Behind the Headlines: Slovakian Community Ousts Rabbi for Getting Entangled in Politics

Rabbi Lazar Kleinman, the rabbi of Kosice, in eastern Slovakia, has been fired from his position after the leadership of the Slovak Jewish Federation said he was engaging in activities they thought inconsistent with his rabbinical position.

Kleinman is fighting the dismissal in court and refuses to leave the apartment allocated to him by the Jewish community, according to Fero Alexander, executive chairman of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Slovakia.

“Kleinman was released from his position by the Union of Jewish Communities and his work permit as rabbi was stopped as of June 30, 1994,” Alexander said in an interview.

Kleinman was fired in the spring. Charging that his dismissal was not carried out according to Slovak law, he has brought a suit against the Slovak Jewish Union.

Alexander, speaking from his office in Bratislava, said Kleinman had engaged in activities that were “harming” the Kosice Jewish community, including involvement in local politics and other activities “that a rabbi shouldn’t do.”

Jewish sources said Kleinman made many political contacts, including with right-wing nationalist parties. He angered many Jews by making political statements in public to the effect that there was no anti-Semitism in Slovakia.

In addition, Kleinman became involved in intense and bitter personal conflicts within the Kosice Jewish community, which erupted soon after he took up his post two years ago.

Alexander said the “last straw” came when Kleinman became a consultant to the East Slovakia Steel Works and announced that a committee had been formed in the Jewish community to help the steel works.

“This was not true,” Alexander said. He said the Jewish community had opposed the idea and “rejected” the rabbi’s activities.

Kleinman, who was born in Romania, studied in Israel and became an Australian citizen. He took up the post of rabbi in Kosice in August 1992, coming from a rabbinical post in Helsinki, Finland.

He was invited to take the position by the local Kosice Jewish community, despite some rabbinical opposition to the choice expressed from outside the community.

At the time, Kleinman was the only rabbi in Slovakia, and his arrival was hailed as a major event in the revitalization of Jewish life in the country.

Kosice, the most important Jewish community in eastern Slovakia, has about 900 to 1,000 Jews. A rabbi was also installed in Bratislava, the Slovak capital, in the spring of 1993.

On his arrival, Kleinman began what has been described as a “dynamic” program of public works for the community, including the renovation of the prayer house and mikveh, the start-up of a Jewish kindergarten and various youth clubs, and the modernization of kosher meat processing.

“Kleinman came as a religious person,” Alexander said, but then he became controversial. “He was full of energy, which was nice, but it had its bad sides.”

Alexander said conflicts, on both a personal and policy level, erupted between Kleinman and the community lay leadership soon after the rabbi took up his post.

In an interview in October 1992, two months after arriving in Kosice, Kleinman was candid about having already alienated many of the older members of the congregation by essentially cutting them out of his plans to revitalize the community.

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