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Hungary Allows Synagogues, Religious Schools to Function

Rabbi Harold H. Gordon, executive vice-president of the New York Board of Rabbis, who visited Budapest, Szeged, Debrecen and Miskolc, the major centers of Jewish residence in Hungary, as well as numerous small towns, said today that despite its atheistic policies, the Communist Government of Hungary is allowing synagogues and religious schools to function.

The Jewish Theological Seminary of Budapest is open, and permission has been granted for the establishment of an additional seminary. Rabbis and other religious functionaries carry on their activities in all major communities, and provision for the observance of the dietary laws is granted, Rabbi Gordon said. There is no Hebrew or Yiddish press in the country, but there is a Hungarian language Jewish newspaper published by the Jewish community. The government has also allowed the importation of prayer books and religious objects.

Rabbi Gordon found the Jewish religious situation in Hungary in sharp contrast to that which obtains in the Soviet Union where few synagogues are in use. There are as many synagogues for the 80, 000 Jews of Hungary as for the nearly three million Jews of Russia, he pointed out. Primary religious education in the Soviet Union is non-existent, while in Hungary it is to be found, in some measure, wherever there is a Jewish community.

Continuing the comparison, Rabbi Gordon noted that in Russia, there is no such thing as a Jewish community organization; the synagogue is the only Jewish institution permitted to function, and its activities are limited to ritual and prayer. In Hungary, however, the old Jewish community structure is still in operation. Russia has expropriated many synagogues; Hungary, very few.

In reference to the question of Israel, Rabbi Gordon found, Hungarian Jews tread carefully. The general Communist campaign of discrediting Israel which has been reflected in the Hungarian press makes Jews wary of the subject. The enforced separation between Hungarian Jews, many of whom have relatives in Israel, and Israeli Jews “does violence to natural family feelings and it is unnatural to impose a barrier of silence between them,” the New York rabbinical leader stressed.

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