Jews would never allow such a breaking up of Jewish communal life.
A conditional amendment to the law was finally introduced into Parliament and carried, the result of which has been to hold up the operation of the Vlad Law, but at the same time it has had another result, that the Jewish communities in Roumania at present are not legalised bodies.