NEW YORK (Sep. 1)
Two New York rabbinical leaders, reporting on a seven-week tour in Europe, said today that the Communist regimes of Czechoslovakia and Hungary expect the Jewish communities of those countries to eventually disappear “because the state is convinced that religion cannot long endure in the climate of a society that vigorously pursues a policy of materialistic atheism.”
Rabbi David I. Golovensky, president of the New York Board of Rabbis, and Rabbi Israel Moshowitz, chairman of the group’s international Jewish Affairs commission. thus summed up their findings at a press conference here today.
They reported that the 18,000 Jews remaining out of a pre-Hitler population of 200,000 in Czechoslovakia were trying to develop a meaningful Jewish life “out of the chaos and void they inherited.” The rabbis noted that the Czechoslovak regime provides financial support to churches and synagogues, paying the salaries of such functionaries as rabbis, cantors and sextons, but that this is being done not in approval of religion but rather because “the state is convinced that religion cannot endure” in a society committed to atheism.
They quoted a government official as telling them: “Why attempt to forcibly eradicate religion from the hearts of men and thereby create new social conflicts when in the near future it will die a natural and peaceful death?” The rabbis said that these factors, and the fact that cities with Jewish communities once numbering in the thousands now have two or three isolated Jewish families “leaves little ground for an optimistic prognoses.”
During a ten-day visit to Hungary, the rabbis reported, they came to the conclusion that “considering the nature of Communist ideology and its opposition to religion,” there was “a surprising degree of authentic and pulsating Jewish life.” They said that there were in Budapest “three magnificent synagogues and a number of small prayer chapels serving the estimated 80,000 Jews.” They reported visiting a yeshiva “and examined with satisfaction some of the 16 Talmudic students, 8 to 12 years of age.”
Some Communist leaders, they found, believe that “with the gradual alienation of the youth from religion, materialism will emerge victorious. Many Jewish leaders, both rabbinic and lay, however, assured us that the Jews have the opportunity and the instruments, financed at least in part by the Hungarian Government, to maintain an enduring Jewish life.”